The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – The Homily

So as we watched the little children walk out for “Children’s Liturgy of the Word” this Sunday, I’m sure a few in the pew thought or commented, “Oh, they’re soooooo cute!” True. The sight of happy children in our church is uplifting, encouraging and a sign of hope. We say we like kids in church. I’ve said, “If you don’t hear crying – your church is dying.”

But it’s a tricky dance because kids are sloppy. They cry and squirm and move and talk and poop. People like to “see” kids. They don’t necessarily want to “hear” kids, much less have to smell them. Realize that, if you have a toddler, you are not going to enjoy 60 minutes of quiet, encouraging, spiritually uplifting, liturgy. It ain’t happening (for at least the next 4 – 6 years) unless you leave the children at home with a relative or baby sitter. And baby sitting can get expensive. Even then, once here, you might have to deal with someone else’s kids. They’re going to cry. They’re going to squirm. They’re going to move around.  They’re going to talk. And they’re going poop. I get it. We get it. It’s ok.

Overwhelmingly, the parents who come to St. Monica get it right. They’ve adapted to the realization that 60 minutes of liturgical bliss is not going to happen and that 20 – 30 minutes will probably be the norm before they have to attend to something dealing with their child. They seem to instinctively know where the line is.

How about those of us who do not – or no longer – have children?

I’ve heard a story of one family who came to Mass, sat with their children in a pew and, a few minutes later, were greeted by a few other parishioners who said, “Excuse me, we usually sit there.” Or then there are those parishioners who absolutely will sit at the end of the pew. No exceptions. That’s fine but then they make a subtle, but very obvious, production when the family with small children come, looking at the empty seats in the middle of the pew and ask, “May we please sit there?” Then those at the end suddenly look startled and say, “Oh, I’m sorry” but they don’t get out of the pew to make it easy. They just stand up and “allow” the young family to pass by to get to the empty seats. And there’s a third example of a parishioner who came in and when she mentioned it to someone else that she was new to the parish the other person responded, “Oh, well we’ve been here for over 40 years.”

Does this help “grow” the parish? Is the what “welcoming” and “hospitality” looks like?

We keep saying that we want to grow the parish. We like to say that we are welcoming and hospitable. Like the son in today’s Gospel who says, “I’ll go” but then does not, are we truly a welcoming and hospitable parish, or just nice? When a mother or father picks up an ornery child and takes them to the back or out of the church, do we think, “Oh thank God” or do we chase after them and say “Look, you shouldn’t have to be out there in the lobby by yourself. I’ll come with you.” That’s the difference between being “nice” and being truly “welcoming” and “hospitable.” It exercises compassion (from the Latin words cum – passio which means “to suffer with” someone).  If we want to really be a welcoming, hospitable church, that is going to cost us – week after week.

In God Finds Us, Jim Manney reflects the following about Jesuit spirituality:

So why do we say one thing and then do another? St. Ignatius would say that it has to do with attachment.  The “Three Classes Meditation” is found in St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.  It invites us to examine our desires and our attachments. More than any other exercise so far, it gets at what Ignatius said was the purpose of the Spiritual Exercises: “making ourselves ready to get rid of disordered affections.”

The image that St. Ignatius uses to illustrate these three classes of people is that each has acquired great wealth and each knows that he or she must get rid of the money in order to do God’s will.  This meditation is not so much about the need to get rid of money, but the money is a simple sign which points to whatever it is that we cling to in our lives which takes our affections away from the Lord who loves us.

The first “class” is comprised of those who postpone, even until death, what they know the call of the Lord to be.  They know they must become free of the attachment.  They want to become free, but they “never take the means” to accomplish that freedom.  They remain attached and bound to what keeps them from the Lord.

The second type of persons to consider is the kind who compromise on what they know to be the desire of the Lord for them.  They act in a kind of partial response, but they still hold back something for themselves.  Perhaps they will do something good with what they’re attached to and in that sense, might be somehow “of God”, but still, the bottom line is that they cannot let go of what they are attached to and they are implicitly insisting that “God must come to where this person desires” and not the other way around. There is still disorder here, even though some efforts in a good direction are made.

Finally, the third class is made up of those who have become utterly free to respond to the call of the Lord.  Characteristic of this group is that “indifference” St. Ignatius described at the beginning of the Exercises in the “Principle and Foundation.”  Interestingly enough, this type in St. Ignatius’ illustration doesn’t necessarily get rid of the money.  Instead, they are free enough to either keep it or get rid of it, but their attention has shifted entirely to what God wants, and not what he or she wants.  They are in a position of receptivity here as to what God desires and they have made their own desire only that which greater serves the Divine Majesty.

The exercise doesn’t assume that God wants you to give the thing up. It may well be that God wants you to have it. The issue is your freedom to make a decision. The attitude we strive for is complete openness to whatever God wants. The attraction may not go away. In fact, we should assume that it won’t. All our lives we will have many likes and dislikes, strong reactions to the things people do and don’t do, passionate attraction to some possibilities and sharp revulsion to others. The challenge is to find a way to stand aside from these passions when decisions are at hand so that we can hear God tell us what he wants.

Let’s look at the pew example. The issue isn’t the pew. The issue is not whether or not you make it easier for people to come and sit at Saint Monica. The issue is the attachment. Why are you so attached to that particular pew? Why are you so attached to having to sit at the end of the pew? If I ask you, I guarantee you will have a perfectly rational and reasonable answer.  But the question still remains, are you attached to it? If God asked you to, would you be able to give it up and let it go? If not, you’re attached to it!

How do you get over this? 

In The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life, Jesuit Father Kevin O’Brien, S.J. writes:

Note where the third person begins: she is not sure whether or not God is asking her to give up the possession; she simply desires to be free to do what God wants her to do. So she begins by asking God what she should do:

  • Through prayer,
  • Through her experience,
  • Through her reasoning through different options,
  • Through her discernment of what makes her feel consoled and what makes her feel desolate,
  • Through the wise counsel of others.

The truly free person checks her motivations, which are often mixed.  We rarely reach complete indifference. She may feel some attachment to the possession and realizes that time and waiting might be part of moving in the right direction. But she does not procrastinate in starting the process!

This is hard. Loving God will cost ya. Loving your child will cost ya. Being a really hospitable and welcoming parish will cost ya. I figure that at least on person will leave church today absolutely delighted with the homily. One other person will most likely leave church today absolutely annoyed. The key for me is not to care one way of the other about the praise or criticism. The focus needs to be doing what God is calling me to do – feed the people of God this weekend. How about you? Ask your spouse,  “What do you think I’m attached to.” Be prepared to move on the answer.

Audio version of the homily is here:


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