25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

25TH Sunday of Ordinary Time                                             September 23, 2012


Today’s Gospel picks up where last week’s left off.  Remember, Jesus and the disciples were at Caesarea Philippi.  He asked them who people said He was.  Then He asked the disciples who THEY said He was.  Peter said, “You are the Christ.”


Then He told them that He would suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders and the chief priests, and the scribes.  Then He would be killed and rise again on the third day.  He ended by saying “Whoever wishes to come after me must take up his cross and follow me.”


This is pretty serious stuff but the disciples aren’t getting it yet.  So, they leave Caesarea Philippi and take off through Galilee.  As they were traveling, he was teaching them again what was going to happen to Him but they still didn’t understand.  Maybe they didn’t get it because they weren’t paying attention.  I know Father will agree with me, sometimes when we preach some of you might not be paying attention.  Maybe you have something else on your mind.  Maybe you’re tired.  If you have kids with you, maybe they’re demanding your attention.  Whatever the cause, we know when your mind is somewhere else.  Jesus knew that the disciples weren’t listening to Him.


When they got to Capernaum He asked them what they were arguing about.  They wouldn’t answer.  But it was a rhetorical question.  He already knew the answer.  They were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest.  Think about that!  Yet again, He had been trying to explain to them what was going to happen to Him.  He was going to be killed!  He was going to rise on the third day; fairly important stuff.  But they weren’t even listening.  They were more concerned with which one of them was going to be the greatest!  Even with the Son of God right there, in their midst, they were more concerned with themselves.


Guess what?  He’s in our midst too.  He’s present in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle.  He’s present in the words of the Gospel.  Soon He’ll be present on the altar as Father turns the bread and wine, the simplest of all food, into His Body and Blood.


And Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He’s with us every minute of every hour of every day.  He’s sitting next to us here in church.  He’s in the car next to you on the highway.  He exists in every one of us.  He shares our good times and our bad times.  In the Gospel today He takes a child and says “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives Me.”


Why do you suppose He chose a child?  That’s simple.  Little children have no pride.  They are who they are.  I have four grandchildren age six and under.  You’ll never hear them arguing about who’s the greatest.  Their minds are like brand new computers.  Their hard drives aren’t cluttered with junk.


When they sit down to a meal, they pray.  “Bless us oh Lord and these thy gifts.”  They don’t have preconceived notions about who this “Lord” is.  They can’t commit a mortal sin because they don’t know what mortal sin is.  They don’t need the sacrament of reconciliation…..yet.


The two older ones play soccer.  They’re old enough to know the difference between winning and losing, but win or lose, after the game, they cheer for the other team.  Their innocence is what Jesus is looking for in you and me.


The second reading is from the Letter of Saint James, one of my favorite books in the New Testament.  Last week he told us that faith without works is dead.  To show our faith, we’re supposed to actually help one another, not to just talk the talk, but to walk the talk.  Today he warns us about jealousy and selfish ambition.  He says that “wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.”  Notice that he says “wisdom is from above”.


Education doesn’t make a person wise.  It just makes you educated.  There’s a big difference.  In fact, education and wisdom may be opposites.  How many people do we all know who have advanced degrees who are full of pride because of what they know.  Pride and wisdom don’t go together.  Look at Jesus.  No one has ever walked the earth who was wiser than Jesus, but he was also humble.  He didn’t go around saying, “Hey, look at me!  I’m the wisest person you’ll ever meet.”  He went out of His way to avoid the limelight.  Today’s Gospel begins with Mark telling us that He was on a journey through Galilee, “but he did not wish anyone to know about it.”  Just two weeks ago he healed the deaf man then told him not to tell anyone.


Jesus’ disciples were His closest friends.  They were almost always there with Him.  They had seen His works and knew that He was someone very special.  Peter said “You are the Christ.”  How did Jesus respond to that.  He told them not to tell anyone.  Then He tried to tell them what was going to happen to Him and Peter rebuked Him.


