Homily given at Saint Dominic Priory, Saint Louis, Missouri on July 9, 2018
Image courtesy Pixabay
Today the Church starts readings from the book of Hosea, a wonderful testimony to God’s forgiveness and mercy. You may have heard the phrase, “God is rich in mercy.” But have you considered what that means for you personally? Do you allow yourself to experience that mercy and forgiveness? Do you take the time to find that mercy and forgiveness when God is ready to offer it to you? Can you allow God to change your heart to turn away from sin and to experience the love of God?
(Homilies given at Our Lady of Lourdes, University City, MO, on June 30 and July 1, 2018.)
It is no secret we live in a broken world. We are surrounded by violence. People are suffering unjustly. Children are separated from the parents. There is family brokenness. And we sin. But despite all of this, the love and mercy and forgiveness of Jesus is stronger. It can heal. It can raise people from the dead. And if we accept this in faith, we can live forever.
The words in the readings today are not pretty. O worm Jacob. O maggot Israel. We are reminded in very stark terms that sin is pretty ugly. There can be a tendency today to minimize sin. We can think that we are really not all that bad. We can dismiss how even a little sin in our life can lead to more. But today’s readings are not about the ugliness of sin alone. They are also about the beauty of God’s forgiveness.
When we turn our lives over to God, it is then that we learn just how powerful and beautiful his love is. As ugly as is sin, God’s love is beautiful. As powerful as sin can seem, God is more powerful. The saint we celebrate today, Saint John of the Cross, understood both the ugliness of sin and the power of God. Even when he did not feel God’s presence, he was attentive to what God could do for him. He believed Saint Paul, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.
The first reading contrasts the desert with blooming flowers. The gospel contrasts the absolute trust that those carrying the paralyzed man and the legalistic Pharisees. This season of Advent is indeed a season of contrasts. Just when we think Jesus could not startle us any more, he does. Jesus not only heals, he forgives sins. God makes deserts bloom. At every turn, we see the gift of new life.
As we finish the first week of Advent and begin the second, where is your journey this Advent? How have you made room for the Spirit of God? Where do you see yourself filled with expectation at what God will do?
Today is the feast of Saint Ambrose. We might not know much about Saint Ambrose, but he is a very important saint for us. He was one of the first four doctors of the Church. Saint Ambrose was a politician, who unlike today, was so well-loved he was named bishop by pubic acclaim. Perhaps most importantly, Saint Ambrose fought ceaselessly against a heresy that denied the divinity of Christ in a way which made Christ equal with the Father and the Spirit.
During Advent this matters, because it is not just because Jesus was a nice person worthy to imitate that we celebrate. Rather, we celebrate the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who takes on flesh to become fully human. Three persons in one God. So that the incarnation is not just one birth among many, it is THE birth that is connected to our salvation. We seek the promises of God because God has become one of us, and has become savior to a people that do not deserve or earn salvation.
There is nothing worse than coming to the awareness of deep sin. It can be quite challenging when we realize we have turned our backs on God. It is sad when we discover the heartache of evil. When that happens, we have a choice. We can choose to give in to despair, or we can choose to have hope. If we do not recognize the power of God’s forgiveness, or we are too proud to acknowledge his greatness, we despair. When we turn our hearts back to God, trusting in the mercy and forgiveness we do not deserve, we have hope.
What will you do in answer to God’s goodness? Will you humbly confess your sin, or will you stubbornly persist in evil? Will you be greedy generous? Prideful or humble? Seek out God’s mercy and you will live.
So much of our lives revolves around how we see things. Our perspective on life makes all the difference. Are we optimistic? Sad? Do you seek the good in others? Do you mistrust everyone? Is God loving or judgmental? Do we trust God or doubt? Questions like these, and others, have a lot to do with how it is we see life.
Today’s gospel shows how easy it is to miss what is really important. Nine are cured of leprosy, and for whatever reason, they cannot go back to thank Jesus. Maybe they were too excited to see family. Maybe the wonder of life returning to normal was too distracting. For whatever reason, it was only one who said thank-you to Jesus. Being grateful for what we have makes it more likely we see other reasons to be thankful. Give thanks to God today. You will find more blessings than you knew you had.
Today we encounter a king that does not seem to be very kind. Rather, he seems harsh and demanding. This is a king that sets forth harsh conditions for his subjects. It serves as a reminder to us that this life of faith is really about a stark choice for or against God. As we approach the end of the Church year, our focus is shifted to the end times, when the ultimate choice, and our ultimate judgment will occur.
The servant who fears the harsh master, who is not willing even to open the slightest hold to let God control his life, this servant cannot act even on what he knows to be true. The others take the risk, and the outcome is good. Faith is like this. We need to take the risk to trust in God’s providence that we can do what God desires, and so produce fruit for God’s kingdom.
Will you be true? Will you be genuine and sincere? Even if you fail, will you seek the conversion that has no guile? Will you be who you say you are? There are two examples of authenticity in today’s readings. The first is a long life of authenticity, that of Eleazar. Even when given a shortcut, Eleazar remains true. He makes this authentic choice not merely for his own relationship with God, but also with concern for others. What will people make of an old faithful man who appears to turn away from God?
Zaccheus, the man of conversion in the gospel, shows us how authentic a search for God can be even from a sinful life. Zaccheus, in his own conversion, shows us how to convert. We must acknowledge honestly our sinfulness. When we do so, we have this powerful relationship with Jesus. Jesus comes into our hearts because we invite him to forgive our sins and to change our lives.