Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 4, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Ezekiel 2:2-5
Psalm 123:1-2, 2, 3-4
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Mark 6:1-6

In the first reading, God sends Ezekiel to prophesy to a rebellious people to announce God’s displeasure with the Israelites who rejected Him and His desires for them and instead follow their own desires and designs of selfishness. Pride is their downfall, yet Paul, in the second reading, recognizes his own pride as a weakness that opens him to God. Because of this recognition, he can let go of his pride so that the power of God can work through him.

In the Gospel, Jesus returns to His home after being baptized by John in the Jordan, being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, then healing the sick, casting out demons, and teaching as a rabbi. On the Sabbath, He stands up in the synagogue and begins to teach His former neighbors and family members. They were amazed and astonished at His teaching, but also puzzled at where it came from.

They had seen this carpenter daily, knew His mother and family, and became offended that He thought He could be their teacher. Their familiarity with Him prevented them from truly being open to Him and to the message of conversion that He offered them. They take Him for granted, instead of accepting Him with gratitude. Secretly, they may have been envious, but Mark tells us that it was because Jesus challenged them like a prophet. He spoke to them of the radical transformation each person must make to enter the Kingdom of God in order that they align their desires with the desires that God held for them. No one who wants to be a disciple is exempt from this change of heart which makes us value our relationship with God more than anything or anyone else in this world. We must pray to change our desires to align with the desires of God. These desires are revealed in the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the entire Sermon on the Mount, and most fully by the life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture and Tradition. We are called to conform our lives to the Creed that we profess every Sunday and to turn away from our indifference to Christ and to His presence in our neighbor. As Saint Augustine taught, “Sinful though we are, let us at least be like God in this, that we are displeased with what displeases Him. In some measure then you will be in harmony with God’s will, because you find displeasing in yourself what is abhorrent to your Creator.”

A prophet helps us to see who we really are and who God wants us to become, and often the vision of the disparity between the two is not pretty. We tend to be blind to our own faults and failings, imprisoned by our habits and sins, and we often can be petty and ugly in the way we treat others. Jesus’ call to change our lives is not easy to hear, and like His neighbors, we find ways to ignore or to discount what He challenges us to do. In fact, we can come to love our sins and even begin to cherish them as virtues.

But like the prophet Ezekiel, He keeps sending us opportunities to help us face the truth. And the truth is that if we, like St. Paul, can recognize our weaknesses, hardships and limitations as challenges God sends us, then the power of Christ can come alive in us and deliver us from pride and the inevitable destruction that is its fruit. When we follow Saint Paul’s example, we become like prophets; we become the instruments through which the Spirit can work the miracles of forgiveness and mercy and joy and hope that our world so desperately needs.

Today we celebrate the 245th birthday of our nation, the United States of America, a democratic republic that is not perfect but strives to respect and promote human dignity established in fundamental rights as given by God. These include but are not limited to the right to life, the right to practice religion, and the right to assemble and to speak freely. We thank God for the privilege to be Americans and citizens of our nation, a nation that we too frequently have taken for granted. As Pope Saint John Paul II preached to us in his homily at Mass celebrated on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C. on October 7, 1979, “Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is forever. Life is also precious because it is the expression and the fruit of love. This is why life should spring up within the setting of marriage, and why marriage and the parents’ love for one another should be marked by generosity in self-giving. The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish. The fear of making permanent commitments can change the mutual love of husband and wife into two loves of self — two loves existing side by side, until they end in separation.”

As we celebrate this day, let us ask God for gratitude for the gift of the United States of America and turn away from false idols in exchange for the prophetic responsibilities of citizenship. It is this prophetic character of American citizens that has led us and continues to lead us to turn away from evils such as slavery, racism, child labor, communism, socialism, fascism, and indifference to the plight of the poor — even if these conversions have taken too much time and effort. These responsibilities have prompted us to turn away from selfishness throughout our history and instead accept the challenge of servant-leadership among the nations of the world. The authentic and traditional ethos of the United States of America has never been “me first” but rather, “e pluribus unum” — “from many, one.” This oneness and this unity are things that require our gratitude and generosity as American citizens, the sons and daughters of ancestors who were brought here through situations of sadness and hopelessness, like poverty, religious persecution, or slavery. It is a history that requires a change of heart to rectify past sins while thanking God for the blessings of our past and present that we might pray with the words of today’s psalm: “our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for His mercy.”

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