Homily: 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A
As many of you know, I used to be an engineer before studying to become a priest. (No, I wasn’t one of those cool engineers who drives trains, but rather was one who designs and builds things.) Because of this, I know that engineers can be very good at many things. I also know, however, that having an “engineering mind” comes with limitations. One of the things that engineering minds do is that they see things in systems. In other words, they see a problem that needs to be overcome (or, perhaps, just a way to make things more convenient) and they immediately start to see the system that could be put in place to overcome it (or make it more convenient). Think of those automatic one-cup coffee makers, like a Keureg. Pop in a pod, push a button and voila, the system takes care of the rest. This is how my brain works and so I like systems.
This has presented me a challenge, however, in my spiritual life. You see, I expect that, by systematizing my spiritual life, I’ll make it better and easier to manage. I create a schedule and gather the necessary tools (bible, spiritual reading, rosary, etc.) so that when I sit down to do it, it’ll just work. This, at least, is what my mind expects. The problem with this, however, is that our spiritual lives don’t quite work that way. While it is possible to make our spiritual lives system-like, they can never be totally systematic; if by that we mean mechanized and impersonal (that is, not if we expect to achieve any sort of satisfaction with it). In other words, if the engagement that we give to our lives as disciples is nothing more than we give when we push the button on the coffee machine, then we don’t have much of a spiritual life at all.
This is why I dislike Ordinary Time. In Ordinary Time we focus on our discipleship, on our spiritual lives, and (if we’re paying attention) we’re constantly being challenged to examine how we are doing (that is, to examine our systems) so as to change and improve and grow. A system that is living in this way is much more difficult to cultivate and maintain than one in which we just push a button or punch a clock and forget about it. Thus, you can see why I dislike it; because it says that “my system is never good enough, that it still needs tweaking, that this project is still ongoing.”
When I’m really honest with myself, however, I realize that all my “systems” end up leaving me in a rut. I find that if all that I’m doing each year is pulling out the same practices, reading the same spiritual books, or praying the same rote prayers, that my spiritual life begins to feel lethargic. Now, there’s nothing wrong with repeating things that have worked for you in the past, but the challenge is to engage these things anew each time. And so, if I’ve made a personal commitment to pray a rosary every day, then I have to search for something new in it every day. After years of praying it, that’s not going to be easy. But if it is truly a prayer—that is, truly an opportunity to engage my relationship with God—then there will always be a chance that I will find something new (if I’m looking for it). This is hard work: the kind of hard work that Ordinary Time challenges us to do, which is why it is not my favorite time of the year.
A few years ago, I decided to try something new. I decided to change my attitude about Ordinary Time so as to engage it more intentionally. I decided to take a deep look at these familiar readings that we hear each week in the context of this familiar liturgy that we celebrate in order to find how they challenge me to grow, both as a person and as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I decided to be content with the fact that my “spiritual life” project isn’t finished (and probably never will be), but that I can’t leave the project undone, either, and so I put myself to work at it. This year I intend to do the same and I hope that you all will come with me.
In these weeks of Ordinary Time leading up to Lent and Easter, I’m going to look for some particular thing that will challenge me to go deeper in my spiritual life so as to make it stronger and more fruitful; and I hope to share that with all of you. Perhaps these will help you to go deeper, too. So, where do we begin?
This week, I think that we begin with John the Baptist’s prophetic proclamation: “Behold…” I think that if we are going to go deeper in our spiritual lives that we must begin by beholding who it is that we are following. Of course, we have the opportunity to do this here in the Eucharist. Right before Communion, I will raise the Blessed Sacrament and say to you “Behold the Lamb of God…” This kind of beholding we also do in Eucharistic Adoration, which we have every Wednesday night and Friday afternoon. Perhaps in these next weeks, each of us can make it a point to try and spend some time beholding Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament during adoration.
We also behold Jesus whenever we read and meditate on the Scriptures. A seminary professor used to tell us that “Every encounter with the Scriptures is an encounter with Christ.” Therefore, we can behold him in the Scriptures. Finally, we can behold him when we acknowledge Jesus in our brothers and sisters in need. Saint Teresa of Calcutta used to say that she saw the face of Jesus (in other words, she beheld him) in the men and women she served. And so, we too can behold the face of Jesus when we love those in need around us.
“Is that it, Father? This sounds like it’s going to be a slow process.” Yes, it is; and this will be enough for this week. Have you ever been sick and had to stay home from work or school for one, two, or more days? Didn’t those weeks seem to be longer than the rest? They weren’t, but they felt longer because we were forced slowed down. If we want to go deeper in our spiritual lives, then we must learn to go slow and let the process work on us. If in this week we can learn to break out of our systems (and the spiritual ruts they can lead us into) and to behold Jesus in our daily lives, starting right here in the Eucharist, then we will be ready for what comes next. Come, then, and let us behold him.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – January 19th, 2020