10 June 2018

Homily - 10 June 2018 - The Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

The Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Just a few moments ago, we prayed to God asking for the grace to “discern what is right, and by your guidance do it.”[1] This honest prayer seems to take its inspiration from the words of Saint Paul when he says, “although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:16). What does it mean for the outer self to be wasting away?

The first answer – and perhaps the most literal – is that each of us is journeying toward death, toward that unknown hour when we will be called from this life to stand before the judgment seat of God. Our inner self is being renewed by God’s grace and mercy even as our outer self is wasting away so we might be well disposed to see the Lord face to Face. It is for this reason that Saint Augustine teaches us that

The renewal of humankind, begun in the sacred bath of baptism, proceeds gradually and is accomplished more quickly in some individuals and more slowly in others. But many are in progress toward the new life if we consider the matter carefully and without prejudice.[2]

In this assessment of the renewal of humanity, Saint Augustine, of course, is right.

Some of us discern the Lord’s will without difficultly, but willingly refuse to follow it. Others of us discern the Lord’s will without difficulty, and grudgingly follow it. Still others of us discern the Lord’s will without difficulty and gladly embrace it. Others, yet, discern the Lord’s will only with great difficulty and follow it with greater difficulty still. Why is this the case? The answer may be concealed within the passage we heard from the Book of Genesis.

When our first parents realized they were naked, they hid themselves when God called out to them (cf. Genesis 3:10). Saint Augustine calls this decision to hide from God “a wretched error, as if a naked man, as God had made him, could be displeasing to him. It is a distinguishing mark of error that whatever anyone finds personally displeasing he imagines is displeasing to God as well.”[3] There is, however, something much more profound behind this decision to hide from God than a simple shame of the physical body.

Before [Adam] was naked of any dissimulation [i.e., concealing under a false pretense] and clothed with the divine light. From this light he turned away and turned toward himself. This is the meaning of his having eaten from that tree. He saw his nakedness, and it was displeasing to himself because he did not have anything of his own.

This turning away from the light of God’s Face and turning toward ourselves is indeed the greatest of human errors, and one in which our contemporary society excels. The more we attempt to grab what we do not have and to hide from the light of God, the less able we are to discern his will and do it. And the less we follow his will for us, the less happy we will be. This is a simple fact of life.

The great saints have shown us time and again, down through the centuries, the way to happiness. Rather than growing despondent because they had nothing of their own, they chose not to hide from God but instead to bask in his light. They were able to discern the Lord’s tender love for them precisely when they realized they were naked in the sense that they had nothing of their own; everything we have, they knew, is a gift from God. They accepted as a blessing what others saw as a limitation; they turned outward from themselves and toward the Lord to discern his will and they followed it in love.

Over the past number of weeks, several of you have, at different times and in different situations, asked what my vision for this parish is. If you think back to my first Sunday among you as your Pastor, you might remember me speaking these words:

When a new pastor arrives in a parish, many of the parishioners wonder what program he will enact. The only program, if you will, which I hope to enact is to help you prepare to see the face of Christ more clearly, to help you draw near to him and bask in the light of his face, a light which can transform us and make us like himself. I hope to help you seek the Lord not in curiosity, but in love, to not only hear his voice speaking in the quiet of our hearts, but to see his face and become witnesses of his majesty and to take your places within the Father’s house.[4]

This remains my goal, my vision, for this parish and I have every confidence it can be attained because “we have a dwelling not made with hands, eternal in heaven” that is waiting for us, if we remain faithful to Christ (II Corinthians 5:1). Indeed, the purpose of a parish is to help each of us discern the Lord’s will and do it, so as to enter into the eternal life promised to the faithful in the waters of Baptism. In these waters, we are bound together to help each other turn, not toward ourselves, but toward the Lord, to let the Lord’s light shine upon us.

When Bishop Paprocki formally installed me as your Pastor ten days after I spoke those words to you, he reminded us all that priests “need the help and cooperation of all parishioners. To be able to put into practice the mission of Jesus,” he said, “we need to be part of a team supporting each other.”[5] We have to be on the same team to help each other discern the Lord’s will for us and do it, both as individuals and as a parish.

To this end, I have asked the members of the Pastoral Council and the Finance Council to visit with each adult member of the parish for what might be called one-to-one conversations. The purpose of these conversations is simple: to build a relationship between individuals and the parish, to discover interests, to provide clarity, and to obtain information. In other words, the goal with these conversations is to find out – if I might put it a bit crassly – what you like about the parish, what can be improved, what you would like to see the parish doing, and how you might like to help the parish. While you are not required to participate in these conversations (some of you might now be thinking, “He is out of his mind” [Mark 3:21]), I certainly hope you will welcome the opportunity to visit with a fellow parishioner, to share your dreams for this parish, and to help us discern the Lord’s will for us.

Our goal is to visit with each adult parishioner, both active and inactive, for about thirty minutes. Last week, the council members each received a list of five parishioners to try to visit with over the course of the next six weeks. Once this first round is completed, they will gather together again with me to share a sense of what they heard. They will then go out to the other active parishioners and, once every active parishioner has been heard, they will try to visit our inactive parishioners. All of this is a way we can help each other progress toward the new life of Christ Jesus, to turn away from ourselves and towards him. Let us, then, help each other discern the Lord’s will and do it, so that, as his brothers and sisters who have done his will, we might together behold the loveliness of his Face in the Father’s house (cf. Mark 3:35; John 14:2-3). Amen.

[1] Collect for the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Roman Missal.
[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo, The Way of Life of the Catholic Church, 1.35.80.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Two Books on Genesis Against the Manichaeans, 2.16.24.
[4] Reverend Daren J. Zehnle, Homily for theFeast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, 6 August 2017.
[5] Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Homily, 16 August 2017.

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