Thursday - St.Mary's
Aug 2, 2015
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Trusting God's Plan… For Life
Friends, there’s a real challenge in today’s readings that can stir our hearts up and lead us to dwell upon the heights.
Challenges are usually no fun. We generally prefer a more laid back, easy-going circumstances. Sometimes, in the life a faith, challenges come. They are different for each of us, depending on our vocation - let me give an example. Some years ago there was a Jesuit priest serving in Buffalo. He was involved with Marriage Encounter, and a variety of ministries to families. He loved his work, he was happy and fulfilled.
Well, word came from his superiors that he was to be sent to Africa. These were the days when there wasn’t much bartering over assignments. The young priest was distressed beyond belief – he was quite sick about it, because he had a great fear of Africa. He must’ve thought something like: “Lions and tigers and hippos, Oh My!” As long as he’d been a Jesuit, he knew being sent to the foreign missions was a possibility, and he was okay with that – as long as it wasn’t to Africa. He probably cried about it, for he was quite scared and distressed at leaving his happy life behind here in WNY. But, much to his credit, he went.
Maybe five years or so later, he returned to WNY for a brief visit. As it turned out, he’d found much greater happiness in Africa that he had ever experienced in WNY or in any other place he’d served before. God took care of him, surprised him really, and led him to where he really belonged, and deep down, to where he really wanted to be. After his short visit, he returned to Africa, and not too many years later, still at a relatively young age, he died there, having contracted numerous illnesses over the years living in Africa. He didn’t die a martyrs death, I don’t know much about what he accomplished there in Africa, I don’t even know which African country he went to, or even his name.
But I know this: his example shines – it is a shining example of trust in God’s plan, of overcoming fears, and of saying yes to the challenge of God’s call.
This “Yes” to God’s calling is an essential part of the life of every disciple of Jesus. Every one of us is called in our life – even if we aren’t Jesuit priests – to go to our own Africa. To step out beyond the cozy, and to step into Jesus Christ.
Do you remember those words that Jesus said to Peter?
“Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
I think for all us, if we really want to follow Jesus, will at times be led someplace we do not want to go.
St. Paul exhorts us to be ready for such a circumstance in the second reading … he says:
Brothers and sisters: live no longer as the rest of the world lives, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ. Rather, put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, put on the new self, created in righteousness and holiness.
St. Paul is saying, let your minds and hearts be changed and enlightened by Jesus, put on a new mind, and a new heart – YOU ARE CHRIST’S – Trust him, follow him.
This may, at first glance, sound like some pious words. But when we apply them to the real challenges of our lives – these words become simultaneously frightening, but also filled with the promise of something beyond beautiful.
I know that I myself have many fears. Sometimes, I don’t want to go where I am sent. I don’t want to trust. I feel like maybe I cannot trust. Maybe you do too.
In Married life today, we have a real crisis in regard to an essential ingredient of Marriage that I want to point out. It is something so challenging, that it invokes massive amounts of fear in couples and in families. It causes consternation at perhaps the highest level. Yet, it is something that couples promise on the day of their marriage.
At their wedding, just prior to pronouncing their vows, the man and woman state their intention to enter into the marriage by making three promises, by answering yes to three questions. One of them is this: “Will you willingly and openly accept children from God and raise them according to the law of Christ and his Church?” Then they both respond, “Yes”.
Why do they make this promise? Well, they do because Marriage is naturally ordered towards two goods. By that I mean: there’s two purposes of Marriage. What do you think they are?
These two goods must both be upheld in every action of the spouses’ marital life. They always go together. If one of them is neglected, the other is also harmed. If spouses intentionally close themselves of to the gift of children, they wound their marriage and their own selves.
Now, children are today often seen as a burden. A gift, yes, but also a lot of work. Believe me, I know people who are afraid of having another baby. I kind of understand. If I suddenly had to take care of a child, I’d flip out! I’ve never changed a diaper in my life. And I cannot hold a baby under three months old for longer than 25 seconds. So, I get it.
But, seriously, in the past I’ve given homilies about our Catholic belief that every marriage is to be open to the gift of children. By that, we mean that every time a couple is together intimately, the possibility of having a child should not be impeded by artificial contraception. I’ve mentioned that if couples use physical intimacy only for the purpose of gratification, that this diminishes their love and trust in one another, as well as in God. I’ve mentioned before how marriages which are closed to the gift of children tend to lose the transcendent amazement that arises from being in love with one another and co-creators with God. I’ve mentioned before that the Church does support natural means of spacing children for just reasons, and doesn’t require spouses to have huge families, but calls them only to fulfill the promises of their wedding day.
