Homily – 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

My friends, the writer of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth, in today’s first reading seems to be stating what many of us are feeling or have felt in times of sadness, grief and loss: “Everything is futile.”  And our enjoiner might be, “Why try then?” Here is why.

   First, we must remember that we are spiritual beings, here, having a human experience.  I dare say, for many of us, perhaps most, we are grateful for this experience, this opportunity—for life, for love, for the chance to experience much that life has to offer.

   But is it all bliss? No, it is not! We all have been hurt in life, disappointed in others that we have called, “friend,” or respected elder. If we live out our human experience “on the margins,” of society; we know how disappointing and hurtful life can be at times—as a dark-skinned person, as a woman of any color, as a child tied to parents who want to continue their human experience through their children regardless of the wishes of those children. 

   This past week we viewed again Ken Burns series on Country Music and one of the individuals highlighted was the very gifted, singer-songwriter, Kris Kristofferson.  His early years were very scripted; he did what his parents expected of him—higher education, the military, and eventually, a corporate job, marriage, and family.  Now to some, his parents included, he had arrived, but deep within, he had another calling.  You see, he was a poet and had a great ability to join words together in profound ways and add them to the music on his guitar, and to many in the music industry, he was the most talented songwriter in the country.  It is thought that over 450 artists besides himself, recorded his songs, including Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. 

   Unfortunately, his new choice in life was not appreciated by his parents who, in the words of his mother, told him not to come home again as he was no longer considered their son!  I have to believe this rejection played a big part in his slip into alcohol and other drugs later in his life.  All may be “futile” as Qoheleth says, but most of us really need little more than to be appreciated and accepted for who we are in life. 

   The other readings for today speak to a path, if taken, can and do lead to happiness.  Each of us come into our human experience complete with a free will which as we grow and mature can become a wonderful gift for ourselves and others if we learn to balance its power in our lives in just, merciful, and loving ways. 

   A book that has been part of my reading of late is one by Shannen Dee Williams, entitled, Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle.  This is a story that I was completely unaware of, and as it is unfolded in the book, I would guess that all the white Sisters’ orders refusing to accept black and brown women’s vocations simply because of their skin color, (and this was quite universal until the middle of the 20th Century) would be something they didn’t want made public.

   One could say, “Well, this was the culture of the time.”  Even so, I would expect those in ministry, supposedly following in the footsteps of our brother, Jesus, to have a higher bar—to stand for a bit more. And this was the case for most male priests at this time too.  In some white Sisters’ orders, black women were admitted, but once within the convent walls, they were often bullied until they eventually left, or given the most menial tasks.  Now in justice, I have to hope that I might have been among the few priests and sisters who could see Jesus in these “outcasts” and give them a helping hand. 

   Some colored women called to ministry got around this by joining complete black orders, of which there were a few, but then these sisters would face all kinds of impediments with rejection of them to white colleges for training and if they managed to get trained, then white parents didn’t want black sisters teaching their white children!

   It is interesting to me that the Catholic church which during these years claimed to be the only true church, would be so racist.  But friends, just like the issue of Native children being stolen from their parents to be assimilated and summarily, abused, we must all look at these issues and reflect on what our response may have been as well.

   And we all know the issue of women in our world and Church that I keep you all abreast of and will do more of at our Mary of Magdala celebration. 

   My friends, by nature of our baptisms, I believe our loving God is always calling us to be our best, but will not interfere with our freedom to choose, “that which is best.”  But I do believe,  in the modern words of the 23rd psalm translation in The Message that God will keep “chasing after us, all the days of our lives,” setting people and messages in our paths to “show us the way.”  The psalmist confirms this idea in today’s response: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” 

   Sometimes, as with Kris Kristofferson, it will be through failure that we find the way.  Others of us, “swinging” too far on the continuum of “need to greed,” find the balance, to be happy in our human experience. 

   I have always loved the story in Luke’s gospel today and have smiled over the farmer’s answer to his great harvest— “I know, I’ll build bigger barns!” –instead of being satisfied with “enough” and sharing the surplus.  Luke tells us to “be rich in God.”

   And finally, Paul, in his letter to the Colossians has this to say.  “Set your heart on what pertains to higher realms.”  Simply put, work at being your best for yourself, but also for others.  Amen? Amen!