23nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I Isaiah 35:4-7
Psalm 146: 7-10
Reading II James 2:1-5
Gospel Mark 7:31-37
Now everything that I told the kids was covered in the readings in the Gospel. But to give justice to the readings, what we heard in the Gospel today will take several hours and I don’t think any one of us wants to be here for that long a time. So, we focus on one thing, and one question that faces us today is: What motivates us? When we serve the hungry by working at a soup kitchen, when we help to distribute food at a food pantry, when we give to those who are in need, or when we talk about our faith with other people and spread the Gospel — what motivates us?
Is it the fact that we want the recognition for doing something good? Is it the good feeling that comes from doing all those things? Or possibly it is: “Well, everyone else is doing it, and I don’t want to be judged for not doing it, so I’ll do it to not feel guilty.”
Probably all of us have done the Catholic thing for one reason or another at some point in our lives. But ultimately those reasons fall away. The good feeling, it fades away. The guilt we might feel for doing good things, that fades away, too. And the award, eventually that will also fade away. We still may have the plaque or trophy, but would that be enough?
So what’s left? What does it leave for spreading the Gospel, for serving the poor, or any one of these things we are called to do. The reason that is left is our relationship with Jesus Christ. Ultimately, that is the reason why we need to be doing these good things. We hear so often that these things fall away. So how can we nourish that reason, which is our relationship with Jesus Christ, in order to do what Jesus calls us to do?
While we have so many ways, and it’s not like we have just one choice from the menu — no, in the best sense it’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet and we can use all of these reasons. We have prayer when we talk with God, whether it is in a formal setting like Mass and we ask God to hear our prayers, or whether it is just individually and we talk with God and say, “This is how my day is going. I’ve had a really terrible day and I need your help.” Or, “I’ve had this fantastic day and I want to thank you God for all that you have given me.”
We have the sacraments. It really starts in earnest with our baptism when we are adopted into the family of God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s when we receive our universal call to holiness, when we are reconciled to God through the sacrament of reconciliation; we realize, “Oh, wait. This is the reason. My relationship with God is the reason that I want to do these things and serve the Lord and spread the Gospel. And I want to teach all the people that I can.”
When you receive the Eucharist and are nourished by the body and blood of Jesus Christ, when we are united with him, when we do what he calls us to do, when we participate in the sacrament of vocation, the sacrament of marriage — these are ways to develop that relationship. We are called to grow with each other to help our spouse get to heaven, and we are called to grow with each other when we receive the grace of ordination in holy orders. In every way, in those sacraments we are called to help the other person and to help the people we will encounter in our lives. And in marriage it is in a specific way — to help our spouse and our children out of love for them.
When we receive any of the sacraments and receive any of the graces that come from them, and when we read the Scriptures and when we pray with them, like I said, to really unlock and to break open all that we have heard in the Scriptures today — it could take a wonderfully long time because there are so many layers and each layer draws us closer to Christ.
It’s when we do these things and fall back in love with Jesus Christ, and we make the choice even when we don’t feel particularly in love with Jesus Christ and we say, “Jesus help me to grow closer to you and to serve others.” We do this because we have the example of Jesus today, as we do every day.
Jesus could have said, “Let’s assemble all the people so they can see what is going to happen.” No, he takes the man by himself and heals him. We gather together as a church and have a relationship with Jesus Christ. The church is made up of individuals and each one of us is called to a relationship with Jesus Christ. Each one of us has something that we have been healed of, or need to be healed of. It may be an emotional need. But all of us are called to Jesus Christ. He calls us to himself so we can be healed and so we can live and love with him. And when we do that, when we have that relationship with Jesus Christ, we are able to serve others as James calls us to live out our faith with no preference — not preferring rich or poor, but serving all who come to us.
And so this faith, this journey of ours, this relationship with Jesus Christ, it takes time and it takes all of our lives. There are times when we just do these things out of guilt wanting the reward. But given time, given the relationship with Jesus — day by day, we grow in faith. Day by day we grow and hopefully one day we can say, “I don’t do this for recognition. I don’t serve at whatever capacity, like Septemberfest, out of guilt.” Instead we will be able to say, “I do this out of love, out of love for Jesus Christ and for love of my neighbor.”
And so we ask and we pray for the humility and love — to day by day grow in the faith, to day by day deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer, through the sacraments, and through opening the Scriptures and praying with them. We pray that we may live out and follow the universal call to holiness, and to be a witness to the Holy Trinity.
Father Adam Pritchard was ordained a priest on Saturday, May 23, 2015, and is parochial vicar at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, IL.
(TASCAM DR 40 file 0011)