Think about that.  Peter has just acknowledged that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah.  Then he isn’t willing to accept what Jesus says.  I’d say that arguing with Christ is about the most prideful thing a person could do.  But, in the end, Jesus makes Peter the leader of His new Church.


I guess the point of all this is that you and I can’t spend our days playing in the sandbox.  Life puts demands on us.  We have to make a living.  We have to support our families.  We’re not kids anymore.  We’re all so BUSY.  But when it comes to our faith, Jesus wants us to be like children.  When He speaks, He expects us to listen.  Sometimes His message is a happy one; sometimes not so much.  But whatever He tells us, it’s up to us to pay attention.  He said He would be put to death and that He would rise again on the third day and He was and He did.


He also told us that WE would die but if we do what He tells us, we’ll rise again too.  How sad would it be if we were too busy trying to build ourselves up here on earth that we missed His message.


I’ll be on retreat this week with the Trappist Monks in Kentucky.  It should be easy for me to listen to Jesus since there won’t be any distractions.  But sometimes I take my own distractions with me.  Even in solitude, sometimes it’s hard to clear your mind and be open to the Holy Spirit.  But I will try.  I’ll read.  I’ll pray.  I’ll probably spend hours just walking in the woods.  It will definitely be peaceful.  But it’s not easy to turn the world off for four days, even in isolation.


It’s even harder to turn the world off in our normal, day-to-day lives.  But that’s exactly what Jesus is calling us to do today.  Even if it’s just for a few minutes, it’s important that we take time to listen; today and every day.  He WILL speak to us.  He WILL show us the way.



23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

If you read today’s Gospel carefully, Mark is making a subtle point that a casual reader might miss.  Jesus heals the deaf man.  He “opens his ears”.  He put his finger in the man’s ears, spit on his fingers and put them on the man’s tongue and said “Ephatha”, which means “be opened.”


But notice that He took the man away from the crowd to do this.  He did it in private.  Ask yourself, “How many times in my life has Jesus opened my ears in private?”  How often have we received revelations in our private prayer?  Alone in our homes, or in our cars, or here in church, Jesus often speaks to us.  He opens our ears when we’re alone with Him.  Everyone in this church today is going to hear the same words.  But YOUR experience of this mass will be different from everyone else’s because God is speaking to YOU; each of you in a different way.


Every year I go on retreat to the Trappist Abbey in Kentucky.  I’ll be going again in two weeks.  It’s a silent retreat and I know Jesus will speak to me, opening my ears, when it’s just Him and me.  It happens every time.  And it’s never what I expect.  Sometimes I go with a very specific goal, sometimes not. I’m always surprised by what He has to say.  But, you don’t have to retreat to the hills of Kentucky to hear His voice.  He can open our ears, and our hearts and our minds at any time, we just have to listen.


Sometimes when we listen we hear something that we may not like.  When that happens it’s only human nature to reject what we hear.  The deaf man is a good example.  Jesus could have just said “you’re healed”.  We’ve seen Him do that many times.  But He takes a different approach this time.  He spits on his fingers and touches the man’s tongue.  Eww!  I don’t care if He is the Son of God, you have to admit that’s a little gross.  Having someone touch your tongue is a little unsettling.  No, it’s a lot unsettling.  This guy doesn’t know where Jesus’ hands have been.  Then He spits on his fingers before he touches his tongue.  If he had known what was coming, he might not have gone along with it.  But he did, and we know what happened.  He received a great gift, the gift of hearing and speech.  Then, in spite of what Jesus told him, he used this gift to tell everyone he knew about what Jesus had done.


I was asked to write a one-page history of our church to be given out at the homecoming.  To do that, I reread our red book, the history of Saint John Nepomuk Church.  If you’ve not read the book, I strongly recommend you get a copy and read it.  It’s a fairly quick read.  Or if you have read it but it’s been a while, read it again.  Look at some of the things that God has asked our people to do.


In 1870 the parishioners of Saint John’s were asked to build a new church to replace the original log church.  These were not wealthy people.  It had been just 15 years since the original church was built, the first Czech Catholic church in the new world.  But the people responded, raising the princely sum of $50,000.  That was a lot of money in 1870.  When they were finished they had a beautiful house of God where they could worship, just like they had in the Old Country.  Imagine how proud they must have been!  Nobody outside the parish thought they could do it and there was a huge celebration when it was completed.


