Sunday, August 7, 2011

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Nolite Timere[1]

Homily for the 19th Sunday of Ordered Time
7th of August, 2011 Ano Domini

Parish of Corpus Christi
Round Lake, NY
Rev. Mr. Michael Taylor

And Peter, giving answer, said; “Lord, if it be you, bid me come to you upon the waters. And Jesus said: “Come.” And Peter going down out of the boat walked upon the water to come to Jesus. But seeing the wind strong, he was afraid: and when he began to sink, he cried out, saying: “Lord save me!” And immediately Jesus, stretching forth his hand, took hold of him, and said, “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” [2]

            How many of you like roller coasters? Haunted houses? A good horror film? It seems that there is never a shortage of people in line to be scared. Being scared can even be fun, as mentioned in the things above. They get the blood flowing, reminds us that we’re alive. Yet how many of you have actually been terrified? Where you feared for your life? Where you didn’t know if you had the means to make it another day? This is true fear. This is a fear which grips the soul and drains one’s heart of courage. Yet is precisely this form of fear we find in today’s gospel, and to this fear Jesus tells His apostles in the midst of the storm, be not afraid.[3] The apostles are in the midst of a storm, and they are afraid, because they have forgotten that Jesus Christ is with them. They have forgotten the source of their strength. How often do we, like Peter, become overwhelmed by the storms of our lives, and forget that Jesus is right before us?
This was one of the great cornerstones of Blessed John Paul II’s preaching as he traveled around the world, “be not afraid.” For a man who had seen the worst that human beings could to one another, a world that had reached the highest heights of violence stemming from fear, John told the war to be not afraid. In truth, there are only two reasons for authentic fear; death and poverty. To both reasons, the Christian faith provides solace and courage.
In today’ world we are petrified of death. Everyday a new report comes out which warns of us of some toxin, faulty manufactured product or other various sundry objects that are bent on our destruction. Cell phones could cause Alzheimer. Fast food restaurants fries will immediately give you a heart attack. And apparently, everything will give you cancer. So we live in fear. Yet for the Christian, we have been given the assurance that death is not the end. Does not our faith tell us that Jesus has conquered death? Does not Jesus tell us that He is the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live?[4] Has not God Himself told us that He has gone before us to prepare a place for us to live?[5] Why then should we fear death? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.[6] Do you believe this?[7] If this is our faith, then we need to show in our lives that we no longer fear death. The world needs to be able to look into the lives of the Christian faithful, and see that there is something there which they do not have. That Christians do not live in fear of death, but in the assurance of the world to come.
This leads me to the second reason for fear which is poverty. If you have been following the news lately, I am sure that you have heard about the debt crisis, the debt ceiling, credit rating downgrades and the stock market plummeting. Throughout the debate, we heard people on both sides of the aisle screaming about the catastrophe that was coming. Social security checks will cease! The military will be unable to defend us! The poor will starve and the sick will die! The debt will destroy our civilization! Everybody panic! In the past couple of months, these issues have taken up the consciousness of the nation. And people are afraid, and they are willing to do almost anything, just so that they don’t have to be afraid.
This life is full of uncertainty and it is full of dangers and threats around ever twist and turn of an increasingly chaotic world. This is the point which I would wish to speak of now. You see, in the past sixty years of American history, we have come to depend on the government, whether in our cities, our states, or federally, to give us that sense of security. Don’t worry about what you’ll do when you retire, you’ll have your pensions. Don’t worry about what you’ll do when you can no longer work, you’ll have social security. Don’t worry about health care, you’ll have Medicare and Medicaid. Don’t worry about what happens if you lose your job, you’ll have months of unemployment. Now, please here me when I say, these are good programs, even great programs. Yet I believe we are beginning to see that the current system can no longer sustain itself. Truly, no state is capable of providing everything we need, not without becoming dictatorial in its power.
