Fr. Rick’s Homily – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 5, 2021

Is 35:4-7a; Ps 146:6-10; Jas 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-37

The past two weeks seem to have brought an ever more heightened level of unprecedented calamities. America’s longest war ending without any clear sense of resolution, record rainfall and flooding and not just in the usual places, record high temperatures, record droughts, record wildfires (an earlier season and hotter than ever), more Covid of more varieties, a possible end to legal abortion (which is a good thing) will unleash a huge surge of around a million more babies born annually to mostly single mothers who will need lots of extra care from society, unprecedented numbers of refugees escaping their unlivable conditions and heading for anywhere that can take them.

But what I have noticed breaking through all the misery and fear are perhaps unprecedented levels of outreach, courage, compassion and good faith extended by fellow human beings that jump in to help alleviate the suffering.  Military personnel, diplomats, former military and former diplomats, firefighters, law enforcement and public safety officers of all types, EMT’s, medical staffs, charitable and religious groups of all types and innumerable plain folks like ourselves reaching out to make a positive difference in the lives of people experiencing sheer misery.  The very personal and loving hand of God is very visible in such compassionate outreach.

As we might expect, the Scriptures speak very vividly and profoundly to our current historical circumstance.  We see in the Gospel today Jesus responding with a very hands-on, very personal touch. Actually putting His finger in the man’s ear and His saliva on the man’s tongue.  This is not some kind of magical flyover healing, it’s real hands-on personal care.  It even says that Jesus groans while calling on the healing power of God; this is requiring some considerable effort.  This is why Jesus so frequently tells people to remain silent about such healings, because He does not want to be the dial-up magician.  His healing power prefigures the power that will be exercised through His Church when the Holy Spirit is moving through the disciples.  They too will need to be hands-on and need to exert themselves to the point of groaning.  Such will be required in order to be God’s healing presence to those who are suffering the most.

In the second reading today from the Letter of James, he is reminding us that we will need to reach out with no partiality, meaning that we must see others as Christ sees them, especially those in most desperate need.  To see all people and to see, indeed the whole of creation, as God sees them will require us to have a more transcendent vision.  We have to readily question our human wisdom and regularly compare it with God’s wisdom.

Which leads us to the first reading today from the prophet, Isaiah.  We are reading from chapter 35 of this book where the prophet is speaking to the people of Israel who are at the tail end of their 70 years of exile in the Babylonian Desert.  For hundreds of years Israel had been compromising their beliefs, worshipping the pagan gods, intermarrying to the point where they had virtually lost their identity as God’s holy chosen people.  God let their nations crumble and be overtaken by their enemies because it was the only way they would be sufficiently humbled and listen to God.  They had to be reminded that they existed as a nation in the first place only because God had called them to be a holy nation, had delivered them from slavery and had guided and protected them all along the way.

Seventy years in the desert gave them the time to listen to God with minimal distractions and temptations as well as the necessary humility to know their place in the grand scheme of things.  They eventually wrote down most of what we now call the Old Testament during this period so as to not so easily forget their true identity.  We have those same Scriptures to help us remember our true identity as well.

A small remnant of Israel would emerge from the desert a renewed people who will rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem.  Sadly, a significant portion of the survivors even decided to not help with the rebuilding when they saw the devastated condition of the temple and the city.  It was easier to just stay among the relatively sophisticated Persians, Babylonians and Syrians. The faithful ones would build and continue to inch forward until the Messiah would come in about 500 more years.

We too are living in such an age.  When we are experiencing so many unprecedented catastrophes it is a time when we are duly humbled.  Unprecedented means ‘the likes of which we have never seen’.  New paradigms.   Paradigm shifts are sometimes referred to as ‘times where there are no experts’.  We can see this all over.  Endless wars.  Infrastructure failures.  Unwelcomed new life.  Climate change.  Viruses spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated.  Everything mentioned before. What a great time to be a little more humble and let God be God!!

I can honestly say that I am more hopeful about the Church than I have been in my lifetime.  We have a significant remnant of younger and faithful Catholics nation-wide who are learning and witnessing their faith in a way that will evangelize the world we are living in.  It’s certainly not all of us.  When we are faced with the scale of work necessary, many of us will imitate the Israelites who decided to not rebuild the temple and city.  We will opt for a seemingly less demanding life-style and perpetuate the endless series of human catastrophes which flow out of a disobedient and unfaithful people.  The choice is ours.

See bulletin today for ways to jump in and help with the outreach of so many desperate and needy people.  (Pastoral Messages)

Also, join us during the week wherever you are in praying the Prayer for Peace used by Pope Benedict and Francis when they visited Ground Zero in New York in 2008 and 2015 respectively.  Also Mass on Saturday morning (September 11) at 8:00.