Then, on the night of May 27, 1896, everything they had worked so hard for was gone in the blink of an eye.  Their beautiful church was destroyed by a tornado.  Not only that, but many of their homes were also destroyed or badly damaged.


The pastor, Monsignor Joseph Hessoun, gathered the people together and encouraged them to rebuild.  He told them that God controls everything in this world and he pointed out that even though the church had been destroyed, the main altar including the statues of Jesus and His Blessed Mother, and the side altar with its statue of Saint Joseph had been untouched.  This was a sign that God wanted them to build a new church, bigger and better than before and that’s what they did.  Even though many of them had their own rebuilding to do.


Those people are all gone now so we can’t speak to them.  But if we could I’m fairly sure that they would tell you that the LAST thing they wanted to do before the storm was to rebuild the church that they had worked so hard to build just 26 years earlier.  But they DID rebuild it and we’re gathered together today to worship in this beautiful house of God.


This church is a beautiful example of how God can turn disaster into a thing of beautiful thing.  The members of our church all those years ago could have easily said, “forget it!  We’ll just go to mass somewhere else.”  But they didn’t.  Encouraged by their spiritual leader, Monsignor Hessoun, they did what most people would have said was impossible.  But even though the Monsignor inspired them, each of those people had an intimate, personal conversation with God.  Everyone had to pitch in and they all had to make an individual choice to do His will.


We pray that none of us will ever be faced with such a huge challenge.  But we face smaller, individual challenges every single day.  We all decided to [get up and] come to mass today.  Why did we do that?  Because He speaks to us.  We all decide each week how much we will contribute to the church.  We all decide whether to eat healthy food or to eat junk.  We decide if, and how, we’re going to help those less fortunate than we are.


Sooner or later we’re all faced with big challenges.  We get sick.  A loved on passes away.  Life is full of these things.  Sometimes we feel like God has abandoned us.  Even Jesus, as He hung on the cross, asked His Father, “Why have you abandoned me?”  God never abandons us.  If we let Him, He’ll help us get through anything.


A short personal story:  A friend of mine who’s an atheist, lost his wife.  When I saw him a few weeks later I offered my condolences and said the usual “she’s in a better place” because it’s what we all do in those situations.  My friend said “No, she’s just dead.”  How sad is that?  How can anyone live their life with no hope of a better life to come and without the comfort that comes from turning everything over to God?



The deaf man was led by the hand to a place where Jesus could heal him.  Obviously he couldn’t listen to Jesus before he was healed.  But he was moved by Jesus’ presence to follow Him.  He could have pulled away but he didn’t.  Well, Jesus is present for us, too.  He leads us gently to where He wants us to go.  But we can’t follow Him if we don’t listen.  And that means prayer.  Not just on Sunday; not just in the morning or in the evening; but all day every day.


Saying the occasional “Our Father” or “Hail, Mary” throughout the day is a wonderful thing.  After all, when the Apostles asked Jesus how to pray, He gave them the “Lord’s Prayer.”  But how much more beneficial is it for us to speak to God on a more personal level.  Remember when all the kids wore the WWJD bracelets?  What would Jesus do?  That was a good reminder even though looking at the world today, I’m not sure anyone really did do what Jesus would do.


Prayer can be something as simple as holding the door for someone who’s struggling with a heavy load.  It may be as simple as letting a car out into traffic ahead of us.  It may mean making a financial sacrifice to help someone in need. It may mean saying the meal prayer at EVERY meal; not just in the privacy of our homes but even when we’re having lunch at McDonald’s with friends who may or may not be Catholic. Every minute of every day Jesus is speaking to us, telling us to do the right thing.  Jesus is our Brother and He’s our Friend.  He’s always with us.  If your brother were standing next to you all day, would you ignore him or would you talk to him and ask for his advice?  I think we all know the answer to that.  Shouldn’t we treat Jesus the same way?