July 7, 2024

Deacon Tim Papa Homily
Know That the Lord is There

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B

Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

There was an interesting movie on Netflix a few years back called The Two Popes. In it, a joke was told that I had never heard before and thought that maybe it was original to the movie, but upon research I found that it predated both Cardinals Ratzinger’s and Bergoglio’s assent to the papacy. One version goes like this: A new priest asked his bishop, “Can a person smoke while praying?” The reply was “No, absolutely not.” The priest discussed this with an older priest in his parish, and this wise man said, “You asked the wrong question. You should have asked, ‘Can a person pray while smoking?’”

I think that this gets at a lesson that we can draw from today’s readings, for there is a curious statement in the Gospel: “So [Jesus] was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people …. He was amazed at their lack of faith” [Mark 6:5-6 NABRE]. Jesus, being both true God and true man, displays both qualities at different times throughout his life. He says that the Father is greater than him as a man, and that he and the Father are one as God. He dies because he is man but rises because he is God. So we might think that his inability to perform miracles was due to his human nature, but I could question that. For we could distinguish between, on the one hand, what God has the power to do – is able to do – and, on the other hand, what God will do. For example, God is able to sin, but God won’t sin. To apply this to the Gospel situation, God’s can perform powerful acts despite human cooperation, but it is God’s will to allow human will to refuse to accept the powerful acts, the acts of love, that are offered.

God gives us free will. God is always with us, always present in the world. It is we who are either aware of the presence or choose to ignore that presence. God always wishes good for us. It is we who confuse what we think is good to God’s good will for us. This is Paul’s point when he states a seeming contradiction in the Second Reading: “for when I am weak, then I am strong” [2 Corinthians 12:10b]. When we are weak, we are more likely to sense God’s will because of our needs; it is when we are strong that we are most likely to forget God or confuse our own power with that of God’s. This would also explain the difference in the first beatitude listed by Matthew and Luke. Luke says “Blessed are you who are poor” [6:20], but Matthew says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” [5:3]. Luke is emphasizing that the poor are more likely to appreciate what they have received from God, and the rich are more likely to ascribe their wealth to their own actions. On the other hand, Matthew is saying the same thing but is emphasizing that it is not physical poverty that is important but an attitude, a spirit, that praises God for all that we have received which is vital to attaining the kingdom of heaven.

So God is present always, everywhere. God is present in this church, certainly. But God is also present in our homes, in our places of work, in our schools, in any restaurant that we go into, even in a place that we smoke, or have a drink, or watch the game, or wherever. It is easier to remember that God is here in church, and many people add religious articles in their homes and offices to make God’s presence even more visible there. And we Catholics have in our churches an even more powerful presence, the physical presence of Jesus in the tabernacle. But the people of Nazareth in today’s Gospel reading also had the physical presence of Jesus there with them, in the flesh, and they knew about his powerful works in neighboring communities and heard his teachings, and still they failed to accept the fact that God was in their midst. They had known Jesus since he was a boy, and they had known him as an adult carpenter in their city. Yet that familiarity comes at a cost – they are numb to new possibilities.

So what lesson do we draw from this example we have today? Many people are spiritually dead long before they are physically dead. God did not create spiritual death – we do by participating in sin, in evil. Christ came to offer us an alternative to spiritual death, but we must acknowledge his presence, have faith in his teachings. If we do, we can be with God, both here on earth as well as in heaven. That is the meaning of Christ’s statement that the kingdom of God is at hand. It is here in its beginning form when we choose to align our lives to God’s teachings, and it is in its final form in heaven when we will be with God fully. Many people think that the final judgment when we die is actually a self-judgment based on what we chose here on earth. If we choose not to be with God in this life, we choose not to be with God after it. The paradox is that, if we believe that God’s grace is sufficient for us, as it was with Saint Paul, we must acknowledge our need, or weakness, and cooperate with that grace. Those that think they are strong and know better, they too are given grace, but it is left unfulfilled.

Now, for the record, I am not advocating anyone taking up the habit of smoking, whether you are praying or not. And the only ones allowed to smoke in this church are Father Oscar, me, and the altar servers, and then only when using incense. However, I am advocating a life filled with another habit: the habit of realizing God’s presence in all aspects of our life, finding that we are in the presence of something much bigger than ourselves, something stronger than ourselves: we are accompanied by Jesus through his Holy Spirit. This is a fact whether we choose to accept it or not. But by accepting it, we can find true joy, despite all the thorns in our sides. Or as Paul would tell us, because of all the thorns in our sides.

As we continue with our Mass, may the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist fill us with the knowledge of his presence in our lives. May we all use the adversities in our lives, those thorns in our sides, to better understand our need to be poor in spirit and let the grace of God be our true riches. If we can have faith in Jesus, welcome him into our lives, we can gain the Kingdom of God. If not, all the worldly things we now think we want may all turn out to be just a lot of smoke.

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