Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 22, 2012. The readings for today can be found at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072212.cfm. Thanks as always for reading and your feedback and comments. God Bless - Fr Jim
A good friend of mine who’s a priest, and is 100% Irish, we’ve learned a lot from one another about each other’s culture. And we’ve observed that the phrase – “GOD UNDERSTANDS” means different things to Irish people than it does to Italians. He says that when an Irish person says that, they say it, but there’s a part of them that’s not really sure... or isn’t completely convinced when they say that. For us Italians, I’ve seen and heard relatives and friends say that and they use it extremely loosely and freely - they stake everything on it. In some ways, it’s a religious take on some ethnic stereotypes. The Irish have often been characterized as being guilt ridden while Italians, maybe Mom or Dad can make them feel guilt (when Grandma or Grandpa play the card - you can see how they are experts!) - but in many ways, they are characterized as a little more free-wheeling in a lot of things. Much more relaxed.
Two sets of friends from a parish I was assigned to kind of illustrated the example: Family 1 was going on vacation - I’ll call them the McReilly’s, they were looking up online to find the local parish near the vacation spot so they could go to Mass that Sunday. They saw the schedule, planned to make the 1:00 Mass, and arrived at 12:45. Only when they arrived at 12:45, they found the Mass Schedule had been changed (and the website hadn’t been updated) and they had missed the last Mass of the day. Mrs. McReilly said to her husband - well, God understands - we tried to make it - we did all that we could to be here today. And he nodded in agreement, while being disappointed and frustrated... His two teenage children were a little less disappointed by the turn of events, but anyway.... So they left the church to go and have lunch, and do some sightseeing. Mrs. McReilly was saying at Lunch they had just finished ordering and she was distracted by something with the kids, when she notices her husband was on his iPhone, looking up local Catholic churches in the area to see if there was any place in the 30 mile radius that had an evening Mass.
Family 2 -we will call them the Bacciagaloop Family, they go on Vacation, going to Mass isn’t even on their radar screens - because, as they explained it “We go every week - we’re on Vacation - God Understands.”
There was something about these two, true anecdotes, that came to mind when I was praying with this Sunday’s scriptures that I think we can reflect on. In this Gospel, we have Jesus looking at his apostles returning from a successful time ministering. Jesus says to them “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Isn’t that incredibly comforting? To hear Jesus wanting to care for us, how he wants us to rest, how he wants us not to work non-stop, 24/7...
But it’s funny, we have a tendency to take that thought to another level. We can use that in a sense to give ourselves license to do whatever we want. And so my friends the Bacciagaloops for example say “what’s the big deal, for missing one Sunday Mass. God Understands! What, should we be as obsessive and anal as the McReilly’s trying to GPS their way to the next parish and not even enjoy their time away?” Hearing today’s Gospel, they probably would use that to elaborate their point “even Jesus told them to relax - to take it easy - we work hard!”
(Because I’m Italian, I can anticipate such comments)
And it’s funny because there’s a point to that. I think my friends the McReilly’s had done all that was ever imagined or expected of them to attend Mass and (because I know Mr McReilly) part of this was more about his anal- OCD-ness kicking in.
But the thing is I think that both families, who are both good Catholic people seem to be missing something. And all of us can miss something in reading these things into them and trying to simplify it too much or tailor it to our needs.
Jesus invites the apostles to come away with Him. To rest in Him. To be rejuvenated in Him. And so often we have this approach to Sunday Mass or to prayer or to anything with our faith lives as something we have to do. Another responsibility, yes, an obligation. And because everyone is working so hard all week - Parents, kids, all seem to be running from one obligation to the next and then trying to cart everyone together on time for Mass - it’s understandable that we can start to treat Mass as simply a habit where we look at this obligation as something we do to “appease God” or what people like to jokingly refer to as alleviating our Catholic guilt (which seems to wane more and more each day – not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing)
Yet, coming together as a community - (no, you know what, I don’t like that term) - as God’s Family - as we pull out of the world to this special place to celebrate the Eucharist, it’s meant to be our time of refreshment, of renewal. To come to Jesus after life has taken us in varied and different directions - to share our joys of seeing how present and active God’s life has been in our life. To share our struggles, our burdens - how we keep trying to do the right thing each day - how we keep trying to avoid that temptation or sin... And in all of that to listen to His loving, gentle, challenging voice. To be nourished by the most intimate gift he could give us, His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. To be strengthened in our connectedness with Jesus so that when we go out into the world again, we can face all that it is we need to face - but renewed in our faith that he is with us through it all.
Because the reality is - yes, God understands. God Understands how tired, how burdened, how weary we can be... God understands - how desperately we need to slow down, take time, to rest, to be with one another. God understands perfectly who we are and all that we need. The question is do we understand how much we need Him?