Homily given at Saint Dominic Priory, Saint Louis, Missouri on July 9, 2018
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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.
Trust is the basis for any relationship. We can have no friendship without trust. There can be no true marriage without trust. But the examples of trusting God in today’s readings seem unbelievable. Daniel trusts in God to care for him because Daniel keeps the covenant. The widow gives all she has to live on because she trusts God. But is such trust even possible?
There was an amazing story a few days ago about a homeless veteran who helped a woman buy gas with his last $20. Little could he have known at that time what would happen to him. She raised $315,000 for him after she learned who he was. He did not help for the money. In fact, had she not gone back to find him, he might never have gotten anything. And if there is such a thing as human goodness like this, just imagine how much more God will draw us into a deep relationship when we trust him.
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.
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.
Jesus asks a direct question. What do you want me to do for you? The blind man, not surprisingly, wants to see. He knows what to ask Jesus for to get attention. He wants pity and mercy from Jesus. He knows he needs that. And it is this knowledge that leads to the faith that saves him. Jesus is clear. The blind man’s faith has saved him.
How would you answer this question from Jesus? What do you want Jesus to do for you?
Remember those wonderful moments when you take out a jacket you have not worn for a while and you find a $20 bill? It makes for a nice surprise because it is a free gift. We did not expect it, but we have it nonetheless. From an accounting perspective, we did not earn the $20 a second time when we found it. It was a gift. While it is not exactly the same, Saint Paul writes about the gift of salvation in a similar way. Let’s be clear. We do not earn our salvation. It is a free gift, given to us by God, even though we do not deserve it.
Does that mean it does not matter what we do? Of course not. Our actions remain important. But our actions never get us to the point where we deserve to be saved. Rather, our actions serve as proof that we are striving to witness to what God, in his mercy, has done for us.
There has been a lot of controversy around Confederate War Memorials. Whenever a memorial is put up, the reason for the memorial is important. Hence, the controversy. The gospel today mentions those who put up memorials during Jesus’ day. Memorials to the prophets, whose message was not heard or believed. Prophets were killed. To erect memorials to them now is seen as hypocritical.
When we rely only on human effort, we run the risk of hypocritical memorials. All have sinned Saint Paul writes. All have fallen short of the glory of God. How can we ever put our trust in human effort alone? Truth is, we do not. We put our trust in the way, the truth and the life, the Lord Jesus Christ himself.