30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Every weekend the Church gives us a set of readings; usually one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, a Responsorial Psalm and a reading from one of the four Gospels. They’re considered to be a set. They all go together and, in the bigger picture, each week’s readings build on what’s gone before. There are three sets of readings, years A, B, and C. We’re about to finish up year B.

The Church year begins with the First Sunday of Advent, this year on November 29 and the various readings take us through the life of Christ. It’s all very orderly, in fact the majority of the year is called “Ordinary Time” because the weeks follow one another in an orderly fashion and they’re numbered using ordinal numbers, in other words, first, second, and so on.

Father and I aren’t free to choose the readings we want to use. We may have certain favorites, but we can’t just throw them in willy-nilly, whenever we feel like it. The entire three-year cycle of readings, divinely inspired, works together to deliver God’s message, week-after-week, year after year……. assuming we’re paying attention.

With all the readings in the two big books, the Lectionary and the Book of the Gospels, sometimes a single word or two conveys an important message and if we miss those small messages we miss a lot.

Today’s Gospel is a good example. We’re all familiar with the story of Jesus’ healing of the blind man. The blind man calls out for help. Jesus asks him what he wants, a rhetorical question since we know Jesus already knows what the man wants, and the man says, “Master, I want to see.”

Jesus grants the man’s wish. Another miracle performed by the Son of God. But if we just focus on the miracle, we may miss something important. We have to pay close attention to the last two sentences of the story. Jesus says, “’Go your way’ your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Him on the way.” See what happened there. Jesus told the man to go his way, but the man chose to follow Jesus.

Jesus didn’t play “Let’s make a deal”. He didn’t say He’d heal the man in exchange for his everlasting gratitude. He didn’t attach any strings to the healing. He healed the man out of unconditional love. Yet the formerly-blind man was so grateful that he chose to follow Jesus instead of going his own way.

In this week’s bulletin, the Stewardship Thought for the Week talks about miracles. It says, “Many people think that miracles don’t happen anymore.  But, if you focus on the positive, not the negative, focus on your blessings instead of your hardships, miracles will seem common. I absolutely believe in miracles and I hope you do too. They happen all the time. Some are big. Some are small. But they happen.

Jesus restoring the blind man’s sight was a miracle. But the fact that the blind man happened to be in the right place at the right time is also a miracle. He could have been sitting on the other side of town and would have never had the chance to approach Jesus. There wasn’t something like the Saint Louis Review that tells us every week where Archbishop Carlson and Bishop Rice are going to be during the next seven days. Jesus just kind of “showed up” just like He does today.

The man WAS blind, so it’s not like he saw Jesus coming! Just the fact that the blind man was in Jesus’ path is a miracle in itself.

I think the lesson for us today isn’t so much about miracles as it is about how we respond to our blessings. Jesus told the man to go HIS way. But the man chose to go JESUS’ way. Every one of us is blessed in countless ways. We have our life. We have our health. We live in the greatest country in the world. Each of these things is a gift from God. We don’t deserve all these blessings but we receive them anyway. Do we respond to these gifts by following Jesus, or do we choose to go our own way?

Obviously we’re all here today, so we are following Jesus for at least one hour per week. The real question is, “What do we do with the other 167 hours per week?” Do we earnestly pray for the wisdom to understand God’s will? Do we mean it when we say, “Thy will be done”?   That IS how Jesus told the Apostles, and us, to pray.

I’m going to close with a prayer. It’s one I’ve used before. It’s by Father Thomas Merton from the book “Thoughts in Solitude”. It reminds us that we’re all blind in our own way, maybe even more blind than the man in the story. If you like the prayer, there are cards like this at the entrances to the chapel. If you think the pray is too long, then maybe the blind man’s prayer is more appropriate for you: “Master, I want to see!”

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in act please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Amen!

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Thursday of the 3rd Week of Advent–Miracles

My office manager and I were talking today about miracles.  We each have stories where God has rescued us from near-death experiences.  She was held up at gun point on the church parking lot and she was once threatened by a man with a gun in a particularly rough part of our metro area.  (Think National Lampoon’s Vacation.)  She managed to escape then heard on the evening news that the same gang that threatened her committed a similar crime just minutes later, raping a woman repeatedly.

Mine didn’t involve a gun, but rather a semi-truck.  To make a long story short, I had just turned into the left turn lane when a truck went airborne in the lane I had just left.  It went sailing through the air at just about the right height to cut me in half if I hadn’t changed lanes.

I think most of us have experiences like that.  People of faith will credit them to God.  People of no faith will call it luck.  There have been other miracles in my life, some big, some small.  The fact that I’m an ordained member of the Catholic clergy is definitely a miracle (and proof that Jesus has a sense of humor.)  The fact that a high-school nerd married a cheerleader is certainly a miracle.  And I can’t look at my four grown-up kids or my four grandchildren without seeing the hand of God.

So, what happened?  Why do so many Americans, even Americans who express a belief in God, have such a hard time accepting the fact that God does perform miracles in our lives?  Are we so self-centered that we believe we don’t need God to help us out from time-to-time?  Have modern technology and medical science made miracles seem obsolete?  Are we just so jaded that we can’t see God in a world that has so much darkness in it?

These are not rhetorical questions.  I don’t have the answers.  But after the events of last week in Connecticut, I think it’s high time that those of us who do believe in miracles had better get busy trying to convert the non-believers.  Sometimes miracles are performed by highly skilled physicians using techniques that have been developed by other highly skilled men and women.  Just because a damaged heart is repaired in the operating room doesn’t mean that God didn’t have a hand in it.  Every operation is not a success.

As a hospital minister for many years I could go on for hours about patients whose doctors discovered cancer while they were  in the hospital for something else.  Had they not had the lesser problem the fatal disease might not have been discovered until it was too late.  I’ve even seen visitors in the hospital having heart attacks that would have been fatal if they had been at home.

In just a few days we’re going to commemorate the greatest miracle of all.  The all-powerful God came down from heaven to become one of us.  In the process He saved us from our sins and made it possible for us to live forever.  We give thanks for that and all the other great miracles we’ve witnessed in our lives, but let’s not forget the small miracles that happen around us every day.