August 22, 2021 – Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Joshua 24:1-18 / Ephesians 5:25-32 / John 6:60-69
I will be delivering the following homily at Masses at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:
I’ve had multiple opportunities lately to step onto my soapbox regarding two specific issues. My focus has turned toward these issues as I’ve seen heartbreaking changes taking place in our society. Over the past several years, I have led numerous adult retreats, spoken at parent meetings, and addressed groups of high school students.
Every opportunity I get, I speak to one or both of these issues. My first soapbox issue: We need to do a better job of sharing our faith – talking about how we’ve experienced God in our lives. Each day, God taps us on the shoulder repeatedly, sending us signs of his presence, offering us multiple God moments. Each day, God places people in our lives that show us the face of Christ, who reveal God’s love to us and assure us we are seen and valued.
However, we often keep these experiences to ourselves. We allow them to enter our hearts, but don’t share them with others. Or, even sadder, we become jaded and fail to recognize God in our lives at all; and our hearts harden over time.
We need to tell our stories.
So, soapbox issue one – we need to be deliberate about sharing our personal experience of God.
Issue number two – we need to be kind to one another. Society has become increasingly divisive and confrontational. We argue rather than discuss; we confront rather than approach; we judge rather than open our hearts and minds.
The two issues are intertwined: When we take our focus off God, we place it on ourselves. It’s a vicious cycle – the more we move away from God, the more self-centered we become. Our self-centeredness makes it more challenging to consider the needs or perspectives of others, or to even care about them. Such a mindset is unlikely to lead to kindness.
Talking about God and being kind seem like simple concepts, but they have their challenges. If talking about God draws a negative response or our kindness is ignored or rejected, it can be very disheartening. We begin to ask ourselves, “Why should we waste our time?” Walking away is easier.
For example, in addition to talking about God’s presence in my life, I also write about it. I am active on social media. It allows me to share my faith with large numbers of people. If we want to preach the gospel to every living creature – as disciples are called to do – we need to go to where the people are.
On average, I receive 10-12 angry or toxic responses to my posts per week. “There is no God”…“Stop filling people with false hope”… “Keep your religious propaganda to yourself.”
I do my best to let it roll off my back, but it is discouraging. The doom and gloom I hear in their reactions make me sad and cause me to wonder if my efforts make a difference.
Even being kind can be met with negativity.
I was on a plane recently. There were three seats in each row. I stepped into my row and took my assigned window seat. Because of its proximity to one of the doors on the plane, the row in front of me only had two seats – there was no seat directly in front of me.
I was thrilled! I could stretch out my legs while I looked out the window or read my book. Having no seat in front of me meant no drop-down tray for me to set food on and no TV screen to watch movies, but that was fine with me; I would much rather have the extra leg room.
Minutes later a man came into my row and took the middle seat. He was a tall man, probably 6’4” or so. When he sat down in the seat, his legs were pressed into the seat in front of him; he looked VERY uncomfortable. “It’s not my problem,” I told myself. The important thing was that I was comfortable.
However, I decided to practice what I preached. I needed to be kind. So, I said to the man, “I would be happy to switch seats with you.”
His response was, “Why? Because you don’t have a food tray?”
“No…” I said.
“Why?” he continued. “Because you can’t watch movies?”
He was sure it was some kind of underhanded trick I was trying to play on him.
“Really,” I said. “It looks like that seat might be uncomfortable for you. I was just trying to be nice.”
He looked at me with suspicion and said, “I don’t think so.”
What kind of world are we living in that acts of kindness cause people to be suspicious?
Being a disciple – doing the work and living the life to which we’ve been called – can be exhausting.
Which brings us to our gospel. The many followers of Jesus are growing weary trying to keep up with the demands of discipleship. We heard in John’s gospel: …many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
The crowds had been growing as Jesus traveled from village to village. He shared a message with a fresh and engaging perspective. He performed miracles and healed the sick.There didn’t seem to be a downside to following Jesus.
However, when they heard what was ultimately being asked of them, they threw in the towel and went home.
Sound familiar? That scenario from nearly 2,000 years ago still plays out in our steadily declining Church today.
Being disciples – spreading the gospel message in both word and deed – is challenging. Many modern-day disciples have simply walked away. The number of Christians in the United States continues to decrease while the number of those claiming no religious affiliation, or belief in God at all, continues to increase.
So, the opposition, an increasingly secular society, has grown stronger. We are exhausted and outnumbered. We can feel the passion draining. The fight has gone out of us.
Perhaps the pep talk we heard in our first reading from the prophet Joshua will inspire us. Joshua gathered all of the troops preparing for their battle against the Canaanites and asked them, and I’m paraphrasing, “After all God has done for you, are you going to give up on him now?”
Then Joshua delivered a bold and courageous response to his own question: As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
As we sit exhausted and considering whether or not to throw in the towel, we should ask ourselves the same question: “After all God has done for us, are we going to give up on him now?”
We, like Joshua, need to stay the course and chip away at the opposition. We can’t concern ourselves with what others do, we must continue to fight; we must continue to spread the gospel in word and deed. We must continue to share how we’ve experienced the presence of God in our lives, even if our stories fall on deaf ears. We must continue to be kind even when our kindness is not returned or even if it is rejected.
Our efforts plant seeds of hope.
How will we respond? Will we turn away from our call as disciples and no longer accompany Jesus?
Or will Joshua inspire us?
As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.