July 29, 2018 – Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:
I just returned from a quick trip to New Orleans. I attended a conference for deacons, celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the restoration of the permanent diaconate. It was a great event, with daily Mass celebrated by priests and bishops from around the country.
On the first day, Cardinal Tobin was the main celebrant. He began his homily by sharing this story: He was recessing out the main aisle of the cathedral following Mass, blessing the people as he walked. Near the back, a young girl was standing partially out in the aisle. She had her hands on her hips. The look on her face he described as “somewhere between curiosity and disgust.” When he got near her, he stopped and looked down.
She said, “I have a question.”
He squatted down in front of her and said, “Of course. What’s your question?”
She asked, again with disgust, “Why can’t you take off your own hat?”
He said he was struck by her sincerity and amused by her approach. However, he also came to a realization at that moment – he didn’t know the answer!
He smiled at the little girl and said, “I’m not sure, sweetheart. Maybe it’s a union thing.”
He used the story to emphasize that sometimes in life, particularly a life of ministry, we are asked questions we can’t answer. One of those questions, a recurring one, is: “What does God expect of me?”
In last week’s gospel, Jesus encouraged His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.”
Fr. Jim’s homily emphasized the need for us to take time to step away and renew ourselves. We need to stay strong for the work that lies ahead.
In today’s gospel, we find out why Jesus emphasized the importance of rest and renewal. There was much to do. Many people were in need. Many people needed to be fed, both literally and figuratively.
In this gospel story, we heard about the feeding of the five thousand. In John’s version, Jesus asked Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
And there it is – as Cardinal Tobin referenced – the question that cannot be answered. It is the question that leads us to wonder, “What is it that God expects of me?”
The gospel goes on to say that Jesus said this to test Philip. He threw down the gauntlet: “There are many hungry people. What are you going to do about it?”
Philip’s response reflects the overwhelming enormity of the situation. He said: “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have even a little.”
What Philip was saying, and he spoke for all of the disciples, was:“What you are asking of us is impossible!”
It was a question that could not be answered.
If it was a test, Philip failed. In his defense, placed in the same situation, most of us would have failed as well. According to Philip, what Jesus asked of him was too much; it was impossible.
What was the right answer? What answer was Jesus expecting Philip to give? Hoping he would give?
Perhaps something like this: “I will do what I can to feed as many as I can, and I will encourage the other disciples to do the same.”
As Christians, we are faced with this dilemma daily. There are so many people in need and Jesus is asking us the tough question: “What are you going to do about it?”
It is more than challenging; it is overwhelming.
Carol and I recently went on vacation – our “come away and rest” time. Upon returning, we made the mistake of writing up a lengthy ‘to-do’ list of all we needed to accomplish for our various ministries – not to mention our family. Afterwards, Carol sat down next to me and sighed, “Let’s just get back on the plane. There’s no way we can get all of this done.”
I’m sure you have all experienced that feeling at some point, wanting to escape from what Jesus is asking of you.
Perhaps you spend your days as a caregiver, providing round-the-clock care for a spouse or other family member. That “come away and rest” time may only be a few minutes of prayer before bed or a brief respite when your loved one dozes off unexpectedly.
You’re a parent – one child has the flu and is getting sick on the sheets you just changed, another needs help with Math homework that you don’t understand, and a third needs a ride to soccer practice and he can’t find his shoes. You’re overwhelmed.
You might be involved in any number of other ministries:
- Volunteering at a soup kitchen and seeing the endless line of people who are hungry, entire families in need.
- Serving the homeless on the streets and noticing there are more people this week than there were last week. You experience their great need and feel their hopelessness.
- Ministering to people with addictions. Ten days sober before falling again. One month sober, then a relapse.
- Working as a teacher – so many kids with so many needs and you’re expected to teach them, counsel them, affirm them, love them and keep them safe.
It’s all overwhelming, so you consider telling Jesus, “I can’t do this anymore!”
Warning: If you say this, He will lock eyes with you and lovingly say, “Feed my sheep.”
That is what God expects from us. He expects us to see the needs of others through the eyes of our faith.
There was a movie based on a true story and released in 2016 titled, Hacksaw Ridge. While it may not be for everyone because of its graphic depictions of war, it is a powerful movie with a beautiful message.
Private Desmond Doss was a medic and walked into one of the bloodiest battles of World War II without a weapon, armed only with his med kit, his Bible, and his faith in God.
The battle took place in April 1945. The battlefield, known as Hacksaw Ridge, was located on top of a sheer 400-foot cliff. Once US troops engaged with the Japanese on that spot, the mission to take control of the area was deemed untenable, and Doss’s decimated battalion was ordered to retreat.
However, Doss refused to leave his injured comrades behind. Facing heavy artillery fire, Doss repeatedly ran back into the kill zone alone, carried wounded soldiers, including some Japanese soldiers, to the edge of the cliff, and singlehandedly lowered them down to safety with a rope.
He was absolutely exhausted, and his hands were bloodied and raw from the rope.
Each time he saved a man’s life, Doss prayed aloud, “Lord, please help me get one more.”
By the end of the night he had rescued an estimated 75 men.
That is what God expects of us. He wants that to be our response to the great need in our world.
The easy road when we are overwhelmed is to leave the work to others. Instead, we must put our trust in Jesus and pray, “Lord, please help me serve one more.”