Hi everyone - here is my homily for the 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - October 2, 2011. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/100211.cfm - Thanks as always for reading and your feedback - Fr. Jim
This past Tuesday, an author visited our campus to speak about his new book. Just the title was intriguing - “The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the making of a Navy Seal.” The author, Eric Greitens gave such an incredible presentation that even though I have a pile of books that have collected dust and not been opened, it just seemed to be a “must” read that I wanted to put it on the top of that pile. Hearing from this Rhodes Scholar who embarked on some incredible mission experiences that brought him to places of great need like Rwanda and Croatia who also happened to be a member of one of the most specialized military forces in the world was riveting not to mention inspirational.
One thing that has always fascinated me – whether it’s the SEALS or the Marines or some other elite military group – is how these individuals endure all that is physically and mentally necessary to complete their training. To have whatever it takes to become a SEAL. When you read what the minimum requirements that are necessary in order to get accepted I can see that they are attainable goals for me personally. For example I can run 1.5 miles in about 12 and a half minutes. The minimum requirement to be accepted is to complete that run in 11 minutes. So if I push myself harder for a couple of weeks, I know I could reach that. How does a guy go from doing that, reaching that goal to doing the grueling and increasingly difficult challenges that are a part of their 12 weeks of training to become this warrior?
The training moves quickly from running a mile and a half to a 50 meter swim underwater that's so difficult and dangerous that instructors swim above to monitor the recruits in the event someone should pass out. During an underwater "knot tying" exercise, one of Grietens classmates had to be pulled from the water and revived. Another part of the training involves a 7 mile run while wearing 40 pounds of gear. They must also alternate and carry a fellow teammate for a mile to help prepare for a potential emergency rescue out in the field.
It’s something few will succeed at. I think Mr. Greitens said that his class started with 200 candidates and in the end only 21 would eventually become Navy Seals. And Greitens was able to pinpoint one major reason for it. While obviously a person needs to be in incredible physical shape, arguably one of the essential components is the guy’s head. Because the thoughts of the candidate would determine if they had the mindset to go all the way.
One example that Greitens he shared was from what is called Hell Week - the final week of training. That week is make or break time - the instructors work the recruits non-stop. They get something like 3 hours of sleep the entire week - while undergoing all kinds of tests: Running, swimming, enduring terrible extremes in weather. They endure a “Drown Proofing” exercise where their feet are tied together, their hands are tied behind their backs - and like that they are expected to swim fifty meters, retrieve a face mask from the bottom of the pool with their teeth, and bob up and down a bunch of times.
Throughout this entire week, they can quit at any time. The instructors remind them of that fact all the time. There’s a bell out there that at any moment, they can just go and ring it. Mr. Greitens shared that at one point, they had just finished one of these torturous exercises. They were standing at attention and the instructors said to them, that the next thing they were going to do was grab their gear, and go for a 5 mile run. At that, Mr. Greitens said you heard “DING” – one guy quit; and then another “DING” - and then a third “DING”. They lost three guys at that moment, the most they had all week. Moments after the last guy quit, the instructor said “Just kidding, we’re going to go have lunch.”
Can you imagine? I know, that would’ve been me - one of the dings would’ve been me (some say that’s already true). It sounded just so cruel. But Greitens said it was part of the whole test. It’s part of this process... In that moment they showed they didn’t have the mind set of a SEAL. Because the thing was, those who quit at that point weren’t even willing to take one step to give it a try. They made that decision solely in their minds that they couldn’t, they wouldn’t even attempt to go any further. Once they had done that, there wasn’t anything else that could be done. It just another example that - What you think; how you think; is one of the most important factors in determining who you are.
That’s not just a truth in becoming a Navy Seal, or in our personal lives, but it’s a truth in the spiritual life as well. In today’s Gospel, let’s look at this parable Jesus gives us. This landowner has given the tenants use of his land. And it’s good land - it’s been cared for, maintained. All the tools necessary for good produce are there. The tenants who’ve leased this land, benefitted from it, enjoyed all that was right at their disposal – they don’t simply refuse to pay the owner what was owed him. They mistreat, they kill those who were sent to remind them of their obligations. They go even further and kill the owner’s son.
But what about the thinking that had to go into that? There were self-centered thoughts that turned into thoughts of jealousy, envy and entitlement. Thoughts that they used to justify themselves and how they could excuse themselves from the legitimate obligations simply by refusing to fulfill them. And when messengers arrived to remind them this isn’t your land, you owe the landowner something - the tenants thoughts turned vicious, killing those messengers. Once you’ve believed your own lies, it becomes easier to believe even more delusional ones. Which we see when they actually convince themselves that they could eliminate the son that the owner will just go away and they could carry on as they pleased. All of these self-centered thought led them to believe they could do whatever they wished and helped determine who they were- a murderous, wretched group of people.
Jesus gives us this parable hoping it might trigger some introspection: What are we thinking? Do we recognize the gifts, the talents, the abilities the Lord has blessed us with? Do we know that even in this terrible economy how incredibly fortunate we are in comparison with others around the world that live in dire need and abject poverty? Do we look at even something like the gift of time 1,440 minutes a day and ask ourselves what do we do with that gift? Do we see all of these things as blessings that we’ve been given – not something that any of us were entitled to or manufactured on our own – these and many other things were gifts given from our loving, generous landowner who desires us to make incredible vineyards right where we are.
Left on our own, we can become just as delusional as the wretched crew in the parable. We can believe the lies of the world that feeds this mentality that, if they even acknowledge God, dismiss him as a disinterested bystander. Jesus shatters that theory, not just in this parable, but even more, on the cross. In the cross, Jesus puts asides arguments, debates, words, miracles and in that act makes a final appeal to the closed minds and hearts of humanity. Like the men training for the Navy Seals, the decision rests on us though. Will we throw in the towel, ring the bell and decide we can go no further, quit and go off on our own? Or are we willing to go all the way with Christ? Knowing that the transformation to being the follower Jesus calls us to be starts with a decision in our minds.