Sunday, August 13, 2017

What steals our joy; and what restores it (Sunday homily)

There’s a word for what is happening in all the readings; 
what is happening for Elijah, for Saint Paul, and for Saint Peter. 
That word is discouragement.

And there is a word for what cures it. And that is joy. 

In the first reading, Elijah has fled to the mountain 
because he is discouraged. He tried to spark revival of faith, 
and the queen seeks to kill him. He feels very alone and overwhelmed.

Paul is “in anguish” for his fellow Jews 
who have resisted the message of Jesus Christ.

Peter is disheartened by the storm raging around him, 
and he begins to sink.

Meanwhile, let me recall something we’ve been talking about as a parish. 
You have heard me issue the challenge 
that we, as individuals and as a parish, 
be much more intentional about how we live our faith 
and share our faith. 

I’ve met with many parish groups, and I want to meet with more, 
to ask a simple question: 
how does this group help its members, and others, 
come to know Jesus better? 

One of the things that always seems to come up: 
why don’t we have more success sharing our Faith with family members, 
with neighbors and friends? 
Similar to the concern Saint Paul has in the second reading.

Most of the answer to that question is known only to God. 
Only the Holy Spirit can move hearts, 
and God chooses the how and the when. 

That said, if you and I want to be powerful messengers, 
we require what Elijah needed to renew, 
and what what Peter lost sight of. And that is joy.

I was inspired by reading the words of Charles Chaput, 
Archbishop of Philadelphia, who said recently
while Christians need to see the world’s problems as they are, 
“we can’t let the weight of the world crush the joy 
that’s our birthright 
by our rebirth in Jesus Christ through baptism,” he said.

So, what is joy? Well, it isn’t simply happiness, 
because we can know joy even in times of great suffering. 
Let me give you an example. Forgive me if I’ve told this story before.

I knew an older couple in Piqua, married over 60 years. 
The wife became ill, and got worse and worse; 
and I was called to visit her in the hospital. 
When I entered that small hospital room, it was packed – 
maybe 20 people or more. 

Everyone was praying, centered on their mother and grandmother, 
in bed, with her husband sitting by her, holding her hand. 
She was leading the prayers. 

Then came a moment when she couldn’t speak, 
but her husband kept praying. 
Then, he finally stopped. We all knew she was gone.
And he broke the silence with these words: 
“I’m heart-broken, but I’m joyful.”

What was that joy? It’s hard to put into words, isn’t it; yet we know.
He and his wife and their children and grandchildren had shared life and love; 
not just on a natural, but a supernatural level.

Death was all too real and cruel, 
but something else is infinitely more real, 
and that is Jesus Christ, and that is hope, and that is joy!
He knew he would see her again, and they would share that joy 
from the very source – in the life of God in heaven.

So we might ask, what steals our joy? Many things, 
including discouragement, resentment, 
and worry about the cares of the world.

If you and I want to, we can find 100 things every day to discourage us. 
Some of us pay too much attention to the news and the blogs. 
That would be me; but I’m not the only one. 
And we all know folks who let it get them down.

It’s just like what happened to Peter: we see the waves crashing 
and the wind howling, and we start to sink.
But it wasn’t the storm that sunk Peter; 
it was looking away from Jesus.

So if these things get you anxious and angry, there is a simple solution: Turn it off!

Our inflated ego that tells us, we need to know; 
it’s what some call “FOMO”: fear of missing out. 
But all that staring and poking at our phones and our computers 
steals our joy and fills us with anxiety. Turn them off! 

Put down that phone and pick up a Rosary.
Stop looking at the screen, and look instead at another human face. 
Human relationships are messy, 
but they are also where real love happens; 
and they are the only possession we can enjoy for eternity. 

This points to another way we lose our joy: 
when we focus on what we lack, and probably will never have, 
rather than on all that has been given to us.

If you feel envy or resentment, here’s an exercise. 
It will work; it will lift your spirit. 
Sit down with a full size piece of paper and a pencil, 
and start writing down everything – every single thing – 
for which you are grateful. Don’t stop till you fill both sides. 

I predict you may struggle at first, but then the dam will break, 
and you’ll run out of paper before you run out of blessings.

If you and I are people of fear or worry, who will want to share that? 
If we are focused on anger, on what’s wrong with the world – 
and plenty is! – then why should people be drawn to that? 

But if your gaze and mine is fixed on Jesus, 
what will shine in our face is the light of heaven, pure joy, 
and people will see that, and will want to know where it comes from.
They will want what we have.


Eileen Krauss said...

Dear Fr.,
That is powerful, that sermon. I have been trying to think about how to react to something that made me really angry a week ago, but also had some grace in it to. Let me explain, I had to get some tests done at a local hospital & left work early to get lunch downtown, as I was walking,a lady ( I recognized) ask me if she could ask me a question (I thought oh she is going to ask for money) but no she asked me if I could buy her lunch, she was hungry. I said yes & asked if she would like 2 cheese coneys. She said she wanted the spaghetti stuff at first I said don't get picky, but my heart melted & I got her a 5 way & a drink, pd the bill & tip & told her to enjoy. I went on to get a sandwich at a different place. And then headed up to the hospital for my testing. When I got there I was asked if I had eaten anything, I said yes & was told I wasn't supposed too, I was quite upset because I had asked the doctors' office about that exact thing & was told no. The tech doing the test said she would check & see if she was able to do the test anyway & she was able to see everything ok. Later when I had time to think about all that had gone on that day I realized that God/ Jesus had a great reason for me not to have known not to eat or drink earlier. Had I known i wouldn't have gone downtown to get my favorite lunch & I wouldn't have had the opportunity to feed one of Gods' children. So I have decided not to tell the doctor when I see her in a week or so how upset I was about the wrong info I was given from her office,as everything worked out for the good. And yes I did feel Joy after that. Thanks for the sermon I needed this morning. Take care & God bless.

Fr Martin Fox said...


What a great story!

Eileen Krauss said...

Dear Fr. Yes it is & thanks for the acknowledgment.