Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sermon - 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe in forgiveness?

I suspect that much of our society does not and certainly our media is highly doubtful about miracles and forgiveness.It is almost always a challenge to our media when a victim or a victim’s family, in a public crime, forgives the perpetrator.

Remember the case in Pennsylvania in October of 2006? An anger young man went into a Amish grade school with a gun and killed five young girls. A few days later I remember the TV show I was watching being interrupted, the announcer excitedly saying,

“We have unbelievable breaking news. The Amish community in Lancaster County has forgiven the schoolhouse killer and are caring for his family. Details on the nightly news.”

Do you believe in forgiveness?

Our Old Testament reading reports a miracle involving a Prophet and a widow in the city of Zarephath during the time of great famine and drought. When Elijah arrived in town he was thirsty and hunger and asked the widow for a drink of water and bread. The widow, having only enough flour and oil to feed herself and her son for one more meal does share them with the Prophet.

The miracle is that the widow’s flour jar did not go empty and oil jug did not go dry until the rains returned a year later. Certainly the widow of Zarephath gave to support God’s work from her poverty and not her surplus.

Jesus uses this same example as he is teaching he points out to his disciples the people making donations at the temple. He points out the rich people making large donations. Then a poor widow comes and put in a few pennies.

“Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors. . . For they have contributed from their surplus wealth but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had.”

When we lived in New Jersey there was a family in a nearby town that cared for foster children. They had come to the media’s attention because the social service agencies of the department of Youth and Family Services had honored them for their willingness to take difficult kids and always being open to one more kid.

In their research on the topic the media discovered that the financial support provided to foster families was less than the cost of providing care in this very high cost of living area of the state.

When they interviewed the couple they discovered that they were not rich and so asked how they were able to provide. I remember the couple explaining that they grew a lot of food in their own garden and they cut wood in the forest to heat their old farmhouse but also they prayed and trusted in God to provide.

They told stories of strangers providing food often on the very day that it was needed or coats and mittens on the day before the winter storm. Neighbors confirmed that these events were true.

Perhaps you can tell of similar experiences. Do you believe in miracles?

There is another aspect of these stories whether, biblical or from our own experience that we should take seriously. Scripture says they “gave from their poverty”. In a more real sense they gave of their very lives. The widow in Zarephath gave her last meal to support God’s messenger. The widow in the temple gave her last money to support God’s Temple. The foster parents gave their lives to care for God’s abandoned children.

The teaching of Jesus about the poor widow’s contribution was also a foreshadowing of his giving of his very life on the cross for our forgiveness and salvation. Some say that such charity and such miracles do exist but are very rare. Sadly they may be right but I believe that almost everyone has the opportunity to practice such charity and receive such miraculous gifts.

Consider the options we have in regard to our occupation. When we are young we often have a choice of which occupation to prepare and train to perform. In a way, I can choose an occupation because it pays very well or choose an occupation that I really love and can give myself to. Best of all would be to find an occupation that I can put my life into and that will provide financial security.

You and I all know people who put themselves into their jobs and amazing things result. Whether it is a doctor or a business man, a nurse or a farmer, a policeman or a carpenter we are always impressed when we encounter the work of persons who put themselves into their work.

Sometime we end up doing one thing to make a living and another to do what we love. We all have hear someone say something like this,

“Yea, I work at the factory to make a living but I love making music so I spend two hours a day practicing and perform with the community orchestra every Sunday.”

At the factory he puts in his time. At the concert he put in himself!

When we consider those cases where one’s occupation and one’s love coincide we Catholics refer to that situation as a vocation.

Sometime we classify vocations too simply, for example as either single or married, rather than emphasizing this necessary element of giving your self away for your vocation.

Just as the scripture points out the necessity of giving ourselves to God and to others the Church continually teaches this also.

One way we do this is to identify saints whose lives reveal the actual living out of such vocations. Two weeks ago Fr. Damien was canonized. He was a failure and a fool in the eyes of most well to do Hawaiians but he gave himself spiritually and physically for the lepers of Molokia.

Another way the Church teaches this is in the Sacraments of Marriage and Holy Orders.

Two weeks ago I officiated at a wedding in the Cathedral in Duluth. In the readings from scripture chosen by the couple, in the words and prayers of the marriage liturgy and in the homily the Church emphasizes that the husband and wife are to give themselves away in this vocation.

Both the love they have for each other and the promise to give their very lives for each other for life mark this as a vocation.

Likewise when the Church ordains new deacons, new priests and new bishops it is clear that these men haven chosen to give their lives away for love of us and love of God. These vocations effect us all because we as a community are beneficiaries of their lifelong gift of self.

If you have friends or relatives who are monks or nuns will know that here also are persons who have been called and chosen to give themselves for God and us in a vocation.

This year we are taking extra time honor, to talk about and pray for our priests as well as to ask and pray for more priests.

Sometimes, if we are married, we tend to think about priests as somehow very different than ourselves. Yet, from the perspective that we have been coming from today, we have much in common with our priests (and our religious also).

- Husbands and wives as well as priests have promised to spend a life time in self giving love.

- Husbands and wives serve God through their physical union and their shared creativity with God, for most this means parenting children. Priests serve God by bringing spiritual union to a community in the Common Union, communion, of the Eucharist to the parish community, God’s family.

- Husbands and wives love and serve each other and God in good times and in bad times. Priests love their communities in good times and bad times.

- Husbands and wives love and serve each other in sickness and health. Priests love us, their communities in sickness and health.

Husbands and wives in a loving marriage can reach out to others from the strength of their love. Priests, if we love them, can lead us to reach out to others from the strength of our community’s love.

I pray that each of us all find the vocation in our life, that place where we can make what you do and what you love the same thing. May the love of our God and the prayers of our community more us further towards that ideal this week.

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