Monday, October 10, 2016

The Three Ways - Homily for October 9

The second reading today is St. Paul's letter to Timothy and he is writing about the sufferings he is
baring and how he is even in chains for the love of Christ and for the good of the Gospel as he goes forth to spread the good news of salvation in the world. It's a common thing for him to do - indeed in the lives of the saints as indicated throughout the centuries that it's a good thing for us to reflect on the ways in which we suffer with the Lord, to reflect upon on own sufferings, to reflect upon the sufferings of Christ. In light of that, it came to me of another account of one who was praying with the idea of sufferings - St. Faustina Kowalska. St. Faustina is the great apostle of Divine Mercy. If you pray the Divine Mercy chaplet or if you've ever heard of the Divine Mercy, it came through her. The Lord Jesus appeared to her and gave her the good news to be able to spread His mercy to the world. St. Faustina was one who received a special grace of receiving visions from Christ. The Lord came and gave her a unique experience - not just meditating on the mysteries of the sufferings of Jesus - but experiencing them herself: to experience what it was to be scourged, to experience the crown of thorns, to experience the pain and sorrow of His heart of being rejected by His disciples as they all fled except for John. She experienced these things in a unique way. She knew the sufferings of Jesus, and she tried to unite herself to them. One day she was in the chapel and the Lord came and gave her a different experience of sufferings. And He showed her a multiple of a people, a great number of people; three groups. He looked at her and said, "Do you see these people?" She said, "Yes." And He described them to her, "See the first group. They are simply holding their cross. The second, they have their cross on their shoulder. They are walking, but dragging their cross behind them reluctantly. The third group - see that they are nailed to their cross." She gazed out and saw these things, and the Lord said to her: to the extent to which you unite yourself to my suffering (to the extent to which you nail yourself to the cross, to allow yourself to die) to that extent you will also be with Me in glory. To the extent that you suffer with me, to that extent you will receive glory. That's essentially what St. Paul also says in the scripture today, that if we die with Christ we will live with Him, and if we persevere, we will reign with Him. If we allow ourselves to be united to Christ in His suffering, in imitation of His obedience to the Father, we will share in His glory.

That story came to mind because we essentially see those three groups of people, those three responses to the will of God, in the scriptures today. Two of those we see embodied in the person of Naaman. The ones holding their crosses are the ones who recognize the cross; they see the cross, they know the plan of God, and yet they say, "No." They recognize the cross, but refuse to follow. That was Naaman. We saw in past days (it's not in full text here today) that Naaman was one who was very hard of heart. He was one who was inflicted with an illness. It was common for one to go from place to place to place to find who might be the best healer so that you might be healed. Evidently Naaman had tried a number of places, and yet they were not effective. And so he goes to Elisha, the great prophet of Israel and successor to Elijah, because he knows Elisha is a man of great power, a man of God. Naaman comes to Elisha and says, "I want to be healed. What do I do?" Elisha say, "Go dip yourself seven times in the river." And Naaman comments that there is nicer water where he is from, and that he has seen more healings over there - that seems a rather small thing to do, rather simple, just to dunk himself in the water seven times. "No. I'm not doing that. That's too simple. God doesn't work that way, God wouldn't heal that way. It has to be something much bigger." And he starts to walk away. He sees his cross and says no. Naaman begins to leave, but one of his servants comes up to him and tells him to stop. The servants says, "If He had asked you to do something great and big, something difficult, you would've easily done it because you would've thought that was the will of God for you. But He's asking you to do something so simple. Just to go to the river and wash in it seven times. You've come all this way, all this time, all this effort, all this money, resources for us all to come here with you. Why not just go try?" And Naaman has a moment of conversion and says ok. He goes, plunges seven times in the water (that's where we pick up today) and he is healed. He goes back to Elisha because he realizes who God is, that God doesn't work in exactly the manner he desires, but he is willing to follow the Lord as the Lord desires. To do God's will, rather than to hold the cross, look at it and say no. But rather to climb upon the cross and allow himself and his will to be crucified, that the will of the Father might be made manifest.

