Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ss. Peter and Paul Church – Naperville
4 July 2021
What an appropriate first reading for my first weekend Masses with all of you: ”whether they heed or resist…they shall know that a prophet has been among them.” The word of the Lord!!
It is wonderful to be with you today as I begin my new assignment as a priest here at Ss. Peter and Paul. I’m Fr. Ryan, and was ordained a priest in May 2018. I grew up in Oswego, and after high school I moved to Patterson Hall on Chicago Avenue and studied English and writing at North Central, coming to Peter and Paul almost every day. It was inside of this Church that I heard the call to be a priest, and it was in the back pew, alone with Jesus after class, that I found (was given) the courage to go to the seminary. So to be back here as a priest is not something I ever imagined, but it’s a gift I will gladly accept.
For the last three years I have been one of the priests at the Cathedral of St. Raymond in Joliet, and at a small Black-Catholic parish in Joliet called Sacred Heart. I also teach senior theology at Chesterton Academy in Lisle, and I’m also teaching on the adjunct faculty at Mundelein Seminary.
I want to thank Fr. Brad, Fr. Mike, Fr. Michael, and Fr. McGean for their very warm welcome and hospitality. Remember that I lived with Fr. Mike and Fr. Michael for 7 years in the seminary, so if anyone needs the dirt on them just let me know.
Both the first reading from Ezekiel and this passage from Mark’s Gospel reveal a difficult truth, one which is as true now as it was then: those who know the least know it the loudest. We might think that just because we have a lot of writings in the Old Testament from prophets that they were omni-present preachers and prolific writers; most of them were not. Most of them were mad at God that he’d asked them to be prophets, since it meant that they were being asked to stand as a voice of contradiction against their culture, their own people, and to leave behind relationships, ways of life, and sometimes personal safety in order to stand up with the courage of God and remind the people of the covenant: He is our God and we are his people.
Then and now, what’s the test to sniff out a false prophet? The false prophet is the one who does not shut up. He or she is the one who looks out at humanity, at the problems of the world and the culture and makes an immediate assessment, usually a pessimistic or cynical judgment, and speaks a word of condemnation and misery.
The true prophet, on the other hand, is usually silent for a painful amount of time, causing us (as it caused the people of Israel) to cry out to God, “is there no one to save us? Do we have a prophet?”
But as the false prophets gather a following around themselves, and speak and speak and speak and speak – even if what they are saying is factually true – in every case in the Old Testament, there arises from within the community someone who seems to be the most unlikely candidate – usually someone timid or young or from a lower class or profession – who speaks into a situation the biting and soothing truth of God: Israel has a God; Israel’s God is a loving God, a saving God; and the God of Israel, on his own volition, has entered into a covenant with the people of Israel: he is their God and they are his people. And then the prophet says: we have such a God, so now act like it! Live like it! These false prophets are dividing you, and filling you with discontent and rage and anger and distrust; return even now to the Lord your God with your whole heart!
Mark is making a striking point in the Gospel today. The people in the synagogue where Jesus had gone to preach were a rebellious people! They thought they knew the law, they thought they had what they needed, they thought themselves to be the religious elite.
And yet – Jesus begins to preach to them from their own scriptures (you know, those scriptures they think they know) and they say, “where did he get all this? This guy is a nobody!”
Those who know the least know it the loudest.
If they knew as much as they thought, they’d know what their scriptures said about the coming Messiah. They’d have known that the anointed one would come from a nowhere town, from a nobody family, from the lowest end of the spectrum; they’d know that the Messiah would come from a lowly place working mighty deeds for all the people.
But the majority of them missed it.
However, in the midst of all the clamor and offense-taking, there were some who saw truly. Those who did know, whose words we can’t hear because they are drowned out by the know-it-alls, those for whom and in whom the mighty deeds were being worked: they encountered the real Jesus.
The Jesus who encountered Paul in the midst of his torment and his trial, the Jesus who said, “my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
There is a hard lesson for us this weekend. A lot of us, myself certainly included, love to rest on our laurels and on our advanced degrees, and we like to identify with whichever internet prophets or political prophets or cultural prophets we think will put us into the right camp.
But what about when all those internet and political and cultural prophets pass away? What about when life changes, when the thorns that do exist in each of our sides get too heavy to bear? Do we yell, accuse, blame? In the yelling-heads in the political/ecclesial/cultural ether, do you hear the voice of Christ reassuring you that his grace and power is sufficient for you?
This weekend we celebrate Independence Day. What does it mean to be free?
Who are the freest people that you know? Are they the ones who shout you down, who question you before they’ve even heard you, who quote their favorite false prophets verbatim with clever words and well-constructed sentences, and who do these things in an effort to convince you how free and peaceful they are?
Who are the free ones? The freest ones are these: those who are courageous enough to place all their hope in and to build their whole life on the foundation of a Spirit, to believe in spite of everything that they are known, seen, and loved. Freedom does not mean the absence of bondage or conflict; freedom means to be myself within reality.
To look at myself and the world as it is in front of me and to say: in this moment, in this place, this is real, this is happening. It does not define me, I am not defined by the thorns in my side, but by accepting the thorns, the circumstances, and by engaging with reality I believe that I am being fashioned and built, and that my identity as a beloved daughter or son is being purified and strengthened, so that I might live in the midst of all this toil and no longer miss his face, his voice, his movement in my midst.
Those who know the least know it the loudest.
May we have the courage to be quiet, so we can have the openness to learn the truth of which we must be convinced before we can be a credible witness to the faith in the world. May we live such a way that our witness might be: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints.”
And people will say, “Hey, you Christian: you are living the weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints differently than the rest of us. What’s the difference?”
May we have the courage and wherewithal in the moment to say, in complete sincerity: His grace is sufficient for me.