I had to bust my tail today, though. Three Masses in two different languages and a marriage preparation meeting (in Spanish) thrown in for good measure. What a great day!
Here's today's homily. To all my engineering buddies, remember "K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)"? If you read this, you'll definitely think about it :)
Homily: 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
A few weeks ago, around the time of the anniversary of my ordination, I was thinking about how what it was like when I was discerning what God was calling me to do, but didn’t yet know that he was calling me to be a priest. I remember it being a very difficult time. Every day I felt like I was giving all of my energy striving to hear God speaking to me so that I could know what it was that he was calling me to do. I remember at one point feeling very frustrated, because I knew that it couldn’t be as difficult as I seemed to be making it. I even joked with my friends that it was as if God was right there in my face, screaming what it is he wants me to do and I was just staring right past him as if he wasn’t even there and saying “God, where are you?” It wasn’t until a priest stopped me in my tracks and said very plainly: “Dominic, you know what God wants you to do, now just do it!” that I finally woke up to see what had been right in front of me.
You know, I don’t think that this is a very uncommon experience. In our lives we oftentimes get distracted or we get so mired in something that our minds and our hearts get cloudy and it becomes difficult to get clear about what it is, exactly, that we are supposed to be doing and why it is that we are doing it. In other words, we lose sight of how we got to where we are at and where it was we were going. This can be in our family life, our career, or in our spiritual life. What happens is we get anxious about feeling lost and, instead of looking for the answers that are right there in front of us, we start striving to look beyond our situations and beyond ourselves to find a way out. As it turns out, the answer was usually right in front of us; but because of our anxiety “we couldn’t see the forest for all the trees”, so to speak.
Moses understood this pretty well. He had spent forty years in the desert with the Israelite people and multiple times they became frustrated at the long journey, which clouded their vision about where they were going, and they started demanding some new way to live: something beyond themselves and God’s promises that would help alleviate their anxiety. And so, now that they were about to enter into the land that God had promised them, Moses reminds them that they don’t need to go beyond themselves when, after they’ve settled in the land, they begin to feel lost or so mired in their daily lives that they don’t remember what they were there for and who had brought them there. Rather, he says, “heed the voice of the Lord and keep his commandments”: the same ones that you learned about in the desert and that you are so familiar with that they are literally “on your lips and in your hearts.” In other words, he was saying, “You already know what God wants you to do, so just do it.”
Unfortunately, our human urge to complicate things is pretty strong and so we see that by the time of Jesus the Israelites had set up a whole complicated system of laws and regulations that were intended to ensure that they always “kept the commands of the Lord”; so much so that they weren’t accessible to everybody, but rather needed scholars who could interpret it for people. One of these scholars came to Jesus today to test him, to see if he was truly a teacher of the Law or if he was some quack trying introduce some new law or teach something contrary to it. Jesus, however, didn’t fall for it and he turned the test back on the scholar. “What do you have to do? You tell me. You’re a scholar of the law; what does it say?” Amazingly, this scholar doesn’t begin to rattle off every one of the more than six hundred regulations that were included in the Mosaic Law, but rather he states the obvious: love God and love your neighbor.
Contrary to what the scholar was expecting, Jesus takes the wind out of his sails and says, “Well, you got it! Do this and you will live.” Hoping that there still might be a chance to get Jesus into a debate, the scholar then asks him, “but who, then, is my neighbor.” This, of course, was a much better question and Jesus gives him a better answer: there’s no complicated list of rules and regulations for deciding who your neighbor is; neither politics, nor race, nor land of origin has anything to do with it. Your neighbor is whoever, at any given moment, happens to be right in front of you.
Yet, we still fall into this same trap, don’t we? We allow ourselves to get so bogged down trying to do things better that we forget why we were doing it in the first place and we end up frustrated, thinking it’s too complicated and so we give up (or at least we’d rather give up). I mean, how often does a simple household project turn into something five times more complicated once we get into it? How often, then, does that project go unfinished because we didn’t feel like we had the expertise to complete it?
Perhaps we don’t think of it this way, but the same thing happens in our spiritual lives. We think, “Oh, I’m struggling to be holy, well then maybe I need to start praying more rosaries or novenas or chaplets” and we bog ourselves down with trying to do so much that we forgot what we were trying to do it for: to grow closer to God! Or perhaps the opposite happens. We think, “Well, I tried praying the rosary once and it didn’t work. Holiness is too complicated, so I’m just going to give up. I’ll show up for mass on Sundays, but that’s it.” Holiness isn’t complicated; we make it complicated when we get anxious because we find ourselves stuck in a rut.
Holiness, my brothers and sisters, is not about the multiplication of prayers and devotions (not that there is anything wrong with them). Holiness is about living the commandments of the Lord that are right here in front of us: love God and love your neighbor. What are some ways we love God? We pray daily, we actively participate in the Mass, we read the Bible, and, when we realize that we’ve offended him in some way, we come to Confession to clear the air between us. And what about loving our neighbor, how do we do that? We get involved in peoples’ lives, helping them out when and where we can and we allow our plans to get interrupted by the needs of our brothers and sisters around us, regardless of who they are or where they came from.
My brothers and sisters, as you can see, this is not complicated: but it isn’t easy, either, is it? God did not make getting to heaven complicated, but by sinning, we made it difficult. Therefore, we need grace if we even want to have a chance to get there; and we get that through baptism. Then, we have to keep ourselves in grace: which we do when we love God and love our neighbor. And if we ever find that we’re in need of more help to stay in grace, don’t worry because God hasn’t left us hanging. This is why he gave us the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist. And that’s it! We get into grace and then we strive to keep ourselves in it (including getting back into it when we’ve fallen out of it) for the rest of our lives and, boom, we inherit eternal life. No complex spiritual programs or scrupulous conformance to minute letters of the law: just unflinching devotion to God, in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, and unhesitating generosity, in the ways that we are able, to the needs we encounter daily is all we need to do to become saints. It’s that simple. You got it? You get it? Good!
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – July 13th & 14th, 2013