Saturday, March 03, 2012

Walking by faith in a gathering storm (Sunday homily)

The first reading is strange—and easily misunderstood.
But let’s be clear about one thing:
God did not want Abraham to slay his son Isaac.

So why did this happen?

It helps to recall the rest of Abraham’s story.
Remember, Abraham and Sarah couldn’t have children—
yet God promised they would have descendants
as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Along the way to answering God’s call,
Abraham took several wrong turns.
This reading represents the climax
of Abraham’s arc of faith—
after failing so many times,
this is when Abraham passes the test.

If we ever feel we’re being tested,
remember it isn’t for some need of God
that we’re tested.

After all, when we take a test in school,
it isn’t really for the teacher.
We’re the ones who need to know our arithmetic—
we’re the ones who need to know we passed.

And while God knew what was in Abraham’s heart,
it was Abraham who did not know
he would pass—until he did.

What Abraham wanted to give,
but found so hard to give—
what you and I find so hard to give—
is total commitment.

Offering his only son back to God—
that is how he finally did it.

Let’s make this personal.
What in your life is most valuable? Most treasured?
Who, or what, would you hold tight against yourself
until your last breath died away?

Now: can you imagine bringing that to God?
As precious as my spouse, my children,
my career, my dreams are—I offer them back to you!

It’s not that God wants to take them away.
The point is, can we dare to say to God:
I am willing to give you
that which means everything to me?

That’s what it means to walk by faith.
That’s what Abraham finally discovered—
and if we could hear him speak to us, he would say,
“that’s what I want you to discover.”

Lent can be a powerful way we share our faith.

To the extent that we Catholics take Lent seriously:
making real sacrifices, and really turning from sin,
and really giving of ourselves to others,
how powerful a witness to Christ that would be!

We’ve talked about the changing social climate.
Very suddenly, as Catholics we are facing growing hostility,
from our government in particular.

This week the Senate refused to overturn the order
that will force us, as Catholics,
either to violate our consciences,
or else to shut down our schools, our universities,
our hospitals and our charities.

The Archbishop of Chicago has announced
that if the President’s mandate is not overturned,
Catholic hospitals in his diocese will cease to exist.

Powerful forces are gearing up against us.
The head of the National Organization of Women—
along with the former speaker of the House*
are saying that we Catholics want to kill women.

No—let’s get the facts right.
All we are asking is to be able
to operate our Catholic institutions,
and for us as individuals,
to live according to our Catholic beliefs.

And right now, the message is
that we won’t be allowed to do that anymore.

So let’s put it plainly. In the next few years,
if things don’t change,
it’s going to be a lot harder to be a Catholic.

Brace yourself. Worse is coming.

When our Lord took James, Peter and John
up the mountain and he showed them his glory,
he was preparing them for the storm.

Even after, Peter still lost his nerve;
James ran away; only John stood firm.

There’s no soft answer and there’s no short-cut.
We’re going to have to dig the foundations very deep—
or we’ll be swept away in the gathering storm.

But if these realities are shocking,
do not let them overcome you.

Remember, the Lord told us ahead of time
this would happen.
And he gave us very straightforward instructions
about how to live our lives until he comes again.

And it goes right back to the example of Abraham:
everything we treasure, we give to God.

He will usually give them back to us to safeguard,
but we always remember:
God, this is your family; this is your job;
this is your business. It’s all yours.

In a few days, you will get a letter
from Archbishop Schnurr
about the Catholic Ministry Appeal.

One of the things we keep doing—
till the Lord comes—is caring for one another.

This appeal funds campus ministries.
Our college students are whipped by strong forces:
they need Christ on campus!

This fund pays the pension of our retired priests.
It pays for Catholic Social Services
to help the neediest members of the community.

It helps our seminary—
and in recent years, we are seeing our numbers increase.
Good news! But costs are up too.

It also helps St. Rita’s School for the Deaf
and ministry to prisons and hospitals.

I give to the Catholic Ministry Appeal
and I hope you will join me in doing so as well.

When Abraham gave his only son back to God,
God told him his countless descendants
would triumph over their enemies.

We are those countless stars that Abraham hoped for.
And we will see the Lord win the battle for us.
What did we hear St. Paul say:
If God is for us, who can be against us?

Amen? Amen.

* After the 4 pm Mass, I omitted reference to ex-Speaker Pelosi. I double-checked the story I'd seen, and found that while she did, indeed, refer to killing women, she merely made that accusation against Republicans, not specifically against Catholics.

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