Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 September 2019
Cathedral of Saint Raymond Nonnatus and Sacred Heart Parish
[SSPP confession story]
As I sat down to hear confessions, I noticed that from my chair I could look out the window across Brainard street and look right at the front doors of Old Main, the administration building at North Central College. After I graduated high school, I spent a year at North Central studying English and writing, to prepare for my life plan of becoming a high school English teacher. Of course, God had other plans, and it was at North Central that I learned the first of many important lessons for my life, not only as a priest but more broadly as a disciple of Christ: I learned that I am loved, that I am a son of God. And since we can’t love things we don’t know, I learned that I am known, and seen, and exist in a communion with the living God. What peace this can bring!
So while that man outside really hurt my feelings, starting at the doors to Old Main that night was a gift to me because it was God bringing something full circle in my mind and heart. The Ryan who came to that campus, a scrawny college freshman with wide eyes and high ideals, would have been devastated for weeks by a comment like that. It would have stressed him out, put him over the edge, driven him to eat to cover up his shame. And, to be honest, that was the Ryan who walked into that church and sat down in the confessional.
But being “randomly” put in the corner confessional with the window that looks straight at the place where I learned who I am was not coincidental. God had used a concrete reminder of the old world to remind me not only of the new world, the new self, and the new age in which I’m living and toward which I’m always moving, but of where and when and why and how I learned that such a new self, a new world, a new age even exists.
And in the span of the hour I sat there hearing the confessions of truly penitent men, men who love God and their families and who want to be holy, who want to keep moving forever into the mystery of the new age in Jesus, I was moved from a mindset of scorn, shame, and, frankly, judgment of the mean man outside to a place of gratitude with peace in my mind and joy in my heart.
Only God, only a true experience of the love and presence of God, could bring such a thing about.
More often than we think, God brings about reminders of the past, of the old self and the old age before the inauguration of the Christian mysteries, and uses them to make plain what life he is bringing about for us, a new kind of life. This isn’t just some “meta-narrative” into which we’ve all been passively caught up. We’re participating in something that transcends us, that’s for sure, but it is something visible only through our lived encounters with person of Jesus. In other words, in Jesus and through the power of the Spirit, the Father is renewing the face of the earth before our very eyes, in ways that are concrete and tangible in each of our lives.
A good example of this is the second reading. To us, it sounds like pretty good writing. But to those who heard it, it would have sounded very familiar.
Brothers and sisters:
You have not approached that which could be touched
and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness
and storm and a trumpet blast
and a voice speaking words such that those who heard
begged that no message be further addressed to them.
The words used there are descriptors of the Israelite encounter with God on Mount Sinai, a place that “could be touched” because, though it was dramatic, it remained on a physical, earthly level. There was a “blazing fire”, “darkness,” a “storm”, and the voice of God was like a “trumpet blast”, loud and deafening, untouchable even, “such that those heard begged that no messaged be further addressed to them.”
No, that’s not what we’re working with here.
No, you have approached Mount Zion
and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect,
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
At the climax of the statements is not an untouchable God, but the very name and person of Jesus. It’s that name that tells us everything: God is among us to save his people and bring them to himself.
It is that name that ushers in a new age, a kind of life, capable of making us a new kind of people; no longer servants and slaves, friends and sons of God the most high.
Here’s the simplest way I can put this: with the coming of Jesus there is a new protagonist in the world. Jesus is the protagonist of our history.
Before I knew Jesus, before I really knew him, before I believed that I was loved by his Father and saved by blood, and motivated to give my whole life, my whole soul and body, to him, I would have let that mean man at the door of the church become the protagonist of my life. I would have let the college admission counselors and jocks at school and people on the other side of the audition table be the protagonist.
We all have the tendency to let the bishop be the protagonist, or the pastor or the parishioners; we have the tendency to make our spouses or children, or the accountant or the client or the JCA football schedule or even our own past, our regrets, the mistakes we’ve made, the reasons we feel like we’re unloved.
We have the tendency to let the perceived happiness we want to broadcast on social media, the curb appeal of our homes, the happiness of our marriages, the number on the scale in the morning, etc etc etc etc.
These are the unbearable trumpet blasts, the darkness and storms and blazing fires. And if someone really wants these things to define their lives, then fine; that’s up to them.
For our part, we have a different protagonist, a different mover and shaker of our story. The one who says, “life is different now. There is forgiveness now, peace now, mercy now, hope now, and a way out of the things that cast us down.”
For all of one hour, I let that mean guy become the protagonist, the one who defined me and drove my story. But God used that reminder of how things used to be to show me in a definitive way how things are now.
Today we’re gathered in the house of God to participate in the Eucharistic banquet. It is here at this celebration that those who know and love and follow Christ enter most fully into the wondrous celebration of Christ as protagonist, the main actor in history. It’s where we recall the ways we’ve strayed from him, are brought back into his fold, give him glory, and receive him anew.
Today we are blessed to witness our brother Adam as he approaches this altar of God for the first time. Adam, this will be the secret to the rest of your life: “Jesus I trust you, Jesus I love you, thank you for loving me; teach me who I am, teach me who you’re asking me to become, and give me what I need to say yes to you in every moment.”