September 1, 2019 – Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Sirach 3:17-29, Hebrews 12:18-24, and Luke 14:7-14
I delivered the following homily in these same readings at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis in August of 2016:
There are some themes in scripture that are repeated over and over again. Scripture is God’s Word, so the repetition of these themes is God’s way of saying, “Pay attention! This is important!”
One of those themes is humility.
In today’s first reading from Sirach we heard: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility. Humble yourself…and you will find favor with God.” And in the gospel: “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
One way to think of humility is in terms of knowledge and control. When we are not being humble — or “exalting ourselves” as the gospel says — we claim knowledge and understanding of all, and thus feel in control. Being humble means recognizing that we do not have all of the answers and are willing to give up control, willing to trust.
Human beings love being in control. Not understanding something, or being unable to explain it, makes us uncomfortable.
I am certainly not “anti-knowledge.” We should strive to understand and explain the world around us. The problem comes when we encounter things we cannot explain.
Take for example, our faith. Faith, by definition, is trusting in something we cannot explicitly prove. There are so many unknowns, so many mysteries when it comes to our faith…when it comes to God.
Doubt is inherent in our faith. Faith challenges us. The way many people handle that challenge is to reject what they don’t understand. Maybe you are one of those people.
If so, I invite you to embrace the mystery. If you don’t understand, seek to know more. In the meantime, embrace the mystery.
For example, I can’t explain God. I can’t show you a picture and say, “This is God and here is proof of His existence.” I can’t explain God, but I know when I’ve experienced Him. And I can share my experience of God with others. Some things are meant to be experienced, not explained.
Recently I had a very vivid dream. Carol and I, and Carol’s sister Maureen, were being chased. I do not know by whom or why.
We ran into a huge building. It was apparently a warehouse for water bottles and sports drinks. There were pallets of Gatorade everywhere.
We made our way through the warehouse and exited the building on the opposite end. Once outside, Carol and I realized Maureen was no longer with us. We turned back toward the building, and in a panic, Carol called out, “Maureen! Maureen! Maureen!”
Just then I woke up. The reason I woke up, I discovered, was because Carol, sound asleep next to me, was calling out, “Maureen! Maureen! Maureen!”
Isn’t that fascinating?!
After 33 years of marriage, we even dream together! How cool is that?
I have shared that story with some people and they immediately went into explanation mode: “Well, the reason that happened is probably because you were in REM sleep. You subconsciously heard Carol calling Maureen, so you incorporated that into your dream.”
Stop! I don’t need an explanation! I don’t even want an explanation. I have the experience. Just let me be fascinated.
Let me ponder the possibility that my life with Carol is so intertwined, and we are so much in love, that the two of us have truly become one.
Our oldest daughter, Mary, is due with her second child any day now. I remember when she had her first child, our first grandchild, six years ago. Carol was already in South Bend. I was not able to make it there until a few hours after the birth of little Joseph.
When I walked into that hospital room, and saw Mary holding him, my head was spinning and my knees almost buckled. It was surreal. There in front of me was my baby…holding a baby. What a gift! The circle of life on display right before my eyes. There was almost a glow radiating from the bed. I felt a whole range of emotions – joy, wonder, awe.
I remember saying aloud, “My baby is holding her baby…how did this happen?” Of course my son, always a smart aleck, answered, “Do you need me to explain it to you, Dad?”
Despite my rhetorical question, I didn’t need an explanation or even want an explanation. I just wanted to take in the awe and the wonder. I just wanted to embrace the mystery and experience the moment.
I return now to the topic of faith and God, mystery and experience.
When the Bishop Chatard students were in the horrific accident in June, I joined hands with nearly 150 people in the surgery waiting room and prayed with them.
I can’t explain God, but I experienced God in that prayer and in that moment. I felt God in our midst and I know others did as well.
When I was ordained a deacon, I knelt before Bishop Coyne. He laid his hands on my head and prayed these words: “Lord, send forth upon him the Holy Spirit, that he may be strengthened by the gift.” With those words, I felt the gift of the Holy Spirit. Afterwards, I was unable to accurately describe that feeling to my family. I could not find the words. I couldn’t explain it, but I definitely experienced it.
Isn’t that what faith is – no explanation, just experience? Trusting in something we cannot explicitly prove?
Accept the challenge of your faith. Risk feeling uncomfortable and not in control. “Humble yourself…and you will find favor with God.”
Don’t reject what you don’t understand – you will miss out on the experience.
Embrace the mystery!