The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B] – Sept. 20, 2015

Here is the homily preached at St. John Parish in Clonmel for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Year B], September 20, 2015.  For the Mass Scripture readings, click HERE.

For the homily’s text, jump below…

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Wisdom 2:12,17-20  +  James 3:16—4:3  +  Mark 9:30-37
September 20, 2015
 
Jesus explains to us how central the Cross is to His life on earth.  It’s the Cross that helps us understand what Jesus does and says next.  “Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me….’”  The connection between these words and actions of Jesus, and the Little Way of St. Thérèse, is pretty clear.

We could even imagine that the little child whom Jesus put His arms around was the Little Flower herself.  Jesus says, “‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me….’”   In this spiritual sense, Jesus wants us to receive the Little Flower, and so receive Him.  Every saint, after all, is a “child such as this”, because unless one becomes like a little child, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Little Flower helps each of us to pick up our own cross more willingly, in order always to be with Jesus.

How does St. Thérèse show us to do this?  The answer is:  in the most practical way possible.  In this, the Little Flower’s counsel is a lot like the counsel that Saint James gives us in his New Testament letter.  Our Second Reading at Sunday Mass has been coming from James for four weeks now, and will continue through next Sunday.  James is one of the 21 books of the New Testament in the family called “letters” or “epistles”.  But you can further divide that family of 21 books, according to which apostle wrote them.  Two-thirds of the letters were written by Saint Paul, while out of the remaining seven, only one was written by St. James.

The Letter of St. James is the most practical of all the New Testament letters.  James takes a no-nonsense attitude towards following Jesus, much like St. Thérèse, as well as her namesake, St. Teresa of Avila.  The focus of Saint James in his letter is not some lofty (though important) matter such as how three divine Persons eternally live as one God.  Instead, St. James deals with down-to-earth questions of fallen human nature, and how God’s grace can lift us out of sin, if we co-operate with His grace.

Listen to how plain spoken St. James is today when he asks, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?  …  You covet but do not possess.  …  You do not possess because you do not ask.  You ask[,] but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, [in order] to spend it on your passions.”  That’s what you call “matter of fact”!

At first hearing, you might not imagine that St. Thérèse and St. James have similar spiritual personalities.  In fact, they do.  They’re both, metaphorically speaking, “doctors of the soul”, and they’re both profoundly practical.  The difference is that St. James focuses more on diagnosis:  exposing the wound and underlying disease to view.  St. Thérèse, on the other hand, offers a treatment plan.  This plan she calls the Little Way of Spiritual Childhood.

“Those who follow the Little Way look upon God, as, above all else, their Father.  … They know that [His] love is repaid by love alone….  [But] the question [is:]  how exactly is that to be done?

“Our Lord told his apostles that they must be converted and become as little children….  In the natural order… little children show their love… [t]hrough little things.  A little child, just because it is little, is… unable to show its love in any other way.  … [V]ery little children will continually offer little things to their mother—a toy, a picture, a flower—as evidence of their love.  …  [T]he mother, although she has no need of the toy, the picture, or the flower, loves the child to make these offerings, because she wants the love that lies behind them.”[1]

“Unless [you, as a Christian,] love Our Lord through ‘the toys, the pictures, [and] the flowers’ of everyday life, [you’ll] never really love him at all.”[2]  In a letter to one of her sisters the Little Flower wrote, “You know well Céline, that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.”[3]  And in her autobiography, she very plainly explained that:  “To strew flowers is the only means I have of showing my love.  That is to say I will let no little sacrifice escape me, not a look, not a work.  I will make use of the smallest actions and I will do them all for love.”[4]

Every one of us who is a Christian—in every diocese throughout the world, and in every parish in this diocese, from the man standing at the pulpit, to the families sitting in the pews, to those in the choir loft and those standing in the back—every one of us is “conscious of continual calls [from God] to a higher standard of spiritual life[.  Each of us is conscious] of invitations to be less indulgent of ourselves and of our personal comfort, to be more disciplined in the use of our time, to be less subservient to human respect[:  in other words,] to be less worldly.  [These calls that God makes to us] are painful to our [fallen] human nature, [because] the immediate suffering obscures the [long-term] spiritual gain.  We are afraid, and we fail to respond [to these calls, which are daily opportunities to live happier lives].[5]

When St. Thérèse illustrates her Little Way with examples from her life, she does not point to grand moral or spiritual accomplishments.  She points to occasions from ordinary life, which she took in her hands, and gave to God, so that He would sanctify them by His grace.  What sorts of occasions made up her holiness?  The same occasions that make up yours.  In our lives, these “occasions are provided by the interruptions of others, sometimes unavoidable but sometimes quite unnecessary; [by] the call to sacrifice our own point of view where no principle is involved, for the sake of peace; [by] the failure of the hopes we had placed in others; [by] their lack of gratitude and lack of response; [by] the spoiling by other people’s mistakes or lack of vision of what we imagine God’s plan to be.  From [occasions like] these there is no escape; we have to accept them in one way or another, and more often than not[,] we do so in the wrong way.”[6]

The life of the Little Flower shows us the right way.  St. Thérèse “shows us that these occasions of sacrifice, so far from being something to be avoided, are providentially arranged by Our Lord and… proportioned by Him to our” abilities.[7]  God calls us through these difficulties, not around them.

“During her last illness [the Little Flower] said[, as she waited for death with hope]:  ‘I want to point out to souls the means that I have always found so successful, to tell them that there is only one thing to do here below—to offer Our Lord the flowers of little sacrifices….  That is how I have won Him and that is why I shall be made so welcome [in Heaven].’”[8]

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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), pages 127-128.

[2] Johnson, 128.

[3] Autobiography, quoted in Johnson, 128.

[4] Autobiography, quoted in Johnson, 130.

[5] Johnson, 131.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Autobiography, quoted in Johnson, 129.