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Sunday, September 16, 2012
Homily - 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012
Have you ever had to live in a question? I have. Through the years I have dealt with health issues. I go to the doctor for a check-up; he sees something out of the ordinary - performs a few tests - says to come back in a week for the results. I go online to a health site and diagnose myself, playing doctor. There are a multitude of diseases that match my symptoms. The question forces me to look at my loved ones differently; I sense the importance and preciousness of our relationships. My daily routine has more meaning - exercise, a morning shower, work, Holy Mass. After a week, the doctor gives his response. I am no longer lost in a question.
The disciples experienced the same. They witnessed many of Jesus miracles - calming the storm, feeding the five thousand – still; lost in the question. Who is he? Jesus always asked questions, “Do you not yet have faith”? “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you to do.” Along the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks the disciples another question, “Who do PEOPLE say that I am.” I can hear their sigh of relief; He is asking about other folks thoughts, not ours. The disciples answer in a casual way, “John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets.” Jesus slows down – stops and gazes into their eyes. “Who do YOU say that I am?” For two thousand years men and women have lived in this question – the response has changed everything.
Recently I watched a movie, “Of Gods and Men.” It is about nine French Trappist monks who lived in a monastery in Algeria in the 1990’s. They lived lives of ACTION and CONTEMPLATION. Fostering understanding between themselves and their neighbors – they provided medical and charitable assistance to everyone – as all were treated as Christ himself. In 1993, Algeria was caught up in a civil war. It was dangerous for the monks to be there, even more so, as they refused the protection of the military. The Superior called a meeting to discuss their options. The monks were frightened – some doubting their own vocations. Do we stay or do we go? After much thought and discussion, they are unanimous in their decision to stay and live out their call to serve God by serving this community. The monks considered this civil war immoral. Although remaining neutral – they would not help insurgents. This effort to remain neutral would bring consequences. In May 1996, a radical religious faction active in Algeria, kidnapped seven of the monks and threatened to hold them hostage until France released several of their own imprisoned compatriots. Several weeks passed, and still the French government refused. In the end, the monks were killed by beheading.
The superior, Fr. Christian de Cherge, knowing that one day this would happen, left a note. “If one day it should happen to me – and it could be today – to be a victim of the terrorism that threatens to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my church and my family to know that my life was given to God and to this country.” Regarding a probable violent death, he remarked “which I do not desire since I cannot rejoice in the thought that the people I love will be accused of my murder,” Fr. Christian ended his note by forgiving his future assassin, “who would not be aware of what he is doing.” This incredible act of Love – this demonstration of faith - is in direct response to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am.”
You may think that this example of sanctity is extreme. It is not. We are all capable of great acts of love. We just need to trust in God. The servant in today’s reading from Isaiah says “The Lord is my help – therefore, I am not disgraced.”
In response to Jesus’ question, Peter’s reply is clear “You are the Christ.”
Is our answer to this question the same? If YES, we side with the Psalmist when he says “He has freed my soul from death, my eye’s from tears, my feet from stumbling.”
Jesus goes on to say “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel, will save it.” Pope John Paul II commented “that we take a stand for Him, almost to the point at times of a new martyrdom: the martyrdom of those who, today as yesterday, are called to go against the tide in order to follow the divine Master, to follow "the Lamb wherever he goes.”
There is always a cost to discipleship. Peter did not think so and was rebuked by Jesus “Get behind me Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
As American Catholics, we do not fear the kind of persecutions like the monks in Algeria endured. This does not mean we do not have to have the courage to stand up for our faith – our Christian lifestyle. We never compromise on the Truth that is Jesus Christ. We stand up for our belief in True Marriage, our belief in the dignity of the human person, from conception to natural death. We stand up for the immigrant, who is neither legal nor illegal, but who is a child of God – who enjoys the dignity only God can give. We ask the Spirit for understanding – to recognize laws that are just and unjust, remembering the words of St. Augustine "an unjust law is no law at all." We work for peace in our world, for human freedom. We pray for and defend our clergy, our religious and our laity, who persevere in their dedication to God.
Today, I hear the Lord say to me “Deacon Brian, who do you say that I am"?
You are my friend – You have laid down your life for me.
You are my teacher: I believe You are the Truth, and I follow You.
You are my God – I adore You and rest in your mystery.
You are my Savior – You have brought me out of my blind, stupid, enslaving ways
You make up for all my failures.
May all of us in the Church draw closer to the Lord each day. May we grow in holiness of life and be effective witnesses to the truth that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, the Savior of all mankind and the living source of our hope. Amen.
Deacon Brian J. Murphy
** Many thanks to the late Father M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O