The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [B] – Sep. 6, 2015

Here is the homily preached at St. John Parish in Clonmel for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year B], September 6, 2015.  For the Mass Scripture readings, click HERE.

For the homily’s text, jump below…  

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Isaiah 35:4-7  +  James 2:1-5  +  Mark 7:31-37
September 6, 2015

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf uncleared….”

Mercy is the key.  Mercy is the key that unlocks the human heart.  Once a person has opened his heart to the gift of mercy, God is free to pour in all manner of gifts.  But when someone refuses to accept mercy, his heart remains tight shut, and God respects that decision.  It’s in this sense that mercy is God’s primary gift.  Mercy is not primary in importance.  Mercy is primary in the order of fallen man.  God always respects human free will, even though His divine Will is infinitely more powerful.  But if you don’t accept God’s gift of mercy, your heart is shut to all His other gifts.

Perhaps this is why Pope Francis has declared that the Church will celebrate a special Year of Mercy, beginning on December 8.  Perhaps from his perspective as the shepherd of the Church throughout the entire world, the Pope sees mercy as being the greatest need of mankind:  not only within the Church, but outside the Church as well.  So consider the meaning of mercy.

By way of example, a child who doesn’t know that he’s loved at his worst, will never accept the gifts that will make him his best, because he will never desire to be his best.  Reflect on that Parable of the Prodigal Son.  If the prodigal son hadn’t turned to his father for mercy, then the father—who all along was hoping and praying for his son to return—could not first have rushed out to give mercy, and then also given other gifts such as a ring and a feast.  It’s the same in your life.  Because you are a sinner, God the Father’s merciful love is primary.  He has already accomplished the work of forgiving your sins by offering His Only-Begotten Son on the Cross.  But you have to accept that gift of mercy.  Once you have, the flood-gates of your human heart and mind are opened, and God the Father can pour upon you many other gifts.

Imagine the life of a child in a wealthy family.  Imagine the child’s father is named Daddy Warbucks.  Daddy Warbucks is a man who constantly gives presents to his child.  But there’s one thing that Daddy Warbucks never gives his child, and that’s mercy.  Fortunately, this child’s conscience is strong enough to tell him that he needs mercy in order to have an authentic relationship with his father.  Unfortunately, this child’s conscience also knows that without mercy, no other gift has meaning, no matter how expensive.

But keeping that first example in mind, imagine a second scenario.  It’s very similar, with the same child and the same generous Daddy Warbucks.  The differences are that Daddy Warbucks does offer mercy to his child as a loving gift, but that the child—for whatever mysterious reason—refuses to accept his Father’s gift of mercy.  Some might think it odd to imagine that a child would refuse the gift of mercy.  Unfortunately, for whatever mysterious reason, it’s far more common than people think.  Consequently, there are many adults who have grown up without ever accepting mercy into their hearts.  In the lives of such persons, gifts can—strangely enough—become sources of guilt.  How is that so?  It is so because mercy is primary.  Mercy is not first in greatness:  there are far greater gifts of love, both in this world and the next.  But without mercy, a person whose conscience knows mercy’s importance cannot accept any other gift because he feels unworthy.  The tragedy of this second scenario is that mercy is offered, but refused, and therefore every other gift is void.

+  +  +

God our Father is abundantly rich in mercy.  But the richness of His graces goes far beyond the gift of mercy.  Consider a saintly example.  St. Thérèse the Little Flower, whose feast day is October First, died at the age of 24 from tuberculosis.  You and I, living in an age whose medical knowledge is so advanced, see few people suffering from TB compared to those living at the end of the 1800’s.  St. Thérèse suffered severely from this disease for 18 months.  You have to hold on—in your mind—to this profound suffering that she experienced at the end of her life, as you reflect on what she taught.  Her teaching was borne out of her suffering.

Often, the Little Flower’s teachings are dismissed out-of-hand as “sugary” and “pie in the sky”.  In other words, St. Thérèse and her teachings are rejected because they’re thought to be unrealistic.  But when you keep in mind the suffering of her life, then the intimacy of the love that she received from God the Father reveals its depths.  It was within her own awareness of her many weaknesses that the Little Flower said, “What does it matter if I fall every moment?  By that, I learn my weakness, and [in that] I find great profit.  My God, You see what I am….”[1]

You yourself might believe that what was possible for St. Thérèse is beyond your own ability.  Most regular Catholics in the pews feel that what the Little Flower experienced spiritually is not possible for an ordinary person.  But in fact, what “enabled St. Thérèse to surrender herself so completely to [God the] Father’s love” was simply “that she became so perfectly his little child.”[2]

But then, the ordinary Catholic raises another objection.  The regular Catholic imagines that what made the difference in the Little Flower’s life is that she lived in a cloistered convent.  “What an advantage!” some would say.  There’s no doubt that the life of a cloistered nun is beautiful, but the setting of her vocation is not the secret behind her “Little Way”.  St. Thérèse “made a simple, steady surrender of her will to [God the Father’s] divine will within the circumstances of her everyday life.

These were circumstances that are the same that laypersons find in their homes and workplaces.  “Little mortifications of the will, little disappointments, little interruptions of her plans, little sorrows, little annoyances, little sufferings—these were the material of her” holiness,[3] and if this material is the same “stuff” that clutters your life, then you have ready at hand a great means for becoming an instrument of the mercy that flows from Calvary.  Though this is how you will or will not grow in holiness.  It’s sounds simple, but we know from experience how divided we find ourselves in trying to put our Catholic Faith into practice.  We often blame God, claiming that God isn’t helping us with what we need from Him.  In this, we might remember a saying of the Little Flower’s namesake, St. Teresa of Avila:  “Christ does not force our will.  He takes only what we give Him.  But He does not give Himself entirely until He sees that we yield ourselves entirely to Him.”

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[1] St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Autobiography, quoted in Spiritual Childhood: The Spirituality of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, by Vernon Johnson (San Francisco, Ignatius Press, 2001), page 38.

[2] Johnson, 37.

[3] Ibid.