Homilies for October 2018

"Bartimaeus," by Harold Copping.

For Oct. 7, Oct. 14, Oct. 21, and Oct. 28.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 7, 2018

  Readings: Gn 2:18–24 • Ps 128:1–6 • Heb 2:9–11 • Mk 10:2–16, or 2–12
  usccb.org/bible/readings/100718.cfm

I’ve always been rather put off by the generic references of one spouse toward another in a knowingly negative light. Saying things about “the old ball and chain” and the like have always struck me as at best odd, at worst as a sign that a couple is missing out on the joys in what is supposed to be the most important relationship in their life. Does it have to be this way? Should young couples just accept the fact that one day they will likely dread the company of one another?

I’ve experienced a type of this as a priest. One time, when I was getting ready to process in at a funeral for an elderly priest, I realized I had left my watch on and quickly took it off and pocketed it before the procession began. A more experienced priest shook his head at me and smirked, saying, “I remember when I was newly-ordained; I used to take my watch off before Mass, too.” I regret not being more bold in the moment and simply asking, “Why don’t you take it off anymore?” That small devotion is one I practice to this day, and I don’t see why I should stop. It seems to me that young couples get treated this way, too. More experienced old husbands chuckling knowingly at the young groom picking up some flowers for his new wife. Women talking to one another about how soon the “honey moon” period will be over, as though the truth of human conflict is sure to come crashing in on a new couple soon. Why this cynicism? Why is our go-to reaction when it comes to ideals one of disbelief? I think it is because of the hardness of our hearts.

There is an option this Sunday to only read up to verse twelve of the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, rather than up to verse sixteen. Choosing the shorter version means omitting the interaction of Jesus with the children who are brought to Him, and His stern warning that “whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” I do not understand the need to cut off this brief scene, as I think it provides a key lens through which this whole interaction with Jesus, the Pharisees who were testing Him, and His own incredulous disciples should be viewed. If you look back to the first reading from Genesis, you see the origin of this great gift of marriage that takes away loneliness for man. God knows us, knows that it is not good for us to be alone, and, in His infinite wisdom and gratuitous generosity, He makes a suitable partner. You can hear the man’s joy echoing off the page and through the millennia that at last “this one is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” It is the self-forgetting joy of a young child receiving a gift at Christmas. He jumps up and down and cries out, not really caring much what he may look like to others. He is happy, he knows it, and he lets it show.

We all know that this coming together of the man and the woman is not where it ends. There is the fall, sin enters the world, and the ravages of sin come rushing in. Does this mean that the joy of self-abandon seen before the fall at the coming together of our first parents is impossible now? I don’t think so. And I think that explains our Lord’s reaction to the test by the Pharisees — calling them out for their hardness of heart — and His rebuke at the follow-up incredulity of His disciples. Jesus does not want us to have hardened hearts; He does want us to experience true and lasting joy, and, therefore, He holds us to the ideal, the original gift He gave, and wants us to deny ourselves and find it. We need to accept this ideal like a child, or risk not receiving it.

I know marriage is not easy. When I was in seminary, we had a lay professor who was married with two children. I remember the day he told us that we future priests had the harder vocation to discern, but married folks had the harder vocation to live. He summed it up by saying that we were promising our lives to Jesus Christ and His Church, and when something goes wrong, it is probably our fault, as Jesus Christ is sinless. Married couples, however, have the seemingly impossible task of bringing together two fallen human beings. Any number of things could go wrong with one or both, and sorting out the blame when conflict inevitably arises is no easy task. Marriage is not easy. But at the same time, it is not impossible.

“May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.” This is the response for the psalm today, and it offers what may be the antidote for letting our hearts become hardened. I think that the people who make the “old ball and chain”–type comments, or the ones who do not think marital bliss is actually possible, forget to practice their love “all” the days of their lives. I know it is not easy to live with another fallen human being, to forgive them, to help them get to Heaven. Our Lord knows this too. That is why He has provided us with the Sacraments, especially Confession and the Holy Eucharist. Take care of your marriage — all the days of your life. If you notice that your communication is failing, that you are starting to resent the other, that you are using some of the dreaded lingo of burned-out old spouses, then stop it and start working on your marriage!