There is an alternative however, one that stretches back to the beginning of our faith. Consider these words of Saint Paul to the Galatians. So then, while it is still today, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are the household of faith. [8] This is critical. Look around you and see family. Do you believe that we are truly brothers and sisters in Christ? We form the household of faith, and as such, when one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.[9] Therefore, give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you”; for you have received without pay, therefore give without pay. [10] We need to rethink how we view our parish, and rethink what the words “Catholic Charity” mean to us. Too often, we think of giving to organizations, who, while doing great good, are so large that they have to spread their resources over a wide swath of peoples. Yet our parishes can and must be a source of charity for those brothers and sisters among us. We possess a great deal of abundance. Saint John Chrysostom commented, “not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” [11] If a family among us is hungry, than we have food which can be given. If a family needs shelter, we should be able, as a larger family, to find a way to provide them something. If a family needs financial advice, there are those among us who have such knowledge. We have construction workers, plumbers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, and teachers. What need can the poor have that we cannot offer assistance to? The difference that Catholic charity has between state programs is that Catholic charity is acts of kindness done in the context of family rather than an act of the wealthy to the poor. Catholic Charity is an act that maintains the dignity of all members.[12]
There is a profound difference between a handout and a family member helping out another family member. If I had a kid, and I cannot afford to clothe my child, how shameful it is for me to go to Goodwill, to admit that I cannot take care of my family. It hollows out the soul of a man, and leaves him without his God given dignity. Yet how many of you have had brothers and sisters, and when you had your kids, you asked if you could use the cloths that your nieces and nephews had outgrown? This is not considered a handout. This is family helping family, because you know that you’ll help your brothers and sisters out when they are in need, and they will help you. It’s what family does.
I remember when my mother was a single mother trying to provide for my brother and I. There were times when the money was so tight, she couldn’t afford to go to the grocery store. So she would go to the food co-ops where the government gave away surplus food for the poor. Maybe some of you remember the plain labels that identified this food, these labels that told anyone who walked through your kitchen that you couldn’t afford to buy food for your family. But I also remember that our Church at the time which held a pot luck supper every Wednesday evening. And my mother knew that even if she couldn’t bring much, she could bring something to that dinner. She knew that her sons would have a good meal, and that they would sit as equals among everyone there, from those who drove Mercedes and BMWs to those who were worse off than we. And there would be no shame, for all there, rich and poor, ate the same food, sat at the same table and lived as brothers and sisters, because we were Christians and that made us family. That common dinner was a great blessing. It’s possible here. We can do it. But you’ve got to want it.
I’ve seen parishes where over fifty volunteers organized themselves to cook meals for those families who had lost a family member or who had just lost their jobs. And because there were many, the burden was easy, the yoke was light. It’s possible. We can do it. But you’ve got to want it. I’ve seen churches in the south, which bought up land. And then when they heard that one of their members was homeless or were about to be evicted, they came together on a Saturday, and like Habitat for Humanity, they built those families a house to live in. It wasn’t much, just cinder blocks and dry wall. But it was a home, and it was from family. It’s possible, we can do it. But you’ve got to want it. I’ve seen parishes that offered free day care for those mothers who have to work. It’s possible, we can do it. But you’ve got to want it. My brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, we need to stop expecting other people to take care of our family, this household of faith. We can look out for each other, so that none among us every feels isolated in poverty and need. Christian charity provides everyone dignity. It’s not another program. It’s not another committee. It’s an act of love. If we believe that we are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, then we must look out for one another as family. For indeed we are our brother’s keeper.[13]

[1] “Be not afraid” taken from Matthew 14.27 [Gospel of the Day]
[2] Matthew 14.28-31
[3] Matthew 14.27
[4] John 11.25
[5] Cf. John 14.1-6
[6] Romans 6.3-4
[7] Cf. John 11.26
[8] Galatians 6.10
[9] I Corinthians 12.26
[10] Matthew 5.42, 10.8, Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2443
[11] Saint John Chrysostom, Hom. In Lazaro 2,5, Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2446
[12] For additional information on Christian charity, read Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio (1967), and Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus (1991).
[13] Cf. Genesis 4.9

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