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6th Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 17, 2019

Homilia en Español

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By Deacon Tim Papa

Life is full of paradoxes, those situations where we must choose between two competing values in making decisions in life. Parents must strike a balance between being strict with their children so that they aren't exposed to unnecessary danger, while giving them freedom to explore and experiment and be creative. Students must study for school, but when has one studied enough for a test? They must relax and unwind from the stress of school while still spending the time necessary to do quality work. Managers at work must understand that all of us make mistakes while they also need to hold us accountable for our work and the need to keep the business profitable.

Just such a paradox gripped the Church in the Fourth Century. The monk Pelagius was teaching that that one could earn their way to heaven solely by their own works and actions. If you lived a good enough life based your choices God would grant to you eternal life. On the other extreme, there were those who believed that it was by the grace of God alone one was saved. God either granted to you the blessing of eternal life or He didn't – your lot was predestined.

Saint Augustine taught that neither one was entirely correct; the solution was that both were necessary. We must be given grace by God to understand His will and accept His help in strengthening us for His work. But we must also cooperate with this grace. We must take this gift of grace and willfully center our lives to it. This is the position that the Church has held to this day against those who would argue more forcefully for one side or the other.

The Gospel today presents us with paradoxes on several levels. There is of course the obvious: blessing unto the poor, hungry, and hated, woe to the rich, laughing, and well-fed. A mission of Jesus was to bring comfort to the afflicted, and this is an example of how He ministered to those who by all worldly appearances are forsaken. Many will draw the obvious lesson that Christ is promising blessing of future reward in heaven who go without now. And that is certainly true, but it is only part of the lesson.

Jesus is not commending poverty for its own sake, nor is He condemning anyone because of the amount of money in his pocket or her bank account. It is of course the way we live our lives that matter, and it is a through suffering that one is most likely to realize and appreciate the blessing that God has given us now, today. It is the person well-endowed with something which this world values, such as money, beauty, or intelligence, who is most likely to attribute these blessing to his or her own merit and efforts and to leave God out of the equation. Pride is very often the result of success, and humility the result of its lack. Yet it is a fundamental teaching of Christ that pride is the cause of our fall.

None of us were born with everything we would desire, at least by the measure of this world. We constantly see people in the news who are successful by most measures, wealthy, famous, good-looking, who ruin themselves and those around them with drugs, infidelity, and other excesses. God has given all of us some things but no one gets everything The subject of many tragedies in literature are those obsessed with obtaining that which they don't and can't have. Are we living our life complaining about what we think we are missing out on?

Jesus has the answer for us, and it is why the poor and others who suffer are blessed now, in this life, in addition to the next. It is through deprivation of something that we come to understand the value of it. The afflicted put their trust in God, and give thanks for what they receive. This point is brought out in the Matthew version of the beatitudes, where instead of “blessed are you who are poor,” it instead states, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Poor in spirit is generally determined to mean humble, but along with this is a notion that one is happy with what one has been given.
We face the choice that Jeremiah presents in the first reading: we can be the barren bush that turns from the Lord and trusts in himself. We can try to find joy in our own accomplishments or in fancy things we can buy at a store. We can brag about what we have done and be envious of what others have achieved. Or we can be the tree planted beside the water with deep roots. We can find joy in God and take pleasure in what we have been given, which, if we only take a moment to consider, is substantial.

Life gives us many paradoxes. We must continually look at the balance we strike in responding to situations in our lives. Pray constantly over these, that God may guide us to live the life He wants us to have. We can both be content with what we have and also desire to make the world – our world, our life – better in the way that God wants for us. Through Christ, we have the chance to achieve the love of God, the love of self, and the love of neighbor all at once, simply by turning our back on the false idols that the world presents. As we continue our liturgy with the Eucharist, as we receive the precious body of Christ and say “Amen” to the Eucharistic Minister, let that “Amen” mean “I receive you God, and I put my trust in You. I am satisfied with the blessings You have given me.”

By Deacon Jim Hinnerschitz

       Good Morning, for those of you who don’t know me I’m Deacon Jim Hinnerschitz and I want to thank you for your prayers and support over the past five years during my diaconate formation.
In the first reading today, the prophet Jeremiah delivers a message from the Lord that those who trust in human beings are cursed, while those that trust in the Lord are blessed.  The contrasting images that Jeremiah uses are quite stark and intentional to get his message across to the people.  The people needed a wake-up call.  They needed to turn away from earthly desires and turn towards the Lord.  If the people listened to the message delivered by Jeremiah, they would not want for anything and they would find comfort knowing the Lord would care for them.  We hear a similar message from the Psalm today as we sing “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord”.

