Homily for the 25th Sunday in ordinary time, year B

If my tomato plants seem to be too small, and I try to simply stretch them until they are big enough, I will ruin them. I have to supply the conditions under which they can grow on their own, taking in sun and water and turning it into the fruit.

Something similar is true about humans and human communities, from the family to entire countries and the community of all mankind. To regulate everything by exterior principles, by a multiplicity of laws and policies, is impossible and counterproductive, diminishing the interior freedom necessary to live well. Each of us needs to be orderly within himself, to have a healthy and peaceful human community.

St. James points to the passions as sources of all kinds of disorder among men.
The passions are part of who we are: it’s good and normal to be hungry when we need food and to be satisfied when we’ve had a good meal; it’s likewise good and normal to want recognition, success, justice.

While the desire for money, food, or pleasure can lead us to excess, often a more insidious problem is presented by desires, that clothes themselves with an appearance of justice and a deeper purpose: pride, ambition, jealousy… “We’re being treated unfairly, others receive more recognition or money from the Church. We can’t accept that.” Or “He began!… He is in the wrong. HE has to make an apology.” Or “They are completely wrong… they have to recognize and correct their mistake, before there’s any point in talking with them.”
What is the solution? The solution, or starting point of a solution is not to reject or repel one’s own desire for justice, but to put it in the context of service, which can sometimes recognize the “right” thing to do in giving in, even if the other person is objectively “wrong”.

That doesn’t mean being a wimp, or pretending that everything is just fine. Jesus says, “he who would be the first… should make himself the servant of all.” We are not to be the slave of one person, obeying and accepting everything from that person, but able to see behind a conflict between two sides, and despite various difficulties, look out for and seek the common good, the good of all.

Sometimes we make heavy crosses for ourselves in life with others, because we are simply in principle unwilling ever to give in or to give way. To be considerate, however, to have understanding for the point of view of others, even if we disagree with them, to make allowances for the weaknesses of others, to exercise patience and make sacrifices out of faith in God’s love, smooths our own way, and brings us closer to God’s kingdom, where he is all and in all.

(This is my homily text from the 25th Sunday of Ordinary time in 2015).

Homily for the 24th Sunday in ordinary time, year B

People often enjoy talk about other persons. The disciples, too, gladly tell what other people think of Jesus. Only Peter is bold enough to position himself: "You are not merely some special man, but the Messiah, the Son of God." With this profession he makes a great advance in his life of faith and his relationship to Jesus.

Jesus demands a decision. He who decides for Jesus is unable to continue living simply as he was before, as he would without Jesus. He is taken into the life of Jesus, which entails more suffering as well as more joy.

Jesus tells the Apostles, without pulling any punches, the suffering that he will endure, and they as well. Peter, perhaps thinking that Jesus has gone off the far end, reproaches him. Yet Peter has seminally what he needs to accept this part of Jesus's message: his profession of faith in Jesus, which can lead him to understand the meaning of the suffering that Jesus takes on, and that Peter himself will have to endure.

Jesus is the suffering servant, his suffering and death a sacrifice to redeem his people. It is not, however, his suffering and death per se, as a material price, that redeems, but his love, a love that does not reject suffering, when it is necessary.

We frequently need such love in our lives, too. In many situations a way out is possible only at the price of a sacrifice: crises in a relationship, enduring conflicts, fidelity in difficult situations; often it is only love that is ready for sacrifice that can help. To take just one example, to resolve a conflict and realize healing in a wounded relationship, we must often be ready to give up on coming out as the "winner", or even be willing to have just a little bit the feeling of "losing". Genuine reconciliation doesn't have a loser, since both sides are the better for it, but sometimes we still have the feeling of giving something up and in this sense of losing.

How do we stand on the issue of making sacrifices for Jesus, of entering not only into his joy, but his suffering as well? Do we think that as believers, life will be easier and we will have fewer problems, because God solves them for us or doesn't let them arise in the first place? It can happen, particularly at the beginning of the way in faith, that God makes the way attractive, to encourage us, as one may reward a child with sweets. But at some point we must cease to be dependent on these sweets, whether that is interior consolation or providential avoidance of exterior difficulties. The deepest joy in faith isn't found in God's preserving us from all evils and difficulties, but in being united with HIM, even then, indeed especially then, when loves calls for a sacrifice.

As gratitude gives our joys a deeper meaning, as a gift from one who loves us, so readiness to sacrifice gives our sufferings a deeper meaning, as being an instrument of salvation in Christ.

In the measure that we make these two fundamental attitudes, gratitude and making sacrifice, "offering them up" for and with Jesus, we will experience the fulfillment of Christ's promise, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be given to you as well." We won't always have everything that we might immediately wish to have, but in what we do have and in what we don't have (or what we suffer), we will find ourselves to be rich in him.