Homilies for October 2019

For October 6, October 13, October 20, and October 27.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time October 6th, 2019

  Readings: Hab 1:2–3, 2:2–4 • Ps 95:1–2, 6–9 • 2 Tim 1:6–8, 13–14 • Lk 17:5–10

The Greatest Force in the World

Dan Beaudrie spent a lot of time wrestling. As a little guy and a late bloomer, he got picked on a lot, so he turned to wrestling to get stronger and tougher. By the time he was 15, he was winning matches and looking forward to a great high school wrestling career. On the ride home from a successful tournament in Denver, the van in which Dan and his teammates were traveling struck a boulder and careened into a canyon wall. Dan was unlucky enough to be sitting in the front seat. He went through the windshield, bounced off the rocks, and suffered debilitating cranium, brain, and spine injuries. Dan was lucky to be alive. After two weeks in the hospital, Dan asked his doctor, “‘When can I go wrestle again?’ She laughed and shook her head, ‘I don’t know if you’re going to be doing much of anything ever again. You’re going to be happy to be walking.’”1 Devastated, Dan turned to his faith for comfort, healing, and strength. Our readings encourage us to do the same, because faith is the greatest force in the world.

I’m sure we’ve all felt like Habakkuk in our first reading as he cries out in anguish to God, demanding answers for the misery, devastation, and violence that surround him: “How Long?” “Why?” “When?” God, of course, responds in his typically enigmatic way: “Wait for it.” “It will not disappoint.” “Have faith.” We all know that God’s answer is the right answer, but how many of us like being told to “have faith” when we’re diagnosed with a serious illness, after losing our jobs, or when we’re crushed under the weight of family and work responsibilities? We hear it so often that the call to be faithful becomes an annoying din.

It isn’t easy to appreciate faith as a gift from God when life throws us to the mat, but it’s especially in these times, when we’re down for the count, that we need faith the most. “Without God, we are completely and hopelessly handed over to worldly fate, chance, and the impulses of history.”2 That’s terrifying, and that’s not how God wants us to live. Living by faith, on the other hand, teaches us to trust and to believe that God is eternally faithful — that he keeps his promises. Faith gives us the calm assurance that God has a plan for us that’s greater than anything we can imagine. It gives us both the strength to endure the hardships of this life and the courage and perseverance to overcome them. Faith “is the knowledge not only that life is worth living but also that it is made to be worth living.”3

That’s why the apostles in today’s Gospel beg for more. Jesus has just explained the demands of the Christian life to them, and they’re scared. They realize that they need faith to lead them through the trials of this world into the Kingdom of God, but they don’t understand the power of the faith they already have, that “even a modicum of faith, faith as miniscule ‘as a grain of mustard seed,’ could cause a tree to uproot itself and fly out to the ocean and plant itself there.”4 Jesus tells them that they already have all the faith they need to live the Kingdom of God right now. That’s why Saint Paul, in our second reading, calls us to boldly proclaim our faith to the world; no matter how little we may have left, our faith will always be our most powerful move in the match between good and evil.

Dan Beaudrie spent a lot of time wrestling with pain, frustration, and exhaustion during his long recovery. At his breaking point, he cried out like Habakkuk, “Why, Lord?” Dan didn’t have much going for him after that accident, but he still had his faith. He spent a lot of time going to Church growing up — his family went every week — so by the time of his accident, his mustard seed of faith had spouted and bloomed. Though bruised and battered, Dan’s faith paid off. It gave him the strength, courage and perseverance not only to walk again, but to return to the mat. Just two years after the accident, Dan defied medical explanation and won the Wyoming State wrestling championship as a high school junior. He won it again in his senior year. In his words, “Through the recovery process, my faith was the most important.” Now Dan is studying electrical engineering to learn how to make prosthetics for wounded soldiers. When Dan was at his worst, he turned to all he had left — his faith — the greatest force in the world. The results were nothing short of miraculous.