At this time in world history (although, to be fair, the Pharisees’ and disciples’ reactions to Jesus’s comments about divorce do not make this seem unique to our own epoch), the call to commitment is often met with cynical scorn. But it is because of the hardness of our hearts that we are often looking for escape routes when the going gets tough. But from the beginning this was not so. Of course there will be challenges, ups and downs, even grave difficulties, but that does not mean the institution of marriage is flawed. Just as children believe in the ideal and have not yet been infected with the worldly bug of hardheartedness, we too need to become like them, that we might enter the Kingdom, each of the days of our lives, by trusting in the help of Jesus Christ to live our vocations, and imitate His love for the Church.

 

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 14, 2018

  Readings: Wis 7:7–11 • Ps 90:12–17 • Heb 4:12–13 • Mk 10:17–30, or 17–27
  usccb.org/bible/readings/101418.cfm

What do you think the man expected Jesus to say? “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Do you think he expected God incarnate to pat him on the back, tell him “Keep up the good work, buddy!” and send him on his way? Is that the way we are when we approach God incarnate?

At the beginning of every Mass, we should probably be, at least in some respects, like this man from the Gospel. We should just about be running into the church, our desire to converse with God so strong. We should kneel down before Him, focusing in on the one to whom our attention should be devoted. We should listen to those words that begin the penitential rite, “Brothers and Sisters, let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries.” At this point, remember, you know the Commandments: “You shall not kill. . . . Honor your father and your mother.” Can you honestly say, like the man in the Gospel, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth”? If not, why not? The fact that our Lord first goes to the Commandments in response to a question regarding eternal life should tell us something. Do you have a firm grasp of the fundamentals? Are you killing others, literally or in your heart? (Remember the “you have heard it said, but I tell you” sayings from the Sermon on the Mount.) Are you committing adultery, literally or in your heart? Do you steal? Do you lie? Do you defraud (also called cheating, swindling, or embezzling)? If so, stop it, as engaging in those kind of actions is clearly an impediment to inheriting eternal life.

Make sure to hold yourself to a high standard in following the Commandments. One of my biggest pet peeves as a priest is hearing the all too common expression “I don’t need to go to Confession; it’s not like I’ve murdered anyone or anything.” My immediate thought in response to this is always, “Great. But remember, our life as disciples of Christ is about far more than simply being ‘not-murderers.’” Do yourself the favor of examining your conscience daily. I say this not to encourage scrupulosity, but to hopefully free you from the burden that living in contradiction to the Commandments truly is. If you are perpetually nursing lust in your heart, committing adultery — maybe not actively with another human being, but virtually via images online — that is a prison from which our Lord wants us to be free. And there is great news in this regard; in fact, doubly so. First, if you find yourself neck-deep in the mire of some habitual sin, our Lord meets you where you are, and also loves you enough not to leave you there. The other great news is that even if you are fortunate to be like the man from the Gospel, keeping all these commandments from your youth, He doesn’t merely leave you there either.

Of course our Lord references the Commandments, and, like all good Christians, hopefully we all know them backward and forward. But even though the rules are listed, our life with Christ is not simply all about rules. Look at what our Lord does here, He looks at him and He loves him. The penitential rite closes with that beautiful prayer, “May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life.” And leading us to everlasting life, the same life the man asked to inherit, is what the rest of the Mass is about. After the penitential rite in the Mass, think about the rest. The Liturgy of the Word — the time of communally hearing and reflecting upon God’s love letters to humanity, Sacred Scripture. The Liturgy of the Eucharist — the participation in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ — the literal participation in His gaze of love toward all of us. He responds to our asking about inheriting eternal life by casting His loving gaze upon us. How we respond is up to us.

I think how the interaction ends between Jesus Christ and the man is incredibly tragic but also revealing. The author of Wisdom itself, the one whose word is “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword,” is willing to lay it all out there for the man, calling him to great heights of love, but what the Word Incarnate will not do is force the man to love Him in return. The man can know the Commandments, he can follow them and reap the worldly rewards that often come from keeping out of trouble, but, ultimately, mere following of rules is not enough to inherit eternal life. And the same goes for you and me. As we move through the penitential rite at every Mass, and hopefully Confession with relative frequency, it is not just for the purpose of checking off a box or keeping a clean scorecard. Our Lord is calling us to great heights of love. To climb those heights takes an incredible effort, one not even possible to achieve on our own. But as Jesus will say to the astonished disciples who learn that it is hard for the rich to enter Heaven, “All things are possible for God.”

As we move in Mass from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, remember, our Lord laid down His life freely out of love for you and for me. He said to His Apostles, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.” Do not be afraid to give up what He asks of you, to follow Him each day, because He is the one who will lead us, not force us, on to eternal life. If you let Him look at you in love, and trust in His guidance, don’t be afraid to say yes, and unlike the man in the Gospel, you won’t go away sad.

 

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 21, 2018

  Readings: Is 53:10–11 • Ps 33:4–5, 18–20, 22 • Heb 4:14–16 • Mk 10:35–45, or 42–45
  usccb.org/bible/readings/102118.cfm

In the movie A Man for All Seasons, Richard Rich is continually looking for a way to climb the proverbial ladder and grow in power and prestige. St. Thomas More consistently refuses to help him get ahead at court, while he is willing to help him get a position where Rich would be better suited in both talent and virtue. St. Thomas More tells him, “Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.” To which Richard Rich replies, “If I was, who would know it?” More responds, “You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.” How much better off Rich would have been if he would have simply taken the future saint’s advice. In the end, St. Thomas More is martyred and Rich is a rat; we venerate More to this day as a saint.

It is easy to want fame, fortune, attention, and thumbs up from others. Not to go right to the easy target of social media, but, in this day and age, getting noticed and paid attention to, putting something out there that goes viral is a dream which many hold. I have had students tell me they want to be famous, but when pushed a little further to describe what they want to be famous for, they do not always have much of an answer. It is as though they want the gold medal, the endorsement deal, the screaming fans, but with none of the work or any kind of substance to get there. The lifestyles of the rich and famous can be awfully attractive, but usually when we’re witnessing those lifestyles we are not seeing the whole picture, nor what it takes to have gotten there. That worldly glory, that attention, are not the peace that Christ gave to His Apostles after the Resurrection. What He gave to them and to us is the example of true greatness. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

At first glance this call to be servant of all, even if we have heard it countless times throughout our lives, can still strike us as counterintuitive. Regrettably, this can even be the case in the Church. I remember one of my favorite professors in seminary, a four-foot-nothing Dominican sister, who used to warn us future priests frequently: “Gentlemen, don’t be ambitious in the Church. There’s not a lot of room at the top.” We need the right kind of ambition. Not the ladder-climbing type, with only rewards for a few. Rather, we need the ambition to carry out consistently the ordinary tasks of our state in life with extraordinary love (to borrow a phrase from St. Teresa). There is incalculable joy to be acquired with this type of ambition, and the more it is reaped, the more abundantly the fruit grows.

This principle is easily proven in our own experience. Reflect for a moment on who have been the most important and influential people in your own life? I’m sure there are some big names or authors in there that plenty of people throughout the world know about. But the majority of the most influential people in your life are likely not famous at all. If you are tasked with listing the most important people in your life who have had the biggest impact on you, I would venture to bet that it is those who sacrificed for you and served you in some way. Maybe your parents or another caregiver, sacrificing much so that your needs are provided for. A teacher, who put in the long, and very often under-appreciated, hours challenging you to learn the material and not settling for mere completion over quality. A religious sister or priest who challenged you to grow in holiness, even if this challenge required an awkward recognition of the truth. All of these particular roles do not typically come with a great deal of fame, but all of them are the roles that put into practice the greatness to which our Lord explained to the Apostles. None of these roles would likely lead to any of their bearers being on the cover of Newsweek, but covers fade away, and true greatness lasts for eternity.

Our Lord frees us from the zero-sum, never-ending game of King of the Hill. The top in a worldly sense can be a pretty narrow space. Not so when it comes to holiness. James and John may have done the natural thing in making a move to “get ahead,” which lead to the predictable anger of their fellow Apostles. But our Lord frees us from all that. The new hill upon which we should strive to be is Calvary, and our Lord makes a place at the top for all of us. To get there, we must simply imitate Him who gave His life as a ransom for many; we can do this by being a servant for the many into whose company we come each day. Who will know it? You, your friends, God. Not a bad public, that.

 

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 28, 2018

  Readings: Jer 31:7–9 • Ps 126:1–6 • Heb 5:1–6 • Mk 10:46–52
  usccb.org/bible/readings/102818.cfm

This Sunday, we get a shining light of an example after a few weeks of seeing those closest to Jesus failing to understand who is in their midst. And the best part of all is that the example is provided by a blind beggar on the side of the road. At the time of this writing, we are coming to the end of what many have called the ‘Summer of Shame’ in the Catholic Church. Many in the hierarchy, the successors of the Apostles, have not proven to be great examples for the faithful to follow. We have read in the news about horrible sins against chastity; in many instances, the covering up of those sins; and toleration of wretched behavior — even potentially at the highest levels of Church governance. When many are tempted toward despair over this whole situation, the Gospel today demonstrates that our source of help is not from the upper circles of the hierarchy, but from relentless perseverance and faith in Jesus Christ.

