Monday, August 22, 2016

Knowing and Being Known - Homily for August 21

Heart speaks to Heart
Readings for Sunday, August 21 / 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 66:18-21 | Psalm 117 | Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13 | Luke 13:22-30

I’d like to begin by saying thank you for your prayers. Many of you have gone to serve as well as the many donations which have been received in our parish from those who are suffering from the floods. It was a great joy to be able to see the generosity and the love of our parish. It made me really proud to be your pastor. Whenever we went to Denham Springs on Friday to drop off all the donations, we had collected one twelve-foot trailer that was jam-packed, another one was probably a sixteen foot trailer that was at least half full, and other cash donations. It was interesting because we went to the shelter to drop everything off, and they were short-handed because most of their volunteers were trying to clean their own homes. They asked if we could stay to help sort some of the donations onto the tables. As soon as we were unpacking things, there were people already standing at the table waiting to pick them up. You’d put a bottle of bleach on the table, bend down to pick another one up, and the other one you just put was gone already. It was greatly needed and greatly appreciated. I know many of them there expressed their gratitude to us who were there, and through us to you. So thank you, as your pastor, but also as one who calls Denham Springs home.

The past couple of days I’ve been at my parents’ house working, and have been reminded of the many mission trips I’ve been involved in throughout my time in the seminary. We went to Guatemala and Nicaragua multiple times, as well as doing local mission trips where we can serve in our own communities - going to Vacherie at the southern end of our diocese. One year we went to a youth group mission trip in Bayou La Batre, over in Alabama; and it was that one that stuck out most to me as I was reflecting and praying with the scriptures as we were taking care of things at the house. It was an ecumenical gathering, so it wasn’t just Catholic, it was a variety of Christian churches that had come together for this mission work after one of the storms that hit them. Each night, one of the ministers would have a little time of prayer or reflection. One of the evenings they sat us all down and the minister asked us to close our eyes. He began to describe a scene where we passed from this life, where we died, and then we ‘woke up’, and before our eyes was Jesus in heaven. The minister said, “If you could ask Jesus one question, what would it be?” and he then opened up the floor for people to respond. The profound thoughts and reflections from the hearts of 13, 14, 15-year-olds was edifying to me at that time and still today.

But it was that question of “If you could ask one thing what would it be?” - in a sense that’s what we get in the Gospel today. The Lord Jesus is going from town to town on His way to Jerusalem. As you maybe remember from a few weeks ago, Jesus sets His eyes on Jerusalem. He’s resolved to go there. He’s not coming back. As He’s going from place to place, there are many times where people will see Him for the first and the last time. I think one of those people is the one who cries out the question today. As Jesus passes by, he has that burning thing in his heart - the one thing that he wants to know from the Lord - “Lord, will only a few be saved?” “What are my odds Jesus, am I going to make it, or will only a few saved?” It’s an important question because salvation is everything. If we have it, we have eternal joy; if we don’t we have eternal sorrow and suffering. It’s an important question. What side of the line am I on Jesus? Can I make it?

It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t give a numerical response. He doesn’t say, “O yeah, probably just a hand full.”  He doesn’t say, “No. Many people will make it. All will make it. Nobody will make it.” He doesn’t say any physical number or general idea, and that’s important for us. Because if Jesus says that “Yeah everybody is in,” we don’t really worry about showing our love for the Lord and others in this life. Our natural inclination is to take the easiest pathway possible, right? So, if the Lord says most people will make it, then it’s easy to presume “Yea, I’m generally a good person. I’ll probably make it. I’ll be in the number of the most.” If the Lord says only a few people will make it, then we begin to question whether I can make it or whether I should even try. No matter what the Lord would’ve said, the question would have have arisen in our hearts  “Should I try?” either because I’m already in or I don’t have a shot.

The Lord gives the proper response: It doesn’t matter how many get in; that’s not the point. Strive to enter the narrow gate. Strive. The Greek word is something to the effect of “agonize” - give everything you can to enter through the narrow gate. Give your best effort. That’s what the Lord calls us to - to give our best effort - to enter through the narrow gate. He says that some won’t be strong enough, some won’t know the way, they won’t know Me. Then He gives that agonizing story of the ones who come, and they are standing outside saying, “Jesus, open the door for us. We are here. We’re ready to come to the feast, Lord.” He says, “I don’t know where you’re from.” “Lord you ate and drank, you taught in our streets.” “I don’t know where you’re from. Depart from me you evildoers.”