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 13th, 2019

  Readings: 2 Kgs 5:14–17 • Ps 98:1–4 • 2 Tim 2:8–13 • Lk 17:11–19

A Gratitude Adjustment

“What kind of Thanksgiving dinner is this? Where’s the turkey, Chuck? Don’t you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners? Where’s the mashed potatoes? Where’s the cranberry sauce? Where’s the pumpkin pie?”5 With those harsh words, Peppermint Patty berated poor Charlie Brown for failing to deliver the kind of Thanksgiving dinner she thought she deserved. Peppermint Patty isn’t very grateful — like nine out of the ten lepers in today’s Gospel. It sounds like they all could use a gratitude adjustment.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus cures ten lepers who begged for his mercy, but only one returns to thank him and praise God for his new lease on life. In Jesus’s time, leprosy was one of the worst diseases you could have. Believed to be highly contagious, and with no known cure, lepers were considered ritually unclean and unholy; they were exiled from the community and forbidden to approach anyone. A leper’s only hope of rejoining his family and friends was a miracle. So when Jesus shows up and gives them the miraculous healing they need, you’d think that all ten at least could have shown a little appreciation.

This nine-fold lack of gratitude so disturbs our sense of justice that we cry out for that one grateful leper to receive a bonus miracle of some sort for doing the right thing. A better understanding of gratitude suggests that he may have gotten just that.

Dictionary.com defines gratitude as a feeling of thankfulness or appreciation. That’s a lovely definition, for sure, but gratitude is much deeper than that. Gratitude involves both an awareness that we’re loved, and an appreciation of the love received. “The grateful person reveals a humility of spirit and sensitivity to love expressed by others.”6 In other words, when we’re grateful, we acknowledge our need for the love that accompanies the acts of kindness, and we humbly accept that love. By doing so, we enter into a deeper relationship with our benefactor.

Ingratitude, on the other hand, “reveals self-centeredness or the attitude that I deserve more than I ever get.”7 Let’s face it, sometimes we get so caught up in our good fortune that we fail to see where that good fortune comes from — like the nine lepers. At other times, we get so caught up in what we don’t have that we fail to appreciate the wonderful things we do have — like Peppermint Patty. When we’re ungrateful, we reject the love that has been offered to us, and without love, good grief, we’re in a pretty sad place.

When we sink to this level of unhappiness, we need a gratitude adjustment, because gratitude opens the door to a new way of living. “Academics have long theorized that expressions of thanks promote health and happiness and give optimism and energy to the downtrodden.”8 It seems that academia has finally caught up with what the Bible has taught for millennia: Gratitude is good for us! Through the eyes of gratitude, we see life, health, friends, and family as a gift, as “an overwhelming grace to be treasured and guarded.”9 Through the spirit of gratitude, we acknowledge that all good things come from God and that we need God to survive. Through the heart of gratitude, we accept that God sustains us not because he needs us, but because he loves us. Gratitude brings with it the sure knowledge that God loves us, giving us every reason to join our Psalmist and “shout with joy to the King, the LORD.”

You know, that one grateful leper did receive something more than the others received. Sure, all ten were physically healed, “but only one, having established right relationship with Jesus, is now fully reconciled to God.”10 The one leper’s gratitude led him to a life-giving relationship with the one God of Israel, just like Naaman in our first reading. An attitude of gratitude secures us in a loving relationship with God and with each other. Whenever we feel overworked, underappreciated, or just down in the dumps, it’s time for a gratitude adjustment. Let’s take the time to acknowledge the many blessings we have and give thanks to our God from whom all blessings flow. Let’s humbly accept these gifts as the gratuitous acts of love that they are. Let’s reconcile ourselves to God and enter a deeper relationship with him through gratitude. We’d have to be blockheads not to.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time October 20th, 2019

  Readings: Ex 17:8–13 • Ps 121:1–8 • 2 Tim 3:14—4:2 • Lk 18:1–8

Gritty Prayer

As a seventh-grade math teacher, Angela Duckworth discovered that IQ wasn’t the only thing that separated her highest performers from her lowest performers. Some of her best students didn’t have high IQ scores, and some of her smartest students weren’t among her top performers. This discovery ultimately led Dr. Duckworth to the field of psychology, where she has dedicated much of her research to the science of achievement. After years of studying West Point Cadets, National Spelling Bee contestants, professional football players, and salespeople, Dr. Duckworth found that “one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t general intelligence; it wasn’t good looks; It wasn’t physical health; and it wasn’t IQ.”11 Like Moses and the widow in today’s readings, successful people have grit. It’s no surprise, then, that our readings teach us that successful prayer is gritty prayer.

