Chief Priests, Elders, tax collectors, prostitutes, sons, fathers, the Lord.
Religious figures, older people, younger people, financiers, dads, moms, addicts, criminals, the Lord.
Spirituality, age, youth, money, authority, responsibility, passion, lust, the Lord.
The three lists presented above reflect today’s reading in the Scriptures and basically mirror each other. Is there anyone here who cannot see themselves in at least one aspect of those three lists? The lists contain normal aspects of everyday life. And can we not find ourselves in one of those categories?
Parables. The novelty is not the image or the story. The novelty is the connection to the Kingdom. So where do we apply those simple, every-day aspects to our life as seen in the lists above, to the Kingdom and our relationship to the Lord?
Look at those lists. Who are you? In which category do you fit? What are the responsibilities in that role? Are you fulfilling those responsibilities? What are you doing and doing WELL? What responsibilities are you NOT wild about doing? What are the items that make you UNCOMFORTABLE? With what are you struggling?
As a young man, I spent a summer in a monastery during which I had a series of conversations with an old monk. One day I asked the old monk: “Father, do you still do battle with the devil?” The old monk replied: “No, I used to, when I was younger, but now I have grown old and tired and the devil has grown old and tired with me. I leave him alone – and he leaves me alone.” “So your life is easy then?” remarked Kazantzakis. “Oh no,” replied the monk, it’s much worse. Now I wrestle with God.”
Concerning this topic, Father Ron Rolheiser writes, “We spend the first-half of our lives struggling with sensuality, greed, and spend the last half of our lives struggling with anger and forgiveness— and that anger is often, however unconsciously, focused on God. In the end, our real struggle is with God.”
And this might be the REAL reason that people “don’t go to church.” G. K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has NOT been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult – and NOT tried.”
We see this in the great figures in scripture:
- Abraham argues with God.
- Moses resists his call.
- The apostles excuse themselves from ministry and suffering.
- Even Jesus gives himself over in the Garden of Gethsemane only after first begging his Father for a reprieve.
As Rabbi Heschel puts it, from Abraham through Jesus we see how the great figures of our faith are not in the habit of easily saying: “Thy will be done!” but often, “Thy will be changed!”
Do we not do the same?
I was speaking to a few dads recently. One dad shared a story about his children. He related the fact that there is a HUGH number of high school students at a Catholic school, which his children attend, who regularly go to a pre-determined site on a regular basis to get themselves blind drunk. This dad is, himself, in recovery and said that more and more he is seeing young people, usually around age 18, who are attending AA meetings. Another dad shared a story that he has two children himself who work in Philadelphia and live in Manayunk. His children said that they’re having trouble finding a circle of “friends” in their neighborhood who are NOT getting drunk or high every weekend.
The teenager, the dad, the mom, the priest, the tax lawyer, the addicted, the afflicted, the anxious, the angry… Welcome to Berwyn. We’re all “wrestling” with something – or are we really wrestling with someONE? “Those struggles often are related to our self-interest,” writes Jesuit priest Father John Foley, S.J.. But “sometimes God appeals to people’s self-interest to get them to do what is right. God uses their self-interest to overcome their self-interest.”
“Struggling with God’s will, and offering resistance to what it calls us to be, can be a bad thing, but and it can also be a mature form of prayer. The Book of Genesis describes an incident where Jacob wrestled with a spirit for a whole night and in the morning that spirit turned out to be God. What a perfect icon for the human experience and prayer! A human being and God! Yahweh wrestling with the dust of this earth! Doesn’t that accurately describe our human experience?”
But being with Christ is a good place to be. That is where the healing can begin.
Audio version of the homily is here: