Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What Can I Do? - Homily for November 6

This weekend's set of readings begins with readings from the second book of Maccabees which is a
noteworthy book for us. It's one of the latest written, was only about 150 years before the life of Christ whereas some of the other books date back to more than 1000 years before the life of Christ. And so it shows to us how the Jewish faith had experienced some growth, change and development as well as cultural experiences. We see what was taking place was a persecution - the people were being persecuted on account of their faith. What the seven brothers show us today, in the abbreviated account of their martyrdom, is that if we hold to our faith, it will cost us something. These were the martyrs of the Old Testament, but the same is said of the martyrs of the New Testament - that if we hold fast to Jesus Christ, it will cost us. 

Jose was a young boy - you may have heard his story before as I have preached about it. He was one who wasn't really alive in his faith, just like most of the boys in his town. They had a town priest and from time to time they would pick on him, throw things at him, make jokes - wasn't very serious about it. Jose began to experience a conversion of his own heart and began to draw close to the priest as the priest began to take Jose under his wing to teach him the things of the faith. Jose was still a little far away from the Lord though, he didn't have that dramatic, living gift of faith, but he was getting there. The time began when the Church where Jose lived began to be persecuted. To be a priest in your clerics meant that you could be shot on the spot. If you celebrated Mass, you could be shot. If you attended Mass, you could be shot. There was no catechism, no sacraments, n -o faith in the public forum according to the law of the land. A number of people began to rebel against this, desiring to live, express and practice their faith. Jose was among their number. As he began to understand the importance of faith and what the lack of it meant for him and his people. He joined a group of "rebels" - Catholics who wanted to remain Catholic and live their faith, to have the freedom to practice it in the public square. Jose was ultimately captured and tortured. The soles of his feet were cut off, and he was marched across town ... to a grave that was dug. It had all the dirt and the hole ready to go, and at the head of the grave were his parents and his godfather. And they said, "Jose, all you have to do is deny Jesus. You don't even have to mean it, you just have to say it. Just deny Jesus and you can go home. This will end, the suffering will stop, you can go be with your parents, your godfather, your family and your friends again." And Jose looked at them, and then his executors, and said "Viva Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King!" and he was killed on the spot. With his last bit of energy, in the dirt on the ground ahead of him, he drew a small cross as a testament to his faith. Jose was 14 years old when he died, and it was less than 100 years ago in Mexico. Not in a land far, far away in a time long, long ago. A lot of times we think that the martyrs of the Church were way back, but as Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis have also proclaimed and try to draw our attention to is that in the last 100 years, the Church has seen more people martyred for the faith the previous 1800 years combined. To be a Christian and cling to Jesus Christ is to know that it will cost us something. 

For many people today it costs blood. We pray not that it will be the same for us. But even if it doesn't cost us blood, it costs us something else. The story of Jose is one that I love, I'm fascinated by the gift of faith that was bestowed upon that man especially at such a tender age. but what strikes me even more is the reading from Maccabees this weekend. Jose had a dramatic experience; it was something that he had to deny Jesus, verbally at least. Even if he didn't believe it in his heart, he had to verbally say, "I renounce Jesus." That's a big thing for a Christian. What the Maccabee brothers experienced was something much smaller. It was the desire of God that the Jewish people not partake of pork, and the only thing that was asked of them, seven brother martyrs in front of their mother (whom they saved for last to watch them all die - shows you the wickedness of it all); all they had to do was eat a little pork. They didn't have to renounce their God. They didn't have to worship other gods. They just had to eat a little bit of pork. And it got me thinking as I was praying with that vision, that understanding of just how much they were willing to go just to uphold the smallest of laws of their faith. 

Who among us on a Good Friday - one of the two days of the year that the Church invites us to fast or abstain from meat - who of us when presented with a gun to our head and a steak in front of us would not take a bite. Think about it. Who among us? I'd be willing to pick up a fork and a knife and start cutting. There's always confession, right? But seriously. We laugh, but that's exactly what the Maccabean brothers did, and their mother .... We get the abbreviated form of the story. There was seven brothers and all seven of them all said something. And you would think the mother would say, "Just eat the pork!" But instead the mother said, "Honor us. Lay down your life." Imagine watching all seven of your children die, and you encouraging them on account of faith, for pork. How seriously do we take our faith these days? How quickly we are willing to fall away and abandon anything and everything that our faith teaches us to say a little hair on our hide. How quick we can be to cast off Jesus even in the small ways for the sake of a little comfort. 

I would like to think that whenever the big times come that I could persevere and follow Jesus - that if someone came to me, put that gun to my head and said choose Christ or Jesus, I would like to be able to say that I would choose Jesus. But I'm not really sure, and the reason I'm not sure is because in the last several months, I think I've made 7 a.m. Mass at the Church on time once. Once. Seven o'clock Mass. I prefer the comfort of my bed and a few more minutes of sleep than to get up for the love of Christ, for His people and be at Mass on time. And that's my job, it's my vocation ... I literally laid down on the cathedral floor for that - to offer Mass. I can sit in front of the TV and watch the World Series until midnight and be perfectly in tune, but you put me in front of the Blessed Sacrament after 9 p.m. and I'm gone in three minutes. Where is my love for Jesus? Am I willing to suffer for Him? Am I willing to be inconvenienced for Him? And are you? It's the simple things: to have another drinks or not, to have a little more food or not. Sunday Mass .. meh. Holy days of obligation ... the Lord understands, I'm busy. I have things going on. And those are big things. What about the little things? The course of prayer throughout our day, to be with Jesus Christ even for a few moments of prayer, and how often I, myself, am busy about the other things than about the things of the Lord. It's easier to play on the computer or play with a cat than it is to visit with Christ. 

There is a little sign above my desk that I put there on purpose that I try to remember, but too often I forget. It's a quote from Sirach that says, "When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials." It's the reminder that when I come to serve Jesus, it's supposed to cost me something; it's supposed to be uncomfortable. It's supposed to be difficult sometimes; it's supposed to feel like a cross because it means we are in union with Jesus. Jesus taking on flesh wasn't a pleasant thing for Him - it was a cross, it was humiliation, suffering, sorrow, ultimately was pain, rejection and loneliness at the last hour, and He did it for love of us. The question is: What can I do for love for Him? And what can you?