Sunday, October 21, 2012

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
29th Sunday
in Ordinary Time

This weekend I was out in the Putnam Valley woods with Troop Forty, taking part in the annual Michael A. Boccardi Memorial Trek-o-ree.  I celebrated Mass there, and again this morning at St. Vincent's Hospital, but without a written text for either Mass.  Here's an oldie, then.
Mark 10: 35-45
St. Joseph, Passaic, N.J.
Oct. 22, 2000                 

“The cup that I drink, you will drink” (Mark 10: 39).

You can go into some large bookstores and find a section of books for dummies:  Windows 95 for Dummies, Macintosh for Dummies, even subjects with nothing to do with computers, like Bicycling for Dummies and travel guides for dummies.  At our Sunday liturgies we’ve been reading what we might call “Gospel for Dummies.”  Week after week, Jesus explains some truth about the way to salvation, and the apostles, like dummies, don’t get it.

Five weeks ago, Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah.  Jesus made his 1st prediction of his coming passion, death, and resurrection.  Peter said that couldn’t happen to Jesus, and Jesus chewed him out, even calling him “Satan.”

Four weeks ago Jesus made the 2d prediction of his passion, death, and resurrection.  The disciples proceeded to get into an argument among themselves about who was the greatest.  Jesus had to remind them that the greatest among them was the one who served everyone else.

Three weeks ago John was jealous of the apostles’ position as Jesus’ closest followers when he saw someone else driving out demons in Jesus’ name, and Jesus had to admonish him.

Two weeks ago, people were bringing children to Jesus to be blessed, and the apostles were trying to chase them away.  Jesus welcomed the children, blessed them, and reminded the Twelve that we must be like children if we want to enter the kingdom of God.

Last week, when the rich man did not accept Jesus’ invitation to become a disciple, Jesus pointed out that it was close to impossible for people with earthly attachments to be saved; but with God all things were possible.  Peter immediately wanted to know—at least he implied it—what was in it for them who had followed Jesus.  Jesus promises his followers a multitude of new family, and persecution and eternal life.

Between last Sunday’s gospel and today’s we skip a small passage in which Jesus once more predicts his coming passion, death, and resurrection.  Then we come to James and John’s ambition:  “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left” (10:37).  Jesus is talking about serving others, being like a child, suffering and death as the way to eternal life.  They’re asking for power and authority.  And when the other 10 apostles find out that James and John have tried to jump ahead of them, “they became indignant at James and John” (10:41).  They just don’t get it.  So Jesus, infinitely patient with them, as he is with us, has to explain it to them again:  Gospel for dummies.
St. James the Greater, Basilica of Immaculate Conception, Washington

Yes, James and John, like every disciple of Jesus, must drink his cup:  must undergo self-denial, persecution, and suffering, and must finally pass thru death.  Whoever wishes to be great in the Christian community—wishes to be a great Christian—must be “the slave of all” (10:44) in imitation of Jesus himself, who came “to serve and to give his life as a ransom” (10:45).

Talk of suffering and death and service to others is not exactly attractive.  But Jesus has pointed out to us that he has drunk this same cup first:  “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? …The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” (10:38-39).  And in the other 2 readings today we heard about Christ’s suffering.  1st, the prophet Isaiah foretold that the Lord’s Servant would suffer:  “The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity.  If he gives his life as an offering for sin….  through his suffering, my servant shall justify many” (Is 53:10-11).  Then, the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus, our high priest, entered heaven to be our intercessor only after having himself experienced our human weakness, after having been tested in every way that we are:  being tempted by sin, knowing intense suffering, and dying a cruel and shameful death.
St. John the Apostle, Basilica of Immaculate Conception

The Lord’s cup of suffering, our personal baptism into his passion and death, comes to us in many ways.

You don’t like the weather.  You don’t like the traffic.  Your neighbors’ dog barks at 3:00 a.m., or their teenage offspring party beyond your bedtime.  We all suffer from this sort of affliction, and for most of it there’s not much we can do about it.  Except in our attitude.  Without liking it, we can accept it as part of our human condition and offer our discomfort or aggravation to the Lord, in union with Jesus.  Our cup becomes part of his cup.

Then there’s stuff we do have control over, to some extent.  Your body hurts because of illness, weariness, or old age.  You try to do something about it:  medicine, rest, surgery, make-up, hair dye.  OK.  But sometimes what you try takes time to kick in, or it just isn’t successful.  You have a hard time getting up in the morning.  But you have to.  Sometimes your job or other responsibilities make unpleasant demands upon you.  You have a relative, a co-worker, a neighbor who just loves to bend your ear, but you find her or him rather tiresome after a while.  You try to be polite, even long-suffering, but part of you after a while wants to say, “All right, already.  Who cares about your Chihuahua’s lumbago or the 38th picture of your grandchild?”  All of these are part of the human condition, which we can whine about, inwardly rebel against, even get angry at God about.  Or we can accept what is our duty or what we finally can’t avoid as part of Christ’s cup of suffering.

Then there’s serious stuff.  Jesus talks about being the servant of all.  Most of us love to help other people and find a lot of satisfaction in it, up to a point.  But it doesn’t take long for raising a child or caring for a sick relative or teaching a classroom full of energetic youngsters to become stressful.  Our families and the parish make demands upon us that amount to serving other people with constant generosity, and often with little recognition.  We may do service in the wider community, either thru our jobs—work that directly benefits others, like nursing, teaching, policing, social work, government—or as volunteers in some organization.  This is important for society.  We can take that a step higher by uniting ourselves interiorly with Jesus Christ, who came to serve and to save us.  We thus enter more deeply into his baptism, with the hope of sharing in his resurrection.  And when we do that, we’re passing beyond the stage of “Gospel for Dummies” to “Gospel for Disciples.”

Finally, we may, like Peter and James and John and most of the apostles, have to suffer because we are disciples of Jesus.  Those of you who lived in Poland before 1989 know about that.  The rest of us have heard about the sufferings of the martyrs from the age of the apostles right up to the present, when bishops, priests, and nuns are being put into Chinese labor camps and Christians in the Sudan are being sold into slavery.

But we too suffer from persecution.  Every other week there’s a story somewhere in the newspaper or on TV about some form of anti-Catholicism or some put-down of religious people in government, in schools and universities, on the editorial pages, in our entertainment media.  That can only happen when Catholics and other religious people have convictions about what they believe and attempt to live out their convictions, whether that means living Sunday as a day of rest, or teaching that homosexual behavior is sinful, or speaking up against the crime of abortion, or refusing to take advantage of clients in business.  Kids who try to do what’s right in school—to study and not to cheat, not to use foul language, not to smoke or drink or mess with drugs—risk being labeled “goody-goodies” and picked on by some of their peers.  It’s a kind of persecution for doing what’s right.  But when we know what’s right and try to live by it, as disciples of our Lord Jesus, then indeed we’re in Gospel graduate school.  We’re drinking fully of his cup, with firm hope of sharing in his heavenly glory.

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