         In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told us that he did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, but that he came to fulfill the law.  In today’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus’ message echoes the one that Jeremiah delivered to the people of Judah some 600 years before Jesus was born.  Jeremiah’s message spoke about the Cursed who turned away from the Lord comparing them to undesirable images and then spoke about the Blessed who trusted in the Lord comparing them to wonderful images.  Jesus was always looking for teaching moments and looking to help those on the fringes of society (the poor, the hungry, the weeping and those hated on account of the Son of Man).  Jesus called these outcasts of society Blessed and told them to “rejoice and leap for joy” and that their reward would be great in heaven. Jesus gave a stern warning of the coming Woe to the rich, those that had their fill, those that laughed and those that were spoken well of by society.  Jesus knew how stubborn humans can be and therefore gives clear directions on how to live and distinction between the Beatitudes and the Woes in today’s Gospel.  The Beatitudes are about trust in God who cares for those who suffer.  The Woes focus on those who have turned away from God by refusing to do their part in alleviating the suffering of those in their midst.

       It is very easy to get wrapped up in our busy lives and to forget about putting our trust in God and helping our fellow neighbors in need.  It can be downright scary for some of us to get out of our comfort zone to make strangers feel welcomed, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked and defend those who are being abused or bullied for their beliefs or how they look.  But by taking the time and talents we have to help those less fortunate then us we are in fact putting our trust in the Lord and putting ourselves in touch with Jesus Christ.

       If anyone would have told me 25 years ago that I would become a deacon in the Catholic Church in the diocese of Charleston, I would have told them they did not know what they are talking about.  Back then I was living in New York, in a dark place, trying to put some normality back in my life, trying to make ends meet and had very little time for Church; let alone any quiet time to spend in prayer with God or reach out to those who were less fortunate than I was.  I believe that many people have either been in situations like this or are currently in them and have struggled to get through their daily routines of taking care of the kids, taking care of the house and getting through the work day.  This can lead to a feeling of emptiness or despair and can cause us to miss those God given opportunities to help those less fortunate then us.  But once we learn to put our trust in the Lord we find peace, we find comfort and we find ourselves wanting to share this peace and comfort with others.  We find strength to persevere through difficult times once we have a relationship with God.

       I truly believe that my journey to the permanent diaconate started when I began trusting in the Lord.  It started over 20 years ago by attending my first ever parish mission.  This was the catalyst I needed to put Jesus back in the center of my life and to stop wallowing in self-pity.  The more I trusted in the Lord, the deeper my faith became.  This led to my eventual call to become a deacon.  Each of us have different life stories and each of us have different callings in life.  I believe having a deep relationship with God gives us the strength and confidence needed to answer that calling in our lives.

Our lives are very busy; we have emails to answer, we have text messages to respond to, we have social media posts to read, we have an assortment of apps and games to manage on our electronic devices.  And all this on top of our regular routines, whether it be school for the youth or work and parenting for the adults.  We have so many worldly things in our lives that we forget to make time for the most important thing of all and that is our relationship with God.  We need to stop trusting in worldly things and trust in the Lord.

       We must fight the urge to give in to temptations of our modern culture of death.  We must constantly work on our relationship with God and know that he will guide us to eternal salvation.  We must live our lives as an example that our fallen away Christians or non-believers need to see and want to emulate.  Our trust in the Lord should come shining through in all things we do and give visibility to how Jesus would have lived to those around us.

       Trust is not easy to define in the abstract, but we know it when we see it.  We also know that we must ‘take the leap’, before something can be experienced.  Today’s readings invite us to take the leap and trust in the Lord who gives life.  They also call us to action and want us to help those in need that are living on the fringes of society.  If we can do so, we will have a stronger relationship with God, we will begin to see a transformation in our lives and see changes in how we deal with difficult situations each and every day.  Over time what used to be a difficult situation or struggle, will seem miniscule with our deeper relationship with God.  We will then be freed to follow our calling and become the best version of ourselves – the version that God created us for and the version that he wants us to become.  To help our fellow neighbors through difficulties and sufferings – so they can see the face of Jesus through the actions of others.

The season of Lent is just 17 days away and is a perfect time for each of us to give less time to worldly vices and to give more time to God.  Start thinking about ways you can spend more time with the Lord and trust his plan for your life.  Try to take advantage of the many opportunities at St James Church to deepen your faith and to more fully rely on God in your life.  As we leave the church building today, let us be a beacon of light to others so they can see what can happen in their lives if they decide to trust in the Lord.  I came across this prayer in the Living Faith reflection booklet and would like to close with it – ‘Loving God, I trust in your care and give you all my concerns.  Transform my worries into trust’.  Amen.