The 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – The Homily
Fr. Ronald Rolheiser looks at this week’s apocalyptic first reading from Daniel and the Gospel of Mark, and asks, “Why such horrible imagery, especially now with beautiful Advent just two weeks away?” One reason, of course, is so that we might build within us, a specific need for relief – for the coming of the simple Christ baby.
In the world today, we find many competing ideologies striving to take over:
- This shampooing will make you ecstatic.
- It is a car that can truly “touch your soul.”
- “Friends with benefits” will make you feel good; no commitment; no regrets – no big deal.
- Free cable movie channels practice the blasphemous use of God’s and Jesus’ name, for no real reason, even while they censor out words that some would find “offensive.”
And, of course, on top of such dehumanizing media forces, the world is faced with crises every bit as bad as apocalyptic literature might suggest:
- Wars without any specified goal
- Economic crises that wrecks people’s lives by the millions.
- Heads chopped off
- Toxic wastes
- Holes in the ozone layer
- Tsunami and hurricanes
- Climate changes
Evil exists because God respects freedom, both in nature and in human beings. When we are confronted with the problem of evil in the world the conclusion we might draw is not that God doesn’t exist or doesn’t care, but rather that God respects and values freedom in a way that we don’t.
God doesn’t make things easier because God can’t make things easier, at least not without making us and the world into something far less than we are. He didn’t play it safe, but gave us as much godliness as he could without making us into gods ourselves. Simply put, in making us, God went so far as to give us a freedom that even he won’t temper with. It’s a risky business.
The readings this week do contain a few grains of hope, however. At the end of the First Reading we find a beautiful promise of rescue:
… the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.
God doesn’t take naps.
God isn’t someone who isn’t sure what to do.
God has a plan; God knows what he’s doing.
We get so focused on the immediate; we need to focus long term, like eternity.
Jesuit priest Father John Foley, S.J. writes that “This passage can bring us peace … and a problem. Should we be nourished by such lovely words when the greatest tribulations in history are staring us in the face? How can you or I have any effect on the enormity of our situation? Try these three steps:
- Love God and Love neighbor-as-yourself.
- Let your courage rest in divine help.
- Shine brightly by helping rightly.
First, get smart. Love yourself first. Examine carefully what you are able to do and with what effect. You are not helpless, no matter how you feel. Over the past four weeks (Part 1, Part 2, Part3, Part 4), I offered a reflection on the “Serenity Prayer:”
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Second, let your courage rest in divine help. Remember the famous passage from Jeremiah:
I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you and bring you back. (Jeremiah 29:11).
We’re called to live with joy. God’s timing is perfect and He provides exactly what we need, exactly when we need it – not before. God gives us the ticket just as you board the train – this is called grace.
Knowing God will give you the ticket, the grace, when you need it – and not before, and being able to live with this and remain contented and calm – this is mercy.
This is what it means to be a son, or a daughter in God’s house and not just being a “renter.”
Ok, let’s summarize:
- First, Love God and Love neighbor-as-yourself.
- Second, Let your courage rest in divine help.
- Finally, Shine brightly by helping rightly.
The third part, according to Fr. Rolheiser, is making peace with this mystery, the mystery of God’s hiddenness, is a question of a relationship in love and trust and not simply a question of right theology. Faith, like love, matures through relationship – not just theory.
You have to relate long enough, live in patience long enough and develop enough maturity so that, at some point, understanding arises. The French mystic, Hugo of St. Victor said, “Love is the eye. When we are loving enough, we begin to see and understand.”
Ann Voskamp is a farmer’s wife, a home-schooling mother of 6 and known as “one of 50 women most shaping culture and the church today.” To “Shine brightly by helping rightly” she wrote a book, a New York Times Bestseller entitled, The Greatest Gift, and One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are,
Ann describes herself:
I am a regular loser of library books, usually have a sink full of soaking pots, see empty laundry baskets more rarely than a blue moon, and believe that the sky and fresh mercy over the farm is large and all is grace.
Just like you, Ann Voskamp hungers to live her one life well. She says,
Forget bucket lists and escaping our everyday lives for exotic experiences. ‘How do we find joy in the midst of deadlines, debt, drama, and daily duties? What does the Christ-life really look like when your days are gritty, long — and sometimes even dark? How is God even here?’
Ann Voskamp invites us to slow down, to learn how to live the full life of eucharisteo (meaning grace, thanksgiving, joy) regardless of circumstances, embrace everyday blessings and embark on the transformative spiritual discipline of chronicling God’s gifts. It’s only in this expressing of gratitude for the life we already have, we discover the life we’ve always wanted–a life we can take, give thanks for, and break for others.
Let’s close with three Scripture passages:
Our cars will rust and fall apart and, condos crumble to the ground. Our fondest dreams will disappoint. Everything will go. Investments. Worries. Honors. Pains.
Yet, you say to us, “My words will not pass away.” Jesus, please fill us with your words which will never pass away. You are love. Love remains. (See “Praying Towards Sunday” by Anne Osdieck)
“The wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice (and mercy and grace and peace) shall be like the stars forever.”
I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you and bring you back. (Jeremiah 29:11).
Some books that have tried to make sense out of suffering:
Making Sense Out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft
Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Emil Frankl, M.D., Ph.D.
The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Louis Silvie “Louie” Zamperini
Salvifici Doloris (Letter on the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering) by Pope John Paul II