February 13, 2022: Homily – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

One of my very favorite things is to go on retreat.  And I guess this doesn’t surprise you.  After all, I am a member of the clergy, and you probably assume that it is an essential part of the job description.  But even before that, before I had begun this journey down the path to ordination, I enjoyed going on retreat, starting from the minor seminary to the major seminary we began every semester with a retreat.

And after my ordination I was going for a retreat every year until almighty covid changed the world.  And just so we’re clear, when I say “retreat” I don’t mean sitting at a poolside at some five-star hotel somewhere.  No, I’m talking about the kind of retreat with a truly religious and/or spiritual focus, one which is meant to provide an opportunity for the participants to draw a little bit closer to their God.

And I think what I “like” the most about these retreats (whether they are one day, a few days, or a week) is how “different” these experiences are from my normal life.  I like the fact that the room I’m staying in is very modest, and the bed isn’t too comfortable.  I remember a week I spent  at St. Anselm Monastery for my annual Retreat 5 years ago. Everything looked old and horrible from the America I’ve come to know, and the only consolation was that the place was neat and the monks were very nice, elderly, holy and I felt they were capable of bringing me closer to my God.

At retreat sites, I like it when the food is simpler, and the portions considerably smaller.  I like the fact that the building is relatively quiet, no cars whizzing past, no radios playing loud music, no phones ringing.  And I especially like the pace of retreats, the slowing down of the hours and days, the “stepping out” from the busyness and craziness of daily life.

And when I say I “like” these things, I don’t mean that immersing myself in a retreat is that easy for me.  In fact the opposite might the case.  I WANT a more comfortable bed.  I WANT better food and a lot more of it.  I want a recliner near my bed where I can sit and do my rosary and my divine office.  I WANT to be able to put the TV on when I’m climbing into my bed for the night.

Yet, it is this very sort of discomfort, this period of adjusting to a new way of living that I “like” the most about going on retreat.  And the reason is simple:  It shows me (in a very concrete way) just how attached I am to my usual life, my familiar life, attached to so many things of this world, so many comforts, so many distractions, and so many ways of entertaining myself.

Today’s Gospel passage from Luke is a difficult one, and difficult to understand, but also difficult in what it seems to be saying.  In what’s commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Plain (a similar passage to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount). St. Luke shows Jesus painting a picture of “blessedness” much different from what his listeners probably imagined, or expected to hear.

“Blessed are the poor . . . (and) you who are now hungry . . .

(and) you who are now weeping . . . (and) you when people hate you,

and when they exclude you, and denounce your name as evil . . .”

I thought it was the opposite.

And if that didn’t get their attention, Jesus continues by describing the flip-side of each of his previous statements.  And he precedes each one with the ominous “Woe.”

“Woe to you who are rich . . . Woe to you who are filled now . . .

Woe to you who laugh now . . . Woe to you when all speak well of you.”

 Again – I thought it was the opposite.  What exactly is going on here?

There is a tension that exists in every human life, but especially in every person striving to live a “good” life, a “meaningful” life, a “faithful” life.  And this tension exists between the person each of us is and the person each of us wants to be, or feels we need to be, or feels we should be.

We hear that inner voice calling us and challenging us to be more, but we often resist it, or ignore it, or fail to embrace it to the degree we should.  And so, we often work toward meeting our needs before the needs of others, or try to make our lives as comfortable as we can while knowing that some people have almost nothing.

We often take the easiest path, or the safest one, or the one that demands little from us.  In a very real sense, many of us do all we can, to make sure that we aren’t hungry or poor or weeping or disliked.  And part of us knows (in the deepest recesses of our hearts and souls) that there is a better way, a more faithful way, a way that will help us be the very best version of ourselves.  But that person often seems to be an imaginary someone – someone we will be tomorrow or the next day or next week or next year or after we get married or have kids or retire.  Most of us really don’t want to be that person today.

In many ways, this is a direct consequence of The Fall.  Because of The Fall we are, in a sense, “wounded”.  We don’t see things quite as clearly.  We often get our priorities all mixed up, choose one “good” over something else that is a “higher good”.  And even when we know what we should choose, even if we are confident of it, we often simply lack the will to follow through on it, lack the strength to embrace it, lack the courage to live our lives not simply for ourselves, but for God, and by extension, live our lives for each other.

And so Jesus says these words to you and to me this day as a kind of wake-up call, a clarion call.  He knows that if we truly love as he asks us to love, give to the degree he asks us to give, show compassion and mercy and understanding in the way he invites us to, our lives will look different, we will be different – because we will be different on the inside and we will be the people God created us to be, and died for us to be.  My dear people of God, if all of this makes you uncomfortable, it should.  I know it makes me really uncomfortable, really disappointed in myself in many ways.

But being “comfortable” or “safe” really has no place in the life of a true Catholic.  God wants more from us.  We only have to look at the cross to see an evidence of that.  May each of us be truly “blessed” by choosing to be a blessing to the world around us.

Father Boat

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