It's interesting that he comes back to Elisha and he wants to give a gift, some type of monetary gift or donation to show his gratitude. A lot of times we see that - we receive a blessing from God and we want to do something in return. Elisha says, "No that's not why I'm here. I don't want anything." But we see an interesting response on Naaman's part who says that if Elisha won't take the gift than to at least let him take two mule loads of dirt back home. To us that seems an odd request, but for them it was quite sensible and a profound expression of faith. In the days of Elisha the prophet, there was an understanding that gods were localized, that there was a god of this place, and that place, and the god that place. Wherever you were that's where your god was, that's who your god was. When Naaman realizes he was healed, that's why he says, "Now I believe that there are no other gods, but the God of Israel [the God of this place]." All the others are fake. This One is real, and it's this One that I want to be with, it's this God. But he also knows that he wants to go back home where he's from, so he needs this God, of this land. He wants to take two mule loads worth of dirt, so that the God of Israel might come with him as he brings a part of Israel back home and that he could build an altar on that dirt, and there offer sacrifices to that God. He is essentially saying, "I've been healed and I want to do anything and everything to be united to this God because I know this One has power." A great testament of faith.

We see a similar testament in the Gospel as we have the ten lepers. Again, one of them is cleansed and comes back and throws himself at the feet of Jesus, much like Naaman did with Elisha, thanking God for such a profound blessings. Again, he too realizes the way in which God has worked, that the will of God has been made manifest. He climbs up onto the cross to rejoice and follow the Lord, whatever may be the cost.

These are two great examples, but the problem is that group of the nine. The nine should trouble us a bit. The nine who receive healing from Jesus Himself. They too receive that simple penance of go wash in the water, except it's go show yourself to the priest - an easy thing. They don't expect God to work in that way, but they kind of humor Him in a sense. And when they are healed, they don't come back. And that group is the middle group that was describe to St. Faustina - the one's who pick up their cross, but still try to go their own way, they drag it grudgingly because they don't really want to follow the will of God, but they will if they have to. That's them - the nine. The ones who go offer, and they recognize the will of God. They go with it a bit, but they still try to make it their own path, still try to make the cross their own, not simply to climb upon it and allow the Father's will to be perfectly completed.

My brothers and sisters, the nine is the easy way, and the nine is us. We are the nine. A lot of times we can be the one who is reluctant and completely hard-hearted to God, and a lot of times we can be the one that's completely open to God and everything He desires of us perfectly. But majority of the time, we are the nine. We are the ones who accept the will of God, but we still want it our way. "I'll do your will Father, but let me tell you how it should be done, when it should be done, and what manner it should be done. I'll do Your will Lord. I'll allow myself to suffering a bit, but I'm not going to the extent at which You desire. I'll do your will, but I'm not going all the way." It's a reluctance of our hearts. Second best when it comes to it.

The scary thing is - the devil loves second best. He loves it. We don't talk about the devil enough these days, unfortunately. Maybe I should. But the devil is real, and the scriptures say that he is prowling about like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour. He's looking after each of us, every moment of the day, he and the other demons of the earth, prowling around trying to find ways to lead us from Christ. They are not so foolish as to come and put the thought in our mind to completely reject Jesus or completely reject His will. They are not foolish enough to think that we would fall for that because usually we see it for what it is, that it's clearly not God, clearly something that's turning me away from Christ, no. When we see a firm rejection of Christ, we usually recognize it for what it is. The devil knows that. Rather choose that path and be completely rejected, the devil encourages us to choose second best. Whatever he can do to get us a little bit closer to himself and a little bit farther from Christ. Anything that he can do to gain us a little less grace than we would have, to love Christ a little less than we could have, to be able to follow the Lord a little less closely and to be more concerned with my will than I would have been otherwise. That's what the devil loves, and it's our job not to make the devil happy. It's our job to reject his lies, because he's a lie and a deceiver. So often, he points out things to us a if they were good, but it's only because he knows they are the second best, and it's his hope to draw us away form the Lord.

