Helping to Hear The Voice of the Lord (Homily 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time)
Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
I want to focus on the ideas of binding and loosing, praying, and two or three gathered together.
People sometimes talk to me in conversation that they make the same mistakes again and again. Or they will say in Confession how they are discouraged that they seem to commit the the same sin over and over again. Or they talk about a problem that just will not seem to go away and they talk about it all the time.
Why is that?
Do they not recognize the root of the problem? Are they unaware of a possible solution? I suspect not. I suspect that they actually know exactly what the issue is and the way to solve it. However, there possibly are a number of issues at play. I’d like to look at five.
Concerning the first point, let’s look at John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Is it entirely possible that the first issue is – that you do not hear the voice because you are simply not one of His sheep? “Oh but Father, I’ve been coming to church and saying my prayers and doing my devotions for years.” So? You know the prayers and know the liturgy and know the Bible and know theology but might not know The Shepherd.
Pew Research discovered that 30% of self-identified Catholics believe in an IM-personal (not a personal) God. It begs the question; what
other type of god is there? Pew found that only 60% of Catholics believe in a personal God. According to Sherry Weddell in her book, Forming Intentional Disciples, only 40% of Catholics 18 – 29 were certain that it is even possible to have a personal relationship with God, and 34% of them reported being at Mass on a weekly basis.”
The second issue deals with the Gospel passage, “where two or three are gathered.” God gathers people together. God uses the gathering of two or three to give His message. Nevertheless, sometimes we simply don’t want to hear the message. Or sometimes, as Bishop T.D. Jakes mentions in his talk (Your eyes have not seen, ears have not heard what God has in store for you!) we hear the message all too clearly and we say, “Oh, that’s not from God.” Sometimes we get the message from someone, from whom we did not expect it and look at it skeptically. Or even worse, sometimes we get a message from someone we don’t like or admire or even trust and so we ignore it. Recall the First Reading today from Ezekiel, “if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.” Are you getting a message from God from a source that you did not expect?
The third issue is lack of planning. The Exodus was the result of a plan. Noah and the ark was the result of a plan. The Last Supper was a result of a plan. Too often we’re dealing with power with no purpose, struggle with no structure, an organism with no organization. Grace builds on nature and we have a part to play in stewarding our lives and resources. Parents – your children sometimes get stuck because they simply don’t have any life experience from which to draw solutions. They might not need discipline as much as they need mentoring and direction and help with devising a plan:
- Build prayer into the solution.
- Let them know you’re praying for them.
- Ask their friends to pray for your child.
- Ask your child what they need.
- Get an expert or mentor for yourself.
- Put a plan in place.
- Monitor the plan with the help of your mentor.
The fourth issue is sometimes too much planning which actually becomes scheming and manipulation. People try and devise a strategy according to what they perceive is best. Bishop Jakes says, “Don’t limit God’s choices to your ideas. Manipulation only leads to misery.”
The fifth issue is the focus of your prayer. Believe that the Lord is turning process into progress and commotion into action. So don’t pray over the problem – pray over the process. Ask for the Lord’s insights into what He is doing in your life – not the final solution to a problem. Also, pray positively. Follow the advice of St. Paul who says In Philippians 4:8, “…brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. What is good in your life? Where are the blessing being poured out in abundance? Talk to the Lord about that. Don’t let the “Powers of Darkness” steal your joy by tempting you to focus on the negative.
Finally, wait. Isaiah 40:31, “Those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” “BE STILL and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). The result is found in Isaiah 61:7-8: “Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. For I, the Lord, love justice …. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.”
What’s the issue keeping you up at night? Ok, here’s your homework but pick JUST ONE of the five following items:
- Wrestle with the question: “How are Jesus and I getting along?
- Pray about the process – not the problem.
- What’s the message? Be able to identify how – or from whom – did it get delivered.
- Pray – then write the plan down.
- Do nothing – wait on the Lord.
If you want to challenge yourself further:
- Pick a prayer partner.
- Tell them to pray for you this week
- Tell them which item from the list above you chose
- Report to that person next Sunday what happened in the intervening week.
Audio version of the homily is here: