Fr. Bryan Howard
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 6 October 2019
We sometimes think of religion like this: if I believe the right things, and say the right things, and do the right things, then I’ll go to heaven, but if I don’t believe, say, and do the right things then I’ll either go to purgatory or hell, depending on how bad it was. It’s like a test at school; just make sure you get at least a D- and you’ll be fine. If I help 60 old ladies cross the street, then I’ll be fine, but if I only help 59, then it’s into the flames. If that’s what people think religion is it’s no wonder so many people are giving up on it. Religion is about relationships. It’s about love of God and love of neighbor. Sin isn’t broken laws, it’s broken relationships, because sin is telling God through our actions, “I don’t love you and I don’t trust you.” Through the Sacraments, especially the Mass and Confession, through prayer, and through the Word of God in the Scriptures we build up a relationship of trust in God, which is what we call faith. Faith isn’t just belief in certain things, it’s trust in the three persons of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In the first reading we see that even holy people, God’s servants, can have their faith tested. The prophet Habakkuk sees that the wicked seem to prosper while the righteous are persecuted, taken advantage of, and killed. He sees the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires invading their neighboring countries, taking whole peoples off into slavery, doing terrible things to the survivors, and, eventually, coming to attack God people, the Israelites. He wonders why God doesn’t do something to stop it. We see the same things happening today. The powerful grow more powerful, often at the expense of ordinary people, while the poor and lowly are cast aside and trampled on. We wonder why God would allow something like this. God tells Habakkuk, and us, to be patient and trust that He knows what He’s doing, “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live,” or as Jesus tells the disciples, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” In other words don’t fall into the trap of imitating the methods of those who increase in power and wealth through sin, but keep your integrity, no matter the cost, as you set your sights on a something far better.
We go on to the psalm, which tells us about those who lose their faith in the midst of trials and hardships, “Harden not your hearts as a Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert.” When God lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt into the desert, the people grumbled and complained against God and Moses that they were hungry and thirsty, and that they should go back to Egypt where they always had enough food and drink, even if they were slaves. The psalm encourages us not to be ungrateful, but to recognize the grace of God as the gift that it is, “Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation. Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to him.”
St. Paul then takes over in the second reading. St. Paul was no stranger to hardship, as he’d been imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, starved, and ultimately beheaded for the sake of the Gospel. His advice to us, “I remind you, to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” Saturday was the memorial of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, a German priest who came to the US to minister to German Catholic immigrants in the mid 1800s. He eventually found his way to New Orleans, where he became pastor of the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption, which today is the National Shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1867. He ministered to the sick in the city, comforting them, praying with them, and caring for them, until he himself came down with yellow fever and died from it.
“But,” you may say, “my faith isn’t that strong. I’m no saint. I can’t do those sorts of things.” And Jesus says to you, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” God can do great things even with those whose faith is small, if we place our trust in Him and take that leap of faith. We don’t need to do great things in the eyes of the world; that’s too much for us. Just try to do everything that you can with great love, and let God take care of the rest.
The rest of the reading goes on to ask what master would serve his servant, but, Jesus is the one who said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus Christ is the master who has done for us, what He asks us to do for one another, and He can give us the strength to do it. How, by offering everything that we do to God, knowing that the one Who can take 5 loaves and 2 fish and feed 5000 people can also take my small offerings, my little faith, my weak love, and multiply them 30, 50, or 100 times.
Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos wrote something similar in one of his letters, “Time, in which we have found nothing to offer up to God, is lost for eternity. If it is only the duties of our vocation that we fulfill with dedication to the will of God; if it is the sweat of our faces that, in resignation, we wipe from our brow without murmuring; if it is suffering, temptations, difficulties with our fellowmen—everything we can present to God as an offering and can, though them, become like Jesus his Son. Where the sacrifice is great and manifold, there, in the same proportion, is the hope of glory more deeply and more securely grounded in the heart of him who makes it.”
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.