Many hours I’ve spent praying with those passages. Put yourself in that situation. Spend some time reflecting on that response. If that’s not a motivation … Every time I pray with that scripture and place myself in that place where the Lord was speaking that to me, I get this really sick feeling in my stomach. I immediately realize that I need to strive a little more I need to try a little harder for myself. And so the Lord invites, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

“I don’t know where you are from” would be a hard thing to hear. So how do we fix that? How do we make it so that the Lord knows where we are from. Obviously, He’s God - He knows. He knows the number of hairs on our head, or maybe the lack thereof sometimes. He knows everything about us. He knows all the things in our heart - even if we don’t know it. You think He wouldn’t know where we are from? Certainly He does. But He needs even more than that. He wants to know us - to know us personally. And the way we do that is prayer. We have to pray, to be a people of prayer - profound prayer; not surface level prayer, but prayer that actually speaks to Christ and is able to listen. To have that time where we hear the word of God and we respond to it - a conversation with Him. We can offer up the rosary and allow our meditation to become an encounter with Christ Jesus. Other spontaneous prayers, chaplets and these sorts of things, can be beautiful ways to encounter the living God. But one of the ways that I think is most important for us is the Mass.

Today is the feast of Pope St. Pius X. He was a pope in the early 20th century, and he was part of the early days of the liturgical renewal in the Church and one of the things he desired for us as a Church was to pray the Mass. One of his famous quotes was, “Don’t pray at the Holy Mass. Pray the Holy Mass.” Again, don’t pray at Holy Mass. Don’t just come in here, and father does his thing, we say the words, but I’m kind of doing my thing over there, just kind of doing my own personal deal. No, he says pray the Holy Mass - pray the words, pray the actions. Let the things that we say and the things that we do be things that are not just on that exterior, but they are manifestations of the reality of what our heart is actually speaking to Christ. And that’s hard. It’s hard because we are easily distracted and easily caught up in the routine of things.

Being a priest, I’ve celebrated Mass every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. It’s easy - impressively easy - to become like a robot and go through the words, go through the actions. Just this week at one of the daily Masses, I remember concluding the Eucharistic Prayer and we started the Our Father - I presume - and I woke up, I ‘clicked in’ two pages later as I was offering people the sign of peace. I had to ask someone after Mass, “Did I actually pray the prayers or did I skip over them?” “No, Father, you prayed them.”

How easy it is to happen like that, that we can allow our minds to kick into autopilot, allow our lips say what needs to be said as our mind goes ten thousand other places. That’s not what we are supposed to do. It is to enter into the mystery and pray the Mass, to reflect on the words we say and to mean them: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy... Glory to God in the highest … Thanks be to God …Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ … Lord hear our prayer … Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts …. Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us … Lord I’m not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed … Amen … Thanks be to God …. These things that you say and that I say every Mass - if we really prayed them, they have a way of changing our hearts. If we allow the bodily postures that we do to form our spirit, it can change us. It teaches us to pray. It allows us to know the Lord, but even more importantly, to be known by Him.

As we come here, it would be easy to come and simply say the words, do the things, to show up at Mass every Sunday, to do all the right stuff, to check off our lists of Catholic obligations, is to come and say to the Lord, “Lord, you ate and drank among us, and you taught in our streets.” The Lord says, “But you never spoke to me. Yes I was there, but you never spoke to me. You were at the other table. You weren’t listening or responding. You were somewhere else. You should’ve been with me, listening to me, speaking with me.” And that’s what He desires for us. Prayer - heart speaking to heart. To allow our heart to speak to Christ, and not just with the words of the Mass, but to allow even the other things of our heart to speak. And the other silent moments of prayer, to allow our heart to pour out to the Lord Jesus and to really speak to Him, to talk to Him, because He is here. He’s passing by right now in this Mass right before our eyes, into our very flesh. There are many things we want to ask Him, many things we want to say, but it’s to make sure to say them, and to make sure that we mean them.

The Lord Jesus calls us to Himself.  He wants to know us, He longs to know us. I think we want to know Him as well. I invite you, as we enter into the continuation of this Mass, to respond to the Lord, to let the words really mean something, let our actions really mean something for us. I’m not preaching to you; I’m preaching to me today because I need it, because so often I forget it. How easy it is, again, to go through the motions, but to forget the Lord behind it all. Let us come together today in this Mass and to offer ourselves in love, to love and be loved, to know the Lord Jesus, and to be known by Him.