Homily – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, once again, we continue this week to ponder Jesus, our brother, as the “bread of life.”  He tells us in John’s gospel that if we eat of this “bread” that he gives; we shall never die.  Now of course; we know that he isn’t speaking about our physical deaths, but our spiritual deaths, a death none of us, as his followers wants to experience.

In one of Jesus’ other sayings, he went on to expound, “I want you to have life and life in abundance!” Jesus, as we know, was always about “turning things on their heads,” so to speak, asking us to be counter culture, especially when, “following the crowd,” was demonstrative of fear, selfishness and safety, as opposed to openness, mercy, risk-taking for the good of all—simply put, the law to love.   And in this law to love, our own life is lived to the fullest.

The adjoining readings for this 19th Sunday are instructive as well in how we should attempt to live out, the law to love.  We get a sense of the “bread of life” in each one and as last week, see that the “bread” we are called to give, can be physical, spiritual or emotional.

Elijah the prophet, in the first reading from Kings; we find in somewhat of a depressed state—he has been ministering for his God and is tired—bone-tired and wondering whether physical death might be a better option than what his life is at present.  We see his God responding as God always responds; with care and with love—one just has to have eyes to see! Elijah, through an angel is given food and water and rest, not only once, but twice and it is our God’s constant care that allows Elijah to continue his ministry.

Looking toward ourselves; we might say the same is true.  Our care for others must always include ourselves.  I practiced my advice this week by taking a day and a half at Assisi Heights for a mini retreat.  It was very good just to “hole up” as it were, have quiet time for reading and reflecting and I came away with gratitude for all the gifts of my life, as well as being renewed to continue all that God has in store.

Paul, in the second reading to the Ephesians simply tells us to spend no time on the negative emotions:  bitterness, rage, anger, or the negative actions of harsh, slanderous words and all other kinds of malice. We are instead instructed to be kind, compassionate and forgiving.  Simple to write down, yes, not always simple to do!

I read an interesting article this past week in the National Catholic Reporter in the Young Voices section.  The article was commenting on a new book, entitled, Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown wherein she argues that we should follow Jesus’ lead and become vulnerable.  She makes the point of saying that “being vulnerable” is not being weak as some might think.  Being vulnerable is being willing to say that you don’t have all the answers and being equally willing to listen to another’s thought or opinion to get closer to the truth for all of us.

Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians seems to be saying that we have to trust more that laying our hearts open as Jesus did will bring about the hoped for result quicker and more amiably than the alternative choice. In other words; we have to “walk in love” as did Jesus.

And for those who aren’t risk-takers, “question-askers,” or are satisfied to make-no-waves; the temptation to criticize those who do take risks, ask questions and make waves will always seem a viable choice.  It was so for Jesus as we saw in the gospel today, and it will be so for us too—“we know your mother and father,”—how dare you claim to be more than you are?

Most of you are aware that the Rochester Franciscan Sisters elected new leadership recently.  At their installation ceremony on July 1 each of the new community ministers reflected on one particular word from their chosen theme for their time in leadership, “Living from our common heart.”  For my purposes today; I will comment on just two of the reflections.

First, Sr. Jennifer Corbett reflected on the word, “from” in her comments.  She spoke of coming “from” South Bend, Indiana, that her father was “from” American Irish descent and that her mother came “from” France.  Additionally, she mentioned that she has an older sister, Mary, and a brother, Phil.  She stated that this is “her tribe,” so to speak, and that with these pieces of information; we might come to some conclusions about her, right or wrong, just as the people in Jesus’ time did about him.  She goes on to say that just as he couldn’t be confined by his humble beginnings, we too can’t fail to do what God may be calling us to because we, “don’t have the voice, the strength, the position”—whatever we may come up with as excuses for not doing our part!

The second reflection comes from Sr. Mary Eliot and her comments revolve around the word, “our” as in “Living from our common heart.”  She uses the word, “our” as a jumping-off place to speak about our (Sisters and Cojourners) origins, giftedness and our future together as Franciscans, followers of Francis and Clare of Assisi and states in no uncertain terms that in order for us to do our best, what God is calling us each to, our “interconnectedness” is going to be most important.  She describes most beautifully what she means by referencing the story of The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams.

Most of us recall that this is a story of a velveteen rabbit that becomes real through the love of a little child.  In the character of the Skin Horse, who is real, the rabbit learns what it is “to be real.”  “It’s a thing that happens to you when a child loves you for a long, long time…then you become real.”

The rabbit wants to know, “does it hurt?” The skin horse answers, “Sometimes, [but] when you are real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

The skin horse goes on to say that it doesn’t happen all at once, [becoming real] and it doesn’t happen to those who “break easily,” or have “sharp edges” or have to “be carefully kept.”  And by the time you are real, “most of your hair has been loved off, your eyes drop out, you get loose in the joints and very shabby.”  The skin horse concludes by saying that “those things don’t matter…because “once you are real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”

Mary Eliot concluded her reflection saying that for her, “to be real is to love another into being.”  My friends, each of us is called like Elijah, like Jesus, like Paul, to be real, to love each other into being through our willingness to be trusting and understanding of others, even when we disagree. We may lose “our fur” like the skin horse, become tired like Elijah, misunderstood like Jesus, but in all of this; we will have the peace of knowing that like those who came before us, we have been faithful followers of our God, of our brother Jesus.  Amen? Amen!