These are good readings for us to hear today!
For us, trying to be a good Catholic,
facing temptation, facing pressure of time,
facing demands of work and family, worried about money…
These are good readings.
For those who wonder, why do we bother?
Why keep all these rules? What’s the point?
These are good readings.
If you’re bothered by having to stand up for your Christian beliefs,
having to explain them, afraid of what people will say…
These are good words from the Word of God.
We can make this simple, before we dig in.
The first reading, from the prophet Amos?
That shows us how the world around us sees us, and often reacts:
Get out of here, visionary! We don’t want you.
Keep your “Word of God” to yourself!
And the second reading? That’s how God sees us.
God has blessed us in Christ, filled us with wisdom and grace,
lavished riches on us, and predestined us for glory!
So when you and I face our Amos moment,
when we’re told to keep our Jesus, our morality,
our faith to ourselves, and go somewhere else?
Then you remember what Saint Paul told you in the second reading.
God planned for this moment—and every moment.
God planned for you to exist.
The Father planned for his Son to become human,
and live and die and rise for us.
God planned for the Church.
Notice he called the Apostles and sent them.
They didn’t apply for the job,
they didn’t necessarily know what they were to do; God knew.
The Apostles were chosen. And you were chosen.
God was thinking about you, and about me, when he created the world!
Everyone who has ever lived, or ever will—
including everyone whose life in this world is very brief—
God planned for.
And what is the fullness, the climax, of God’s plan?
You might say, it’s Jesus. But that’s only partly true.
The fullness of the plan is Jesus…plus you!
Plus me, plus us, plus everyone who is called.
When I met with folks last summer,
many of you talked about our beautiful church.
Notice how many images there are of saints.
Saint Anthony in the back,
Saint John the Baptist by the baptismal font,
Along both walls, and across the front.
But do you know what’s wrong?
There aren’t enough! Not nearly enough.
The reason we decorate our churches with saints—
and you will sometimes find churches that seem crowded with saints—
is because we are trying to depict what Saint Paul is describing:
All the people, in all the ages,
who have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb!
Who have received the inheritance, who are united with Jesus Christ,
alive in him, transformed by him,
God’s possession, the praise of his glory!
That is the fullness of God’s Plan;
we become all that God’s grace can bring us to be.
Now, when Paul says God has planned everything,
it doesn’t mean God plans all choices. We aren’t puppets on a string.
What it does mean, however, is that nothing ever surprises God.
We can reject God’s help in our own lives,
but we can’t stop God from bringing about
the transformation of the world.
The train keeps moving, whether we get on, or stay off.
Let me also make a point about God’s grace. What is grace?
Grace is God’s help to eternal life—
to the destiny that Saint Paul describes.
Grace is all the uncountable ways
we are nudged or steered toward what is good
and away from what is evil.
When mom says, eat your vegetables, you may not believe it,
but that’s grace. God is working through mom to give you life.
And when that voice in your heart says, “go to confession,”
or “stay sober tonight,”
or “maybe it’s time to sign off the computer,” that’s grace.
And, although Saint Paul didn’t put it this way,
you and I live in a world in which we are surrounded by grace.
That’s what it means to say,
God’s Plan brings everything toward Christ and our salvation.
So if you ever get afraid, and worry, remember:
you live in a universe of grace!
As a fish swims in the ocean,
you and I are surrounded by God’s grace!
And there’s more!
You know the saying about leading a horse to water?
You can’t make him drink, right? That’s free will.
God never makes us drink,
but he’ll try to lead us there—that’s what we call “actual grace”—
grace that helps.
And if we drink, what we drink is also grace.
That’s the grace that changes us. We call that “sanctifying grace”:
grace that saves; grace that transforms. That makes us saints.
We get that grace mainly through the sacraments,
but sometimes other ways as well.
When I say these things, I have found them to be true.
I have known those nudges; God has pushed and prodded me—
it wasn’t always welcome, sometimes I was angry,
sometimes I just laughed—
but God was leading this horse to water.
And I can tell you, there were years—before I was a priest—
when I didn’t receive the Eucharist,
because I was away from the Church.
And there were times I received the Eucharist conscious of sin;
When I approached the sacraments without much faith.
And I can tell you, going to confession,
and shedding those baubles we pretend are treasure,
and then coming to receive Jesus—
that’s when you get a foretaste of what Paul described.
There is power to change in the sacraments.
They have changed me; they are changing me.
At the conference I attended this week
on the sacrament of confession,
one of the speakers said something that stunned me.
God told Catherine of Siena,
that if she saw a saint in glory, as that saint really is,
Catherine would be tempted to worship that saint,
because she’d think the saint was God himself.
That’s our destiny. And I don’t mean one of many,
and that’s the first-class option.
Sainthood—union with God in heaven—is our only hope.
The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.
Glory is what God has for us; the alternative is hell.
It’s a long, uphill climb, but it’s worth it, because of what we will be.
Do we think about this inheritance enough?
This is why it is essential to have time and quiet every day
to be with God in prayer.
The life of the sacraments—meaning, a life of real conversion—
Is what transforms us into godlike vessels of glory,
which is what a saint is.
Everything Paul described is, as it were, “contained” in the sacraments.
This is a poor image, but sort of like when we take a vitamin pill.
We say, this has all my vitamin A, my vitamin C.
The sacraments, when we receive them worthily,
contain all the life we need.
Jesus sent out the Apostles on a tough mission.
They would be treated the same as Amos of old, and far worse.
They would have to sacrifice everything, eventually their very lives.
But it was worth it! They were on the path to life,
and they were to bring along as many as possible!
What will you—what will I—lay down for this life?
What will we throw down, at the foot of the altar,
in exchange for this life?
Will we run to confession, eager to cast away our cherished sins,
so that we can be made ready for this life?
What can this world possibly offer you or me
to compare with Jesus Christ?