July 8, 2018 – Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Mark 6:1-6
Homily originally delivered in 2015 at St. Pius X Catholic Church, Indianapolis
Back when Lou Holtz was the head football coach at Notre Dame, he and his wife were out to dinner in Miami a few nights before his team was set to play in the Orange Bowl. A waiter came to him and asked, “You’re Coach Holtz from Notre Dame, aren’t you?”
Assuming the young man wanted an autograph, he reached into his pocket for a pen and replied, “Yes, I am.”
“In that case,” the waiter said. “I have a question for you: What’s the difference between Cheerios and Notre Dame?”
“I have no idea,” Coach Holtz replied.
The waiter said: “Cheerios belong in a bowl.”
Coach Holtz fumed the entire dinner. When the same waiter brought him his check at the end of the meal, Holtz said, “By the way, I have a question for you: What’s the difference between golf pros and Lou Holtz?”
“I have no idea,” the waiter replied.
Holtz said: “Golf pros give tips.”
Sorry, that has nothing to do with my homily…but it’s a good Lou Holtz intro.
In May, Coach Holtz was the commencement speaker for Franciscan University of Steubenville. His speech was laced with one-liners and stories, but in the midst of the humor was a beautiful message of doing the right thing and trusting God.
One story he shared was this:
A man was late for a business meeting. He was driving through a parking lot, searching frantically for an open parking space. After driving the entire lot multiple times and finding none, he was exasperated. He tried to make a deal with God.
Looking up to heaven, he said. “God, if you open up a parking spot for me, I will go to church every Sunday, pray the Rosary each night, and treat everyone I meet with love.”
After he finished speaking, there was a loud clap of thunder, and a parking space miraculously opened up right in front of him. Elated, he looked up to God and said, “Never mind, I found one myself.”
Human beings are slow to ask for help and quick to claim the credit.
Today’s readings are about strength, power, weakness, and vulnerability – and the irony that ties them all together.
Most people equate strength and power with rugged individualism. A person who is strong physically and mentally is one who has an inner resolve, a discipline that allows him to be in control and deal with whatever may come his way, on his own terms. I am strong because I am in control and control equals power. We envision ourselves as superheroes, with bullets bouncing off of our chests.
There is merit in some of this line of thought. It is good to have resolve. It is good to work hard to handle all that life throws at us, and to be mentally and physically sharp. It is good to be prepared for challenges that are sure to come.
Where we are misguided is in our belief that we are superheroes, that we are in control and can do it all alone. We consider depending on anyone other than ourselves to be a sign of weakness.
This line of thought seems to be with us from early on in our lives. Have you ever tried to help young children do something for the first time? “I can do it myself!” they will tell you.
Ironically, it is this very perception of strength and power that makes us vulnerable.
If we’re in control, where does God fit in?
What did St. Paul mean when he wrote, “…when I am weak, then I am strong?”
When our lives are running smoothly, devoid of difficulties or challenges, it is easy to rely only on oneself. However, when we face the storms that ultimately come, we find that we are not strong enough to handle them on our own. Rather than reach out for help, we stubbornly go it alone. Our pride gets in the way.
We live by the philosophy of “never let ‘em see you sweat.” To admit that we can’t do it on our own is to admit weakness. So we flounder, and sink deeper into life’s difficulties.
In these times of personal struggles, we must acknowledge our weakness and turn to God. We can rely on Him, and His strength, to carry us through the storm. When we accept that we are not in control and turn to God, in our weakness we are made strong. When facing hardship and adversity, our willingness to reach out to God, and our faith that He can help us, make us strong.
It is what allowed St. Paul to write, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints…” His faith allowed for that contentment and acceptance. As Paul wrote in that same letter, “God’s grace is sufficient for me.”
If we are indeed superheroes, then thinking that we are in control is our kryptonite.
Kryptonite is the one thing that makes Superman vulnerable. As a superhero, he has many strengths, many superpowers: he is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Yet kryptonite – a green radioactive rock – can drain his power and leave him vulnerable.
Every superhero has his own kryptonite, something that drains him of his power.
In today’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus had a kryptonite, too. Mark tells us that Jesus was “not able to perform any mighty deed” while in his native place. This was due to the lack of faith of the people living there. Their lack of faith was His kryptonite.
Because the people in his native place thought they were in control, because they did not have faith in His ability to help them, Jesus was powerless.
Our kryptonite is the belief that we are in control. It drains us and makes us vulnerable. It also shows a lack of faith, which in turn, leaves Jesus powerless to help us.
So what’s the answer?
We must redefine what it means to be strong. Being strong has nothing to do with being in control, and everything to do with being self-aware.
Being prepared to take on life’s challenges, striving to be self-reliant, and providing support for others in their time of need are all a part of what it means to be strong.
But true strength lies in acknowledging our limitations, and embracing our weakness. When we acknowledge our weakness, and seek help, then we are strong.
We must recognize that we are not in control. When we do that, and put our faith in God, we no longer hinder Him, allowing His power to flow through us.
True strength lies in realizing that we can’t always find the parking space on our own.