At the conclusion of the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, which we hear today, Jesus’s disciples have been present for many incredible events — healings, exorcisms, the feeding of multitudes, etc. They should really, at this point, be able to grasp that Jesus is willing and able to bring sight to the blind. And yet, even after all they have been through, the disciples still do not seem to get it, especially the Apostles. As this blind man calls out, those around Jesus rebuke the man, telling him to be silent. Are they lazy? Are they uncaring? Are they unbelieving? Regardless of their motives, their rebuke of Bartimaeus is scandalous.

Two things that are crucial to remember here. One, Bartimaeus continues to cry out. Learn from this example. You do not have to be in the inner circle, hierarchically speaking, to be close to Christ, to have life-changing faith. Despite the rebukes, regardless of their poor example, Bartimaeus remains unperturbed, but cries out instead all the louder.

The second aspect to take note of in this encounter is the fact that Jesus still uses those around him, even if their example is scandalous, to bring Bartimaeus to Himself. “Call him,” Jesus says to those around Him. Jesus could have just parted the crowds, gone right to Bartimaeus Himself, and taken care of the healing without any other intervention. But that is not what He has chosen to do. Even though they are fallen, even though their example is less than stellar, Jesus still uses the disciples to bring Bartimaeus to Himself.

What can we learn from this scene today? Jesus continues to call, He continues to use the Church to bring people to Himself, and we need to imitate the persevering receptivity to His call that Bartimaeus demonstrated.

Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak, unlike the rich man who was unwilling to give his possessions to the poor and follow Jesus, even after the man saw Jesus looking at him and loving him. Bartimaeus quickly sprang up at Jesus’s call, unlike the disciples who are still slow to understand the Passion that will come before the Resurrection, even after multiple predictions from Jesus. After Jesus calls him, Bartimaeus refers to Jesus as “Master,” unlike James and John from last Sunday’s Gospel, who do not wait for a summons, but rather bluntly and disrespectfully go straight to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Compare that to today’s beautiful example of “Master, I want to see.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, these are indeed dark times. It is hard to know what is coming, and that kind of blindness is hard to accept. But just like Bartimaeus, we have to persevere and call out all the more. Not bluntly and presumptuously like James and John, but with humility and faith like this powerful example we receive today. Even if you feel weighted down by the scandalous examples before us in the Church today, keep listening for that call, keep asking the Holy Spirit for the ability to “take courage,” because Jesus never stops calling you. And even if those that appear by office to be closer to Christ are not providing the faithful with good example, let this be the moment that by your own example you throw aside your cloak, spring up, and keep coming to Jesus. May each of us be blessed one day to hear those salvific words of Our Lord, “Go your way; your faith has saved you,” and have the joy of knowing that that way is to follow Him on the way.

Fr. John Eckert About Fr. John Eckert

Fr. John Eckert is Pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Salisbury, NC. He graduated from Saint Louis University in 2004 and the Pontifical College Josephinum in 2010, and was ordained for the Diocese of Charlotte in 2010.

Comments

  1. I am very much interested on listening the homilies of our Catholic priests and Holy bible reflection in my daily life. i am fulfilling myself in spiritually by reflecting the word of God which is well proclaimed by you all. So, i will keep on reading these articles every day in my life. thank you so much. May God Bless you.

  2. Father,
    Thank you for your contributions here. I was pleasantly surprised to see a familiar face with these as expected and appreciated fine homilies. Blessings.

Trackbacks

  1. […] At this time in world history (although, to be fair, the Pharisees’ and disciples’ reactions to Jesus’s comments about divorce do not make this seem unique to our own epoch), the call to commitment is often met with cynical scorn. But it is because of the hardness of our hearts that we are often looking for escape routes when the going gets tough. But from the beginning this was not so. Of course there will be challenges, ups and downs, even grave difficulties, but that does not mean the institution of marriage is flawed. Just as children believe in the ideal and have not yet been infected with the worldly bug of hardheartedness, we too need to become like them, that we might enter the Kingdom, each of the days of our lives, by trusting in the help of Jesus Christ to live our vocations, and imitate His love for the Church. – Read the source: Fr. John Eckert https://www.hprweb.com/2018/10/homilies-for-october-2018/ […]