Hi everyone - thanks for checking out my weekly homily... Last week, for the month of July, the stat counter for this blog recorded the greatest number of hits in the two years I’ve been posting my homilies up here, so I appreciate all of you taking the time to read what the Holy Spirit has helped direct me to write.
Here’s my homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 2, 2009. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/080209.shtml - Thanks as always for reading - Fr Jim
Ash Wednesday can be a difficult day to be a priest. There’s additional Masses, lots of people coming out to them (for some this might be one of a few times that they come to Church all year). That’s not t he problem. On a lot of levels, those can be good things, good opportunities to reach out to people. Because no matter where people are in their faith lives or journeys, it’s wonderful to see so many people coming out to begin the Holy Season of Lent.
What can make it a difficult day to be a priest is that some seem to miss the significance of the day. Some might be confused over what the symbols mean, or not really know why we are doing what we are doing. For example, about six years ago, we were celebrating the fifth (and final) Mass of the day for Ash Wednesday. The Church was packed again as it had been at all the other Masses of the day. We had given Ashes out during the Mass, right after the homily, (where the Church directs us to distribute them...) And we had continued with the rest of Mass as usual. We were distributing communion, and as normal, I was saying “The Body of Christ” to each person as they were coming up and getting the typical response “AMEN” person after person. One guy who had come to Mass late came up to communion and when I said “The Body of Christ” he looked at me and said “Oh, I don’t want that, I want ashes Father...”
Was I aggravated - oh yeah... there was a part of me that was losing my mind at that moment and wanted to snap at him. Wanted to say “You’d rather have a piece of dirt on your forehead to remind you that you are going to die and that without God all that you would be is a pile of dust, of ashes, rather than receive the one thing that saves us from that cruel fate, the actual body and blood of the Risen Jesus Christ given to us under the appearance of this simple piece of bread and wine?”
Something like that... But fortunately the Holy Spirit sat on my tongue a bit and I very calmly said, “Could you wait till after Mass and I’ll get the ashes for you?” He said okay, and walked away - not even looking to receive communion.
That whole episode has always stayed with me. I don’t want to pick on the guy or anything - I’m sure there’s a whole litany of reasons this guy might have wanted the ashes - they may have really meant a lot to him. And obviously his experience or his education or both about what the Eucharist is was deficient.
The thing was, he was in the right place, looking for the wrong thing.
That’s what’s happening in the Gospel today, too. Today’s Gospel picks up from last week (and we’re going to hear from this section of John during the next three weeks as well). Last week, just a reminder, Jesus does this tremendous miracle - the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Thousands of people are fed from five loaves and two fi sh. Such a miracle got the people more than a bit curious. They had seen it, experienced it themselves. So they come looking for Jesus. He had disappeared - gotten to the other side of the lake without them noticing it... some of the boats had still remained on the other side of the lake.
“Hey Jesus, how’d you get here?” they ask, “ Did you walk on water, ha ha ha?” (Actually, he did, we just don’t hear that part of the Gospel). Jesus doesn’t snap at them for that question or for the fact that the real reason they want to be with him was they were hungry again. It was the next day. And like those dinner guests who never want to leave, they’re wondering now, “Hey, what’s for breakfast - we only have one box of cheerios and a little bit of milk! What can you do now?”
They have temporal needs, which at that moment are important to them. And Jesus uses this as an opportunity not to rebuke them, but to challenge them to go deeper. Saying, maybe you haven’t thought about it because right now you’re physically hungry and your stomaches are empty but - what spiritual hungers are you experiencing? How is your heart and h ow is your soul feeling empty? Because, sure, miraculously I was able to do something pretty cool and feed you’re physical hunger. Would you like to have those other hungers and thirsts and emptinesses filled, too?
And more than likely, many of us find ourselves in a similar situation. Maybe we’re here at Mass because we’re dealing with some major issue in our lives. Someone is sick, someone has died, someone is unemployed. And we’re fearful or angry or afraid. And it’s a good thing to come and bring that to Jesus. Or maybe we’re here because it’s our routine - we have this Sunday Obligation we need to fulfill and we don’t want to be like that Ash Wednesday guy that that priest was talking about at Mass.
Jesus gives us this Gospel to speak to us today too. Knowing the many things that are on our minds and hearts, we can forget what is given to us each week in receiving His Word and His Body and Blood. He turns to us though and doesn’t criticize us for looking for the wrong things, he’s simply happy we’re in the right place. He’s probing our hearts and souls20to go deeper... asking us, rather than simply a quick fix to the problems that are afflicting you today wouldn't you like something that will feed you and sustain you for all eternity?