Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture scholar Anne Osdieck reflects on today’s first reading about King Solomon. In the reading from 1 Kings, She focused on the word “Understanding.” In Hebrew, the word (“shōmē’a” ) has its root in the ideas of “obedience” or “to listen to.” What impact might “listening” have on good leadership? How would the world be different if those in leadership positions (parent, teacher, boss, political leaders, religious leaders) earnestly prayed Solomon’s prayer: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart”? Would anyone’s life change for the better if you had more of an understanding heart? How do you think you might improve your skills in this area?


Recently a number of parishioners have shared conversations that they have been having with other fallen-away Catholics in their neighborhoods and families. Those conversations sounded like this:

My sister’s husband was a serial cheater and they eventually got divorced. Do you really think Jesus wants to punish her for his actions by saying she can’t receive communion?

My Dad was really in pain at the end of his life. Why was it wrong to allow him to end his suffering when he couldn’t take the pain any longer?

The Church has too much corruption. Why do I have to go through a priest and can’t I have a relationship directly with God on my own?

Why can’t I live with my fiancé́ before we are married when I am committed to him, and am going to marry him anyway?


Most Catholics disagree on at least one, and in many cases, several of the Church’s teaching. This is even reflected here at St. Monica where the recent Disciple Maker Index survey showed that many parishioners do not believe that “The teachings of the Church are normative in my life” or that “The teachings of Jesus Christ are normative in my life.”

In his video, Extreme Demands, Extreme Mercy, Bishop Barron asks the question that relates to this phenomenon. “What is the one basic job of the Catholic Church? It is not to produce nice people or spiritual mediocrity or people who simply get along. The one basic job of the Catholic Church is to produce Saints - people of radical holiness in ALL areas of life. From what we saw above, most Catholic don’t want this. Most Catholics want the Church to dial back on its teachings. But how can church who wants to produce radical holiness and sanctity of life dial back its moral teachings?


There is an important flip side to this and something that many people miss. The Church certainly has an extremely demanding moral code, but the Church also has an extremely lenient penitential system. Take for example, Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay. Imagine if he came into the confessional and said, “Bless me Father for I have sinned, I just obliterated 146,000 innocent civilians. What would happen? The priest would offer counsel. The priest would assign a penance, maybe even a strict one. Then the priest would say,


God - the Father of mercies - through the death and resurrection of his son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


So what do we do when people come up to us and start asking those “Catholic questions” like the ones I mentioned above? Why are they asking? Are they looking for answers to a theology question? Probably not. So what are they looking for? We would hope that they are looking for Christ, but that search might be a buried treasure in a very warn out field (See today’s Gospel). They don’t need moralizing at this point. What do they need? They need “understanding.” They need “to be listened to.”


Try these:


  1. Start with, “Why do you ask?”



  1. Pinpoint and be aware of your own concerns and obstacles about the topic.



  1. Recognize the values, fears and needs of the other person. That sounds like:
    1. I recognize you want to … I recognize you are concerned by …
    2. I acknowledge that this is important to you.
    3. I appreciate that you.. I respect that you ….



  1. Articulate your own guiding beliefs and values
    1. For me, this aspect is important
    2. For me, I need to …



  1. Be honest about the Church’s Point of View…
    1. Only two or three key points on the topic.



  1. Hold onto the dialogue.
    1. What you can say and do (and what you should not say/do) to
      1. Proclaim God’s love,
      2. Be true to the Church
  • Maintain the dialogue

  1. Let’s find a way for us to …..
  2. I’d like to find out more about how we can …
  3. I’d like to identify how we can ….

For some people, like C. S. Lewis, it is a dramatic experience of God’s grace as he recounted in “Surprised by Joy”. For others, this is a long – LONG process. In either case, don’t be surprised if God “sets up the next meeting” and brings you a person whose heart is a buried treasure, and is handing you the means to unearth it.

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