July 2, 2017 – Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
I delivered the following homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis this weekend:
I had the honor of speaking to the Serra Club of Indianapolis on Monday evening. The topic was, Our Work is Never Done. The central message of that presentation was – no matter how much you did one day to serve God and others, you are expected to get up the next day and do it again.
One of the reasons many people stray from the Church, or lapse in their faith, is that the role of disciple is demanding and relentless. By nature, human beings are self-centered. To focus on Jesus is hard work and cramps our style.
Scripture does not try to sugar coat how challenging being a follower of Jesus Christ can be. Today we hear the expectations set before us as Christians. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Translation: You live for Christ by dying for Christ.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Translation: You bear the weight of the cross daily…and then you die for Christ.
This is not the type of job description that has people lining up to apply!
You have likely heard the expression, If you want something done, ask a busy person. The idea is those who are busy are busy for a reason – people are constantly asking them to take on more and more because they get results.
Jesus wants us to be busy people. He wants us to work tirelessly on His behalf.
However, it can be exhausting. Carol and I have had several conversations about this over the last few years. We did our job as parents; we work hard, often juggling multiple jobs and outside commitments; we try our best to be good people…nice people. But we get tired. We look into each other’s eyes sometimes and can see it – we’re drained, our tanks are empty.
We’re at the age when life is supposed to be slowing down, but we’re busier now than we’ve ever been.
So we vent and moan and complain. Then we take a deep breath and pray. We pray first with gratitude, recognizing the many fruits that come from a life of serving God. We pray for perseverance and fortitude and resilience. We pray for the strength to put others first. Then we get up the next day and do it all over again.
I think that’s what God wants of us. Not the moan and complain part, but the other three steps: Serve others, pray for perseverance, repeat. Three simple, deliberate, intentional steps.
Like the directions on a shampoo bottle: Lather, rinse, repeat.
Serve, pray, repeat.
Carol came across this timely reflection recently. It reads:
Did you ever wonder what Jesus meant when He said, “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles”? (Matthew 5:41)
Jesus wants us to take up a different attitude. Not only should we avoid complaining, but we should be willing to go twice as long as expected – to be generous and serve even beyond what seems reasonable.
That’s far easier said than done! When a coworker asks us to work late to help finish a project, it can feel unjust or inconvenient. When a relative needs help with a home repair late at night, we might want to grumble or delay helping until another day. And when a neighbor asks us to drive an extra carpool during an already busy week, we want to say, “No! Enough already!” We sense we should be more willing, but it’s a struggle!
Jesus himself is the best example of going the extra mile. He emptied himself to take on flesh and all our human limitations. He suffered silently and held nothing back when he laid down his life for us. Even now, he never tires of hearing our prayers. He helps us in our weaknesses and forgives us our sins—over and over again.
How can we hope to imitate such generous love? One step at a time.
When we pray, we open the door to God and allow him to renew us. We will find new strength and endurance, greater peace and patience. Just one step and then another. And then another. Add them all up, and we’ll find that we have already gone that extra mile. (Word Among Us)
This reflection echoes the three steps I just mentioned: Serve, pray, repeat. God knows we’re tired, but He needs us and will give us all we need to keep going.
I shared all of these thoughts when I spoke to the Serra Club on Monday evening. After my talk a gentleman approached me and introduced himself. He shook my hand and then held onto it and looked directly into my eyes.
He said, “Deacon Rick, I’ve never met you and you’ve never met me. I’m 70 years old and have only been to a few Serra Club meetings over the last ten years. But I’m on the e-mail list and I saw the topic of your talk, Our Work is Never Done, so I came to hear what you had to say.”
He then shared with me that his wife had gone blind nearly a year ago. He now does everything for her. Even though he is older, money is tight and he needs to continue to work. He cares for his wife before leaving for work. He comes home again at noon to make lunch for her. He returns from work at night and once again tends to his wife.
He said he looks in the mirror at night and almost can’t recognize the exhausted and overwhelmed face that is looking back at him. What has kept him going is the love he has for his wife.
Then he ended by saying this, “I believe God sent you here tonight just for me. I needed to hear that what I am doing is God’s work. I needed to know why I am being asked to carry this cross. God wants me to be busy doing this work and He’ll get me through it.”
And he squeezed my hand one more time and said, “And I am going to get up tomorrow and do it again.”
I had tears in my eyes. This is what it means to die unto self. This is what it means to “die with Christ.”
God does not want us to be nailed to a cross and endure a cruel and painful death. He wants us to die unto self. He wants us to fight our natural inclination to be self-centered by putting the needs of others first. He wants us, expects us, to be busy doing His work.
The payoff, according to Paul, is this: If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.
God knows we’re tired, but He needs us. Pray to Him and He will give you whatever you need to keep going.
Serve, pray, repeat.