Sunday, February 04, 2018

'How Hope and Healing Happen' (Sunday homily)

If you want a title for this homily, it is, “How hope and healing happen.”

To set the stage for the readings, listen to a quote 
from John Bergsma, a Scripture scholar:

“The true virtue, the true courage, is to maintain hope 
(and also love, and joy) in the face of 
what can sometimes look and feel like an ocean of darkness.”

So, “hope.” Let’s focus on that.

Job is discouraged for two reasons. The first we usually remember: 
he has lost everything: his children, his flocks, and his health. 
But there is a second reason as well.

You see, at the beginning of the story of Job, 
he has the mindset that if he does his part – if he lives right, 
keeps the commandments and offers worship to God – 
then he can expect blessings and good fortune.
So when everything falls apart, he keeps asking God: 
What did I do wrong?

And the answer, coming from God himself 
at the end of the Book is to tell Job:
You didn’t do anything wrong. 
All that we have from God isn’t something paid to us,
As if we earned it, or as a reward for good behavior.
Rather, everything is a gift.
The difference between Job’s idea – 
that he got blessings like a transaction – 
and God’s correction, that blessings are pure gift, 
which either we respond to, or we do not…

Is the difference between whether 
we place our hope in ourselves, or in God.

You tell me, which is a better focus of hope?

Maybe this has happened to you. 
There are times in our lives when we really do think, 
“I can fix this; I’m in control.”

And then we have that harsh awakening: 
“No, I really can’t do it myself.”
That is when we either despair – 
or cry out to God, who truly is our hope.

That brings us to the Gospel. 
We see what can happen when we really do cry out to God.
When we say, from the depths of our hearts,
“I can’t do this God, only you can: please save me!”

There is a detail in this Gospel we shouldn’t miss.
Yes, it talks about physical healing – 
for Peter’s mother-in-law, for example – 
but much more, it talks about casting out demons.

I want to reiterate what I said last week:
The mission of the Church – 
which we have received from Jesus Christ himself – 
includes confronting and driving out evil.

There is a scene in one of the Harry Potter films, 
where Hermione says to Harry, 
the enemy wants to divide us and make us feel isolated, 
alone and powerless. 

And the devil does this too.

As a priest, I hear many things, and I repeat nothing.
But I can say that many people are weighed down with sin and troubles, 
and what makes it harder is they do not talk to anyone about it.

Sometimes it is seeking happiness in the bottle, 
to make up for unhappiness elsewhere. 
Or it can be work or volunteerism,
As an escape from trouble at home. 
Still others seek empty fulfillment in dark places of the Internet, 
Isolating them from the harder but true joy of real relationships.

Fear, isolation and shame are chains that hold so many bound.
Have the courage to talk to someone. If you don’t know who, well:
You can talk to me. 

I am not Christ; but if I can be Christ for you – 
to be someone you can approach – nothing would make me happier.

But then, there’s this: isn’t that something 
each one of us can be for each other?
When Christ showed up, everyone flocked to him. 
They weren’t afraid to open their hearts to him.

Can you just imagine how much it would transform this parish, 
this community, our families, and the lives of so many people,
If each of us could be that kind of person for someone else?

Think of it! 

How that would smash the chains of bondage, 
because people would no longer be isolated by shame.

If someone near us felt safe to say, “I am struggling, 
and it’s so hard to talk about, but I trust you: will you help me?”

And that “help” isn’t about expertise; it isn’t about being smart. 
There are always ways to find that expertise.

But the first step is simply finding someone – 
another real human being -- to talk to about
Alcohol, or bitterness in the home, or addiction, 
or feelings that don’t line up with God’s plan for marriage, 
or whatever else is weighing you down.

The task – which Christ calls each of us to – 
is to be a sign of love, a beacon of hope.

So here is the irony. We’ve already established that hope 
won’t come from ourselves, but only from God. 
Yet the twist is, that that hope, which only God can be,
He makes present to others, through us.

Now, I want to take a moment to talk about 
one practical way we do that.
And that is the Catholic Ministries Appeal.

Many of us have gotten mailings. 
I am sure many have already responded 
with either a contribution or a pledge.
But if you haven’t, there are envelopes in your pews.
You can either take it hope and send it in later; 
or, you can take a moment now, and fill it out, 
and put it in the collection.

The Catholic Ministries Appeal, as you know, 
supports several worthwhile projects.
It provides for the retirement of priests.
It helps prepare our growing number of seminarians.
This fund also supports prison and hospital ministry,
And a Catholic presence on college campuses.

The CMA fund also supports Catholic Social Services, 
which is a lifeline for people either in so many situations, 
whether poverty or personal crisis.
And this fund is helping address the growing challenge 
of sharing our Faith in an ever more challenging culture.

Every year your generosity exceeds the target, 
and that means some of those funds come back here. 
We use them for our children and youth programs.

The other thing in your pews is not an ask for money,
But rather, an offer of something for you.
It is an invitation to “go deeper.”
You’ll see on this card some options for Lent, 
which is only ten days away.

This parish, for all we love about it, 
Is really only worth anything if it is a place of life.
A place of healing and hope.
The CMA is a way to be that healing and hope for others.
This “Go Deeper” invitation is a way to tap into that for ourselves – 
and then also be hope for others.

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