Christ calls us, and He calls us to perfect obedience. To allow ourselves to truly be crucified, and not simply to grudgingly carry our cross, dragging it behind us. He calls us to much more because He wants us to have His glory. Remember, if we die with Him, we will live with Him, and if we persevere, we will reign with Him. To the extent that we allow our sufferings to be united to Him in this life, to the extent that we are obedient to the Father in imitation of Him, to that same extent we will share in His glory. That's a big thing - to allow ourselves to rejoice in the glory of God the Father for eternity. It's the good that Christ calls us to.

There are many things that we could reflect upon on how we respond to the will of God. We could look at how we bear our own crosses, our own sufferings. We could look at the ways in which we desire healing, much like the ones in the Gospels. We could look at the ways in which we struggle with the will of God in various other courses of our life. But I want to invite you to reflect upon three ways in which God calls us to Himself. They are rather simple, and yet I think they are the foundation of our entire life of faith. How obedient are we to the Father's will in the manner of these three things: confession, Mass and daily prayer.

I've often said, and preached a number of times about it, that for us to have growth in the spiritual life, for us to have a life of faith that's actually nourishing and productive, producing fruits of the Holy Spirit, we must go to confession monthly, Mass weekly, and prayer daily. You want growth? There is your system. The Church sets the bar rather low for us because She knows it's difficult for us sometimes, because we do struggle with carrying the cross - nine out of the ten lepers struggled with it. The Church recognizes and sets the bar low for us, but encourages us to go higher. We are required to go to confession once a year. But who among us would rather go an entire year of harming relationships only to have to say, "I'm sorry" once and it covers everything? Do we not rather whenever we hurt someone we love, go back and apologize rather quickly? Do we not rather go back and ask forgiveness for our faults, rather than wait for 2, 10, 12 months later when it doesn't really hit us as much? To go to Reconciliation regularly is a wonderful grace to allow us to encounter the mercy and healing of Christ, to heal the relationship which is so often wounded by our sins though we can be unaware of it.

The Church calls us to go to Mass once a week. We are obligated once a week on Sundays to attend Holy Mass as well as on the Holy Days of Obligation, so it's about 57 times a year. This year you get off easy because a couple of Holy Days are on Sunday, so I think we are down to 55 days, 55 hours, that God calls us to be at Mass. 55 hours. Who among us has worked more than 55 hours in the past week? Think about the time you put in just in a workweek or the time you spend just on your children or grandchildren. Think about those relationships and how important they are for you. God calls us for 57 hours roughly, a very small amount. He would love more, certainly. But for us to be able to recognize that. Even if that's the best we can do, because work obligations sometimes prevent us from getting to daily Mass and such, but if that's the best we can do - it's to squeeze every drop of the joy, grace and peace that we can out of this Mass. To enter into it as fully as we can, and to rejoice in the celebration of Mass, this encounter with Christ in the altar.

Lastly, daily prayer. Daily prayer is really the key to all of this because we can go to confession frequently, we can go to Mass weekly, but if we don't have that encounter with prayer, our relationship with Christ really will not grow. Because basically it becomes simply a means of becoming a checklist conversation. Our novena prayers, where you pray the same thing every week, on Thursdays we pray a novena to the Mother of Perpetual Help, it's good, it's holy, it's beautiful. But if our relationship with the Lord is based off a script, there's an issue. If our relationship with Christ is based of someone else's words or prayer, rather than my own encounter with Him, allowing my heart to speak to Him and His heart to speak to me, than it's not really a relationship. It's a book, a story we read about. It's not a relationship with Christ.

How faithful are we in obedience to the Father? Confession, Mass, daily prayer. He sets the bar low because He wants us to come, but as soon as we commit, He invites us to come higher, to go more, to go farther, because He loves us. Because He wants us to share in His glory. He wants to have us experience His peace, ultimately just like the ones in the scriptures, because He wants to heal our aching hearts.

Let us pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit in this Mass, the Holy Spirit who is already residing in our hearts by virtue of Baptism, that He might come and be stirred up once again. As the Lord Jesus comes to us in the gift of the Eucharist, we might be able to have those blessed gifts come and conform our hearts, soften our hearts convert our hearts once more today, to be able to seek the will of the Father and to do it with joy.