So what is grit? Grit is a combination of passion and perseverance. Gritty people pursue their heart’s desire and work really hard to make it happen. In music, sports, the arts, careers, and yes, even in the spiritual life, “the highly accomplished [are] paragons of perseverance.”12 Let’s take Moses, for example. When Amalek waged war against Israel, there was no reason to believe that the Israelites could defeat such a strong army. But Moses, filled with the conviction of faith that the Israelites would succeed, raised the staff of God over his soldiers in prayer. Although he grew weary, Moses didn’t give up. His goal was victory through prayer. With the help of Aaron and Hur, with passion and perseverance, Moses held the staff of God high until sunset, and Amalek’s army was defeated. Moses brought grit to prayer, and the Israelites won.

How about the widow in today’s Gospel? Her case lay before a judge who neither feared God nor respected any human being. She had no reason to believe that she would ever receive a just judgment, but she didn’t give up. She wanted justice, so she persistently bothered the judge until he rendered a just decision. The widow brought grit to her pleadings, and she won.

So how can gritty prayer help us? Let’s start off by talking about how prayer helps us. Prayer is the lifting of the mind and heart to God. It’s an act of spiritual communion by which we unite ourselves, our concerns, and needs with God and with each other.13 Our prayers can’t change God’s mind, but we don’t need to. In God’s mind, we find perfect truth, justice, and love. We don’t need to change that; we need to unite ourselves with it so that we can have perfect truth, justice, and love here on earth. We do that through prayer. Prayer is always effective because every act of prayer brings God’s truth, justice, and love into the world. Here’s where grit comes into the picture.

If we can all agree that truth, justice, and love aren’t just worthy goals but the ultimate goals of human existence, then we should bring every ounce of our passion and persistence to achieving them right now. How do we do that? We unite with God through prayer, passionate, persistent, gritty prayer. When Jesus tells us “to pray always without becoming weary” (Lk 18:1), he’s calling us to gritty prayer. When Saint Paul reminds Timothy to pray always, being “persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient” (2 Tim 4:2), he’s urging Timothy to gritty prayer. Why? Because through gritty prayer, we receive the very grace that conquers lies, injustice, and hatred from its most infinite and perfect source — the God of truth, justice, and love.

Looking at our current political situation and the injustice and violence that plague our world, there’s no reason to believe that we can change things on our own. But “salvation always involves the interplay of divine grace and human cooperation.”14 That interplay takes place in prayer — passionate, persistent, gritty prayer. Through passionate, persistent, gritty prayer, we summon the courage to shine God’s truth on the lies that tempt contemporary thought. Through passionate, persistent, gritty prayer, we find the strength to right every wrong until God’s justice shall reign on the earth. Through passionate, persistent, gritty prayer, we’re filled with God’s love, the only love that can heal the wounds of division that separate us from God and our fellow man.

Dr. Duckworth’s research shows that with a little grit, we can accomplish amazing things. Well, that’s the Judeo-Christian method in a nutshell. Throughout Scripture, we’re taught that if we passionately and persistently pursue truth, justice, and love, the Kingdom of God will reign on earth. United with God our help, who made heaven and earth, we can change the world for the better. That change begins with gritty prayer.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 27th, 2019

  Readings: Sir 35: 12–14, 16–18 • Ps 34:2–3, 17–19, 23 • 2 Tim 4:6–8, 16–18 • Lk 18:9–14

It’s Not a Competition

I have to admit that when I first heard about the “preferential option for the poor” in diaconate formation, I was pretty miffed. While I’m certainly not wealthy, I’m not hurting for any basic needs or creature comforts either. So when I read about the Church’s preference toward the well-being of the impoverished and powerless, I felt left out and even a little jealous. Worst of all, I misinterpreted the teaching to mean that God must favor the poor over everyone else and became downright angry. Fortunately, with the help of my amazing professors and having advanced in wisdom and age, I have come to learn that my misunderstanding couldn’t be farther from the truth. God loves us all. It’s not a competition.

Our reading from Sirach makes it perfectly clear that “the Lord is a God of justice, who knows no favorites.” If that’s the case, then why does the Church give preferential treatment to the poor? Well, Scripture is replete with passages that call our attention to the poor and to our obligation to assist them, including today’s first reading and Psalm. The call to aid the poor is so strong that it has become a hallmark of Twentieth and Twenty-first century Church social justice teachings. The Church has even codified this obligation in Canon Law: “The Christian faithful are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the precept of the Lord, to assist the poor from their own resources.”15

God also calls us to aid the poor because doing so benefits us all. The U.S. Catholic Bishops explain it well in Economic Justice for All, their spirited pastoral letter on the U.S. economy, saying:

The prime purpose of this special commitment to the poor is to enable them to become active participants in the life of society. It is to enable all persons to share in and contribute to the common good. The “option for the poor,” therefore, is not an adversarial slogan that pits one group or class against another. Rather it states that the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community.16

In other words, we help the poor because we’re all in this together. It’s not a competition. It’s not about you or me. It’s not about them or us. It’s about all of us, together, healing the wounds of poverty and marginalization so that the Kingdom of God may reign on earth.

Who, then, are the poor? Whom must we serve? I think it’s obvious that the economically impoverished are included among the poor that we’re obligated to help, but it would be wrong to limit the scope of our obligation to this group alone. A closer look at our readings shows that God casts a wide net when he speaks of the poor. In our passage from Sirach, we learn that God hears the cry of the weak, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, and the lowly. Our Psalm includes among the poor the lowly, the just, those in distress, the brokenhearted, and those who are crushed in spirit. Even Saint Paul, in our second reading, counts himself among those with whom God stands when he was imprisoned and deserted by his friends. Scripture’s concept of poverty is so broad that it’s safe to say that, in God’s eyes, we’re all poor. The anxious and the depressed, the overworked and the weary, the dying and those who mourn, you name it, we all have issues that in some way impoverish our existence and inhibit our ability to contribute to building God’s Kingdom. We all need God to hear our cry — and he does, because God loves each and every one of us equally.

In a society dominated by “selfies,” it’s easy to forget that we’re all in this together. It’s easy to think only of our own needs, and not the needs of others. This laser-focus on ourselves turns into a game of compare and contrast. Like the Pharisee in today’s Gospel, we arrogantly contrast our virtues with the shortcomings of others, not accepting that we have our own flaws and idiosyncrasies too. We forget that we’re all poor together, that we all need help — each other’s help and especially God’s help.

And that was my problem in diaconate formation. I was so focused on myself, on how much I deserved God’s love, that I devolved into arrogant competition with nameless, faceless others who equally deserved God’s love. Today’s readings call us to serve those in need and to accept our own poverty with humility. Today’s readings challenge us to “remember that we are one of a great army of sinning, suffering, sorrowing humanity, all kneeling before the throne of God’s mercy.”17 Today’s readings invite us to work together, to use our strengths to counter our poverty, to build God’s Kingdom on earth. It’s not a competition.

  1. Daniel Beaudrie, “Crushing the Odds,” Columbia, July/August 2019: 99, no. 7, 19–21.
  2. Walter Kasper, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life (New York: Paulist Press, 2014), 4.
  3. Charles Hefling, Why Doctrines, 2nd ed. (Chestnut Hill: Lonergan Institute, 2000), 20.
  4. David Lyle Jeffrey, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Luke, ed. R.R. Reno (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012), 208.
  5. Charles M. Schultz, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, animated film, 1973.
  6. R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 327.
  7. Culpepper, 1995.
  8. Matt Sedensky, “Research: Giving Thanks Brings Health, Happiness,” Nevada Appeal (Nov. 25, 2009), nevadaappeal.com/news/local/research-giving-thanks-brings-health-happiness/.
  9. Culpepper, 327.
  10. David Lyle Jeffrey, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Luke, ed. R.R. Reno (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012), 210.
  11. Angela Lee Duckworth, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” TED (April 2013), ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance.
  12. Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (New York: Scribner, 2016), 8.
  13. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), nos. 2559–65.
  14. John F. Craghan, “Exodus,” The Collegeville Bible Commentary, Old Testament, ed. Dianne Bergant (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992), 98.
  15. Code of Canon Law, c. 222, § 2, in Code of Canon Law: Latin-English Edition (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1999), 65.
  16. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All: A Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1986), 88.
  17. William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 266.
Dcn. Michael A. Meyer About Dcn. Michael A. Meyer

Dcn. Michael A. Meyer lives in Clinton Township, NJ, with his wife and two daughters, and serves at Immaculate Conception Parish in the Diocese of Metuchen. He received Bachelor of Science in Language and Juris Doctor degrees from Georgetown University, a Certificate in Diaconal Ministry and a Master of Arts in Theology from the College of Saint Elizabeth, and is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching at Aquinas Institute of Theology. His homilies and other writings can be found on his blog, RamblingsfromtheAmbo.blogspot.com.