Homily – 23rd Sunday in [Extra] Ordinary Time

“For a perishable body presses down on the soul, and a clay house weighs down the restless mind,” the Wisdom writer tells us today.  This is probably a good place to start with these readings, full of challenge and hard sayings because I think it says well our very human response sometimes with what life brings.  We, as human followers of our brother, Jesus, often face being his followers with a willingness to do the right thing, but our very humanness weighs us down, gets in the way of doing what we could, would, if not for our humanity; at least, this is what we tell ourselves.

This reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a friend who is working on becoming a Cojourner with the Rochester Franciscans and I am mentoring her process.  We were talking about mysticism and the ability of saints like Francis, Clare, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, to rise above their physical, “clay houses and restless minds,” and commune in a special way with our loving God, expressing our desire to do more of that, and realizing that we are far from this level of “communion.”

The author, Susan Pitchford, of the book we are studying and reflecting upon, Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone says that if we desire to commune with God in this way, we should simply ask God, as God desires this same communion with us.
   It is for this reason that we have built the two minutes of quiet into our liturgies after communion—to give us time that we don’t always take for ourselves in our busy days, to simply “be” with our God who wants to “be” with us.

As my fledgling Cojourner-to-be, friend said, “It gets easier the more that I do it.”  This is true of course of anything that we really want to do.

This kind of practice, communing with God in quiet times during our days prepares us with assurance, strength and will to do some of the hard things that we are called on to do by the memory of our brother, Jesus.  Because, after all, that is our mission as his followers, to more fully and clearly, over our lifetimes, reflect his actions in our lives.

The gospel from Luke today has some hard sayings.  And once again, as always, with Jesus’ words, we have to take the broad view.  We might question his insistence that we turn our backs on our families, mother, father, brothers and sisters, but that would be taking the narrow view.

Jesus is not asking us to literally turn our backs on loved ones, but to prepare us for the fact that in following him; his path, his actions; we may in fact have to “go against” family members.

I think of this with regard to my birth family and my ordination to priesthood—certainly not all of them have supported this; but for me, this is one of those issues where the call of God is what I must follow.

Others of us, in these times of deep divide in our country over many issues, have to go to our hearts, use our heads too, and decide which way to go—“What would Jesus do?” is an operative question here.  And basically, we must ask as he always did, “Is love being served here?” and then proceed.

This reminds me of a wonderful action that our grandson, Elliot’s kindergarten class is about for which I applaud his teachers.  Evidently, if I got the explanation right, the class has a bucket that they can place cotton balls in for each action they do in response to the question, “Is this taking from my bucket (sharing) or from some other’s bucket (not sharing)? And wonderfully, this past week, he reported that his class had 40 cotton balls in their bucket, so they would be enjoying a treat at week’s end for all the good they had done.

This is a wonderful practice for these young children to be about as it prepares them for a life wherein they will more regularly reflect on their actions, asking, in effect, is love being served in what I am about to do?  And even if the question comes after the action—reflecting upon “taking from another’s bucket,” to fill my needs; this is a good thing to help them be more attentive to being their best selves.

We see much the same situation in the reading from Philemon today.  Paul is writing from prison, yet his tone is all about love.  This in itself is a good reflection for us—whether we find ourselves in good times or bad, love is always the center from which we should move.

A little back story on Philemon is probably helpful in understanding what Paul is sharing.  Philemon is a slave-holder, an accepted practice at the time.  He is also a baptized follower of Paul and ultimately, Jesus.  Onesimus, the slave in question, although unnamed has gone to Paul in prison and Paul has taken up his cause with Philemon.  Appealing to his best self and the fact that he and Onesimus share baptism; Paul appeals to Philemon to see that the action of slave-holding is really against his new life in Jesus.

Paul says that the decision is Philemon’s and that Paul won’t force him one way or another. He will only help him to see the right way, with the understanding that, it won’t always be easy to follow our brother, Jesus.

Paul, in his ministry was always about helping others to see that following Jesus makes each one of us equal—we are brothers and sisters in Christ.  We recall Paul saying elsewhere—“There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female—all are one!

And finally, today’s readings remind us that our time is short and that “now,” as Sister Joan Chittister says, in her new book, is the time to do the right thing—if not you, me, who else will do it?!  Our world is so in need of people who will follow our brother, Jesus, realizing that in doing so; we give up forever who we can love.  But we must remember that we will not be alone in this action—Jesus’ Spirit will always be there, the Wisdom writer tells us today, so for just today, let us be confident that love is always the best response to what life brings.  Amen? Amen!