I’ve mentioned a lot of things along these lines before.
But today, I just want to address what is at the heart of this promise to be open to the gift of children: God is a part of this Marriage, and so WE HAVE TO TRUST HIM – and try to trust him radically – like that priest who went to Africa!
Openness to children is an essential part of married life. Most couples will easily affirm this, because they would almost all say that their children are the greatest joy and gift of their marriage. Most parents are amazed when their children are born – as if something out of this world has intervened in their marriage. Indeed, something has: the Creator of Heaven and earth has continued the work of creation in and through them.
God calls spouses to be open to these gifts. And so at their wedding, they promise they will be. Yet, so often, because of the prevalence of artificial contraception we come up short in fulfilling that promise. If that’s the case, then we’ve got to get back to the vows we professed on our wedding day.
I want to say that I can actually understand why this is so difficult to trust. We are afraid of the unknown. We are afraid of not having control over the biggest things in life. We are afraid of the challenges we will face if we open ourselves totally to God. Spouses sometimes fear another baby. We priests sometimes fear a new assignment.
The Jesuit who went and died in Africa, the one I mentioned just a couple minutes ago, possessed great trust. I can say that I haven’t always trusted in God’s plan, in God’s call with such faith and trust. It’s hard to say yes. I know I haven’t always done it.
So, when I think of couples, perhaps newlyweds in their twenties planning to wait to have their first child, or couples in their thirties who have a 2 or 3 kids already and don’t “plan” to have another, or couples who have many kids and aren’t sure they can handle another, or couples in their forties who tell their friends, “We’re done”. I can understand the fear, the anxiety, the stress and even the pain, that leads us to want to turn our “YES” into a “NO”.
Jesus says, however, in today’s Gospel,
“Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.”
Friends, we have to trust Jesus. I do. You do too. God’s plan for us may sometimes be fearful. Who of us wouldn’t be afraid if we got sent to Africa for 10 or 20 years? Ok, that’s not going to happen to us. But maybe God’s plan is for me to go somewhere I don’t want to go, like leaving St. Mary’s & St. Mark’s. Maybe God’s plan for you who are still of childbearing age is to return to the purity and beauty of your wedding vows, and be open – completely open – to the gift of a child. Maybe for those of you who are past child-bearing years, God’s plan is to get back to confession and return to him anew.
I don’t exactly what God wants or has planned for anyone. But I do know this, when husbands and wives open themselves up to the creative capacity inherent in their very bodies as an incomparable grace of God through which they receive the greatest of his gifts, their children, they aren’t working for the food that perishes. Each baby, each person, is made for eternal life. When parents welcome a new child into the world, fearful as that prospect may genuinely seem at times, they no longer working for the food that perishes, but they are living for the things of heaven. And they are creating a new loved one, their own beloved child, for heaven.
Friends, in recent weeks I’ve been focusing, not exclusively, but predominantly, on certain aspects of Marriage. I am doing this because we Catholics need to retool our understanding of Marriage. We in the Church have lost our grounding, our foundation on these things – and if our priests don’t help us recover it, they are wasting our time and casting us to the wolves. So, today, I could have made a zillion and one arguments about this essential aspect of marriage: the call to be open, without the use of artificial contraception, to the gift of children within marriage – which as I said is one of the promises couples make as part of their vows on their wedding day. But, instead of making a zillion intellectual arguments, many of which I’ve made before, and some which I will make another time --- I really wanted to point out today that the heart of this whole matter is trust: Trusting in the Providence of God. That he won’t ask for more than we can take. But when we say “YES” to him, and go to our own personal Africa, we will find blessings beyond our wildest dreams. Believe me, I struggle to live by this too. But, neither you, nor I, should let past failures stop us from giving ourselves over to Jesus and trusting in Him. God’s plans are perfect and most beautiful. They cannot be improved upon. Part of what makes them so amazing is that they cannot be prepared for, planned upon, predicted. Just look at how much you love the kids you already have – and ask, “Do I wish I didn’t have this one, or that one?” Maybe God wants to give you another? I too must ask myself, “Do I wish God never sent me to St. Amelia’s or St. Mary’s & St. Mark’s” – of course not – then I too should not be afraid of what could be next. We walk by faith, friends, not by sight. We don’t want to the food that perishes; we want the food that endures for eternal life – which the Son of Man will give us – every time we put our total trust in Him and say, as our Mother Mary said to the Angel Gabriel when she permitted the Holy Spirit to conceive Jesus in her womb, “Let it be done unto me, according to your word.”