Thursday, July 16, 2009

A wonderful homily

While I'm at the beach I attend a wonderful Catholic church called Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish. I heard a wonderful homily on July 12th that really touched me, it was humorous, insightful and reverent all at the same time. With the permission of the deacon who wrote it, I am printing it on my blog. His name is Deacon Dennis M. Jacobs and here it is:

Who would have ever thunk it? The man was an arborist. He ran a tree service. Amos' Tree Trimming, Inc. He lived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, just south of the border with the Northern Kingdom of Israel. There were a lot of professional prophets of his day, people who would prophesy for a fee. It was the AFT & AOQ, Association of Fortune Tellers and Assorted Other Quacks. Amos wasn't part of that scene. He worked in orchards. But God chose him, Amos, to deliver His Word and truth to the people of Bethel, just over the border in the Northern Kingdom. Amaziel, the local authority, told Amos to shut up and get out, Amos said he had no choice. "The lion has roared, who will not fear? God has spoken, who can but prophesy?" That's Amos 3:8. So this ordinary man, Amos, became the vehicle of God's truth.

Four were fishermen. One was a hated tax collector. One a political zealot. There was nothing extraordinary about any of the twelve that Jesus sent out to preach, to heal and to expel demons. One of them displayed the sinful condition of humans to the worst extent possible. When one of them had a chance to cash in on Jesus, he took advantage of the opportunity. That's right, Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve the Lord sent out. They were ordinary people, given instructions to conduct themselves like prophets. And the Word of God worked through them.

I grew up surrounded by plastic saints. I remember being teased by some non-Catholic kids because we had a small plastic statue of Jesus on the dashboard of our family car. One of their favorite little taunts was, "I don't care if it rains or freezes, long as I got my plastic Jesus." Lives of the saints, as told back then, made the saints seem far less than real. Perhaps it might seem lovely to be like them, but the way their lives were presented no one really could think he or she could be one of them. There was St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who, supposedly, was so modest he only looked at his mother's feet less seeing a woman would tempt him. Right, dude. Then there was St. Simon Stylite whose penance consisted in living on top of a column for seven years. There were thousands of other fantastic, unrealistic stories about saints. Actually, these stories made being a Catholic relatively easy. We all knew we wanted to be saints, but we also knew that we were real people, living in the real world. Sanctity, it seemed, was for eccentrics, not real people.

But Amos was not an eccentric. Nor were the disciples. Let me tell you about another person who was no eccentric. His name was Karol Wojtyla, or as we remember him, Pope John Paul II. Karol originally intended to become an actor and playwright before deciding to become a priest. Before he made a decision for the priesthood, he had been inclining towards a beautiful young Polish girl he had met. But he felt deep,within him the call to do more to protect and nourish the persecuted Church in Poland, and ultimately, in the world. As a new priest, Fr. Wojtyla, loved to go camping taking groups of young people on canoe trips. He would spend evenings in intellectual, philosophical discussions with them, motivating them to make a difference in the world. Even after being elected pope, while he was still vigorous he would do laps in the Vatican pool and go hiking and snow skiing. Pope John Paul II didn't go around working wonders. He didn't behave in an eccentric manner. But his life was Jesus Christ, and Jesus consumed him. "Our God is an all consuming fire," we read in the Letter to the Hebrews 12:29. The fire, the love, the power of God formed the ordinary into the extraordinary.

We don't have to go all the way to the top of the Church to find an example of God working his wonders through ordinary people. Just the other day, a young lady told me how she decided to change her life and make the decision for God due to a fellow worker whose Catholic faith motivated his life. I have said this many times, but the older I get the more I realize it: God uses you to make His presence real for me and for others. When I respond to the kick He gives me in the shins or other places, He uses me to make His Presence real to you and to others. He uses us, ordinary people, to do the extraordinary.

We, my brothers and sisters, are called to be saints. Not plastic, unreal statues, but real, true saints. We are to be set aside for the Lord. We are called to holiness. Holiness is not a matter of pietistic expressions. Some people use pietistic expression to appear holy but are anything but holy. They attach the phrase "God bless" to the meanest statements to appear to assert their own holiness. "She never lost all that weight she gained from the last baby, God bless her." "He still needs to control that personal problem, May God bless him." Throwing in "God blesses" and other pietistic expressions is not holiness. Holiness is a matter of saying and living, "God first, all else follows." St. Paul says in Romans 8:22 that all creation is groaning, longing for its Savior. We are not called to holiness so we can pose for a plastic statue. We are called to holiness so we can respond to that inward groaning of the world longing for meaning, longing for its Savior, longing for Christ. We are called to holiness so our children, our friends, the people we work with, and even total strangers, can experience the wonder, the power and the beauty of Jesus Christ.

God did this with Amos. God did this with the apostles. He did this with saints. He can and will do this with us. God makes us, the ordinary, extraordinary.

Jesus says that with faith we can move mountains. With faith, we can transform the world. Today, we pray for the faith that allows God to work through us.

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