January 22, 2017 – Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
I delivered the following homily this weekend at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, IN
We read these words at the beginning of the Gospel of John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
God is alive in scripture. Through scripture He speaks to us – to give us hope, to provide comfort, or to instruct us.
The beauty of scripture is that it speaks to us individually. We have a personal relationship with God, so His messages to us are personal. Each person receives the message he or she is intended to hear.
However, I propose there are times that scripture holds a universal message for all believers. Certain scripture passages are intended to shake us up or call us to task; they are “wake up calls” for the Church.
Today we heard such a message. In no uncertain terms, God tells us, “Do the work I have called you to do or the life, death, and resurrection of My Son were all in vain.”
It is a challenging message and may make us uncomfortable – that too was God’s intent.
Listen again to these words from the prophet Isaiah: The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; on those who dwell in a land of gloom, a light shines. You have brought them abundant joy…
There are many in our world that “walk in darkness” or “dwell in a land of gloom.” It is light that they need – it is light that will destroy the darkness and light that will bring hope to the land of gloom.
Here is the challenging, and possibly uncomfortable, reality: We are the light. We are responsible for bringing them abundant joy. You, me, believers everywhere – it is our responsibility.
Before heading off to find your flashlights, listen again to what Paul had to say in his letter to the Corinthians: For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel…so that the cross of Christ is not emptied of its meaning.
We are the great light, and we radiate that light when we preach the gospel. We must do it, or the cross has no meaning. The suffering Jesus endured was in vain.
The fact that this directive makes us uncomfortable is not surprising. What an incredible responsibility. However, it is what we signed up for when we became intentional disciples, and what we are called to do as apostles.
We don’t need to go to Monument Circle and shout scripture into a megaphone in order to “preach the gospel.”
We simply need to share our faith with our words and reveal our faith by our actions.
So what are we afraid of?
I gave a retreat talk last year to a group of senior students. When I was speaking with a student afterwards, she said, “I wish I could do what you just did.”
When I asked her what she meant, she said, “You talk so easily about God and your faith. I wish I could do that.”
I asked her why she couldn’t do that. Her response was one I’ve heard many times: “I guess I’m afraid. I don’t want people to think I’m a religious freak.”
I encouraged her to talk about what excites her, and let people think what they will.
This young lady is not alone. Many people share her fear. They feel that publicly expressing their beliefs or sharing their faith will cause them to be negatively judged by others.
I find it fascinating. When people talk about their jobs, or sports, or fashion, I don’t negatively judge them as career freaks, or sports or fashion freaks. Why is faith different?
There is a radio show called Busted Halo. The host of the show, Fr. Dave Dwyer, was asked the question, “What can I do to get over the fear of talking about my faith in public?”
In his response, Fr. Dwyer offered two points to consider:
- First, the fear of what will happen if we share our faith is much worse than what actually
- Second, the positive possibilities of sharing our faith far outweigh whatever it is we are afraid of.
I understand what Fr. Dwyer was saying. Here are some personal examples:
I have led many staff meetings over the last ten years. I have conducted hundreds of interviews with teacher candidates. I have also had my share of difficult meetings with parents.
In each of these situations, I have begun the meeting with prayer. Never once has anyone stormed out of the room or attacked me for sharing my faith. As a matter of fact, people have often thanked me for beginning our time together in that way.
When our food arrives at a restaurant, Carol and I join hands across the table and offer a pre-meal prayer. Never once has the waitress taken the food back and no one at the surrounding tables has ever gotten up to leave in disgust. Quite the opposite – we have had people tell us how refreshing it is to see people praying in public.
While waiting in a long checkout line at WalMart, I overheard the couple behind me talking about Catholics in a less than flattering way. I shared with them that I was Catholic, and asked them if I could answer any questions for them. The man seemed bothered that I said anything and ignored me. However, the woman said she had a question regarding our “obsession with Mary.”
I shared some of our beliefs about Mary and she seemed to appreciate the information. I couldn’t help but notice the older woman in front of me was listening, too.
I don’t know if I changed the hearts of the young couple that day, but I do know that I didn’t get punched in the nose and I was not verbally assaulted.
Once outside of WalMart, the older woman was waiting for me. She thanked me for talking to the couple inside. She said she was Catholic too and I had given her the courage to speak up if she is ever in a similar situation.
Which brings me back to my conversation with the senior girl on retreat. I suppose she was right – speaking about her faith may cause some to label her a religious freak.
However, that is a small price to pay.
If sharing your faith brings light to just one person “walking in darkness”, it is worth it.
If it brings hope to just one person living in a “land of gloom”, it is worth it.
If it brings “abundant joy” to just one person, it is worth it.
If it gives just one person the courage to do the same, it is worth it.
What would happen if you stood up at the next big meeting and said, “Would anyone mind if I begin with prayer?”
What would happen if you said to a co-worker during your break, “I was really moved by the scripture readings I heard at Mass on Sunday”?
Or to a friend, “I am going to say a special prayer each morning during pro-life week, would you like to join me?”
Talk about what excites you, and let people think what they will.
Don’t allow the cross of Christ to be “emptied of its meaning.” Don’t allow the suffering and death of Jesus to be in vain.