As I reflected on today’s readings, especially the prayer of the psalmist, “In the sight of the angels; I will sing your praise,” I was reminded of how in the Midwest, we are treated to four wonderfully different seasons that change year after year, just as we change, each with its own joys and challenges. In the rush and busy-ness of life; we often fail to realize and fully appreciate the differences, the beauty and perhaps what each is intended to teach us. We take much of this for granted until it changes. The process of retirement has afforded me the time to be more reflective; to perhaps see what is most important now—like simplifying my life so as to be more aware.
In preparing for this homily; I found myself reflecting on a very special trip that Robert and I took to the Galapagos Islands six years ago at about this time. Talk about seeing differences from our life here and what is experienced there! “In the sight of the angels; I will sing your praise!” That trip took us into a strange and challenging world unlike anything that I had experienced before—iguanas, blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises—so many creatures, wonderfully made, that over time have had to adapt again and again to the volcanic islands they live upon—adapt and change, or literally die!
Friends, the world in which we live, challenges us continually too, with change, whether in the realm of business, our work, Church or family life—we are called to be open, to listen, and to grow in order to live fully, and completely. We can learn from what goes on in the Galapagos—even though strange to us, about adapting and changing when need be.
The psalmist’s prayer seems a fitting tribute to our marvelous world that includes our beautiful, blue planet earth upon which we live. “In the sight of the angels, I will sing your praise.” And even if we have the opportunity to visit exotic lands like the Galapagos or simply to spend our days in good, ole Minnesota; we are challenged to take care of our beautiful earth and use it for good, not bad and to preserve it for future generations.
This challenge we find today in our Scriptures, that of God continually working to guide us, through prophets like Isaiah, our brother Jesus, and faith-filled followers of the Christ such as Paul, to the knowledge of how much each of us is loved by God.
This basic message is one for all time—that we are loved—loved by God. When we know that we are loved, it makes all the difference in what we can do in life! The challenge then is to not only hear about this love—freely given, but to share it with our world—those we come in contact with each and every day. Now, we can simply live our own lives and not get involved, or reach out in any way, but we are challenged just like those in the Scriptures today, Isaiah, Peter and Paul and all who they ultimately preached to.
Today’s readings show us these three great individuals of our faith—each one felt unworthy of their call to spread the Word that God is love, that God wants to be part of our lives, yet God called them just the same as God calls each of us. Isaiah spoke of having “unclean lips,” Peter said, “he was a sinful man” and Paul said, “He was least among the apostles, because of having persecuted the Church.”
Each of us, no doubt, can come up with like excuses for why we are unworthy for the task we are called to—to preach the Gospel as St. Francis said, “at all times” and if necessary, “to use words.” What this speaks to is living our lives in such a way that our day in and day out tasks reflect an awareness that God put us on earth for a reason—the old catechism answer that I learned went something like—“to love and serve God” and one day to experience God fully, which we know to be, heaven.
The faith that has been entrusted to each of us came in a sort of hand-me-down fashion—from grandparents and parents and for better or worse, that faith has made us who we are in a religious/spiritual sense today. The faith we have received is a living thing that was always intended to grow and change, with the times and the culture, to make sense to one generation after another. We, as a Church, from the hierarchy on down to those of us in the pews need to take responsibility for the generations after us who have been turned away from the Church we grew up loving because of the stubbornness at times to change, to hear the needs being presented that are often times discounted. As we learn more, become more open and accepting of changes in our world understandings; we learn that there is a place for more and more diversity, just as Robert and I saw in the Galapagos and in other places that we have traveled to—people are people everywhere—different, yet the same, seeking what we each seek; life, love, purpose—meaning. We are constantly being called to be more open, more inclusive, more loving, more just—more ready to meet Jesus where we least expect. And this is key—to be ready—to be prepared to share, whenever, wherever.
I am always amazed how our God uses all of my experiences and the places I happen to be to send someone to me who needs a kind word, a bit of hope and it is usually at times that I am not expecting in my day—I had other things planned, but because I was working off a mindset of being open to all that comes, I was more ready for God’s intervention.
When we read the story today of the great catch of fish; we are amazed and impressed. Scripture scholars tell us that this story was no doubt embellished to make the point of how God works in ordinary events to make extraordinary things happen. Without the embellishment of the story; we might miss that point. As we do with the ordinary events in our own lives—discounting our ordinary actions as not being important for speaking the Word that our God loves us, cares about us, wants good for us and in fact shows us that our willingness to reach out to others, our ability and strength to speak the kind word, stand up for someone down-trodden or treated unfairly; we do in fact spread the wonderful message that we are first loved by God and that love then gives us the strength, the impetus to love in return. God is always present, always wanting to be near to us—we just have to be more attentive—see with bigger eyes.
We have all heard the story of the person who prayed to God when the floods came, scrambling higher and higher on his house refusing the help of rescue boats, even a helicopter to carry him to safety. Being a person of great faith; he cried out to God, “I’ve always believed in you and learned that if I prayed, you would help me! Where are you now? A voice then came from the heavens, “I sent you a boat and a helicopter!” We must see friends with bigger eyes at the good our God is doing all around us and perhaps through those that we least expect.
Another important thing for us to remember is that the message of love, held in the faith, handed down by our forebears is a message that fits every time and place—the intent is that it will need to be reshaped for every time and place to encompass new ideas and ways of being as we learn more—understand more. We are called to make Jesus’ message relevant to each age. We can’t live in the past through old rituals and practices that don’t speak to our times as our Church hierarchy seems intent on doing in many places yet today—it is still too much about power—not enough about love.
I am presently reading a new book by Robert Blair Kaiser entitled, Whistle: Father Tom Doyle’s Steadfast Witness for Victims of Clerical Sexual Abuse, wherein he exposes the concerted effort of so-called shepherds to cover up these crimes in order to protect their power when they should have been protecting their sheep. I was encouraged to read of some good priests who were able to rise above the law of power to give voice to the law of love. Fr. Doyle, who by training is a canon lawyer, so he knows the law—what it says and does not say, has said that he will always remember the advice given him by a senior priest, “Canon law can go only so far. The Church always has to be ready to go further (if need be) to provide pastoral care.” In other words, the law can never be surpassed by love.
The Spirit is continually renewing the face of the earth—opening us up to more and to greater ideas—ideas of inclusivity—ideas of welcoming—ideas of greater love and acceptance than ever before. In conclusion, we might want to think about how we pass our precious faith on—do we grow and change with the times? Is Jesus’ message big enough for all times and places? Do we, in fact just speak of our faith, or do we show by our lives, our day in and day out actions what it really means to us? Blessings on us all, as we strive to be our best selves.