Monday, August 3, 2015

The Mystery of Faith - Homily for the 18th Sunday in OT

            Rabbi, when did you get here?

Those are words of surprise. The crowd did not know when or even how Jesus had beat them to the other side of the shore. They did not know that He had walked on water the night before. Only those who were in the boat knew. Those who were closest to him—not those following at a distance.

We’ve seen such surprise before. Do you remember Bethlehem? (ahem, House of Bread) It was Christmas Eve and Jesus was coming to the village inns. They didn’t know He was coming to them, because He was small and hidden—a baby carried in the womb of Mary. St. Joseph is leading the way, knocking on doors, but when the innkeepers see him and Mary, they do not see Jesus. So the innkeepers close their doors, saying “We don’t have any room here.”

The innkeepers didn’t welcome Jesus because they were too full. For the innkeepers, they were full of their own guests, their own entertainment, their own life. So too the crowds: they were full on the “bread that parishes”: money, material goods, worldly things, doubt. And being too full, they were surprised by Jesus.

            Rabbi, when did you get here?

*          *          *

There is an ancient story of a teacher and his student. They are sitting at a table drinking tea. The teacher says to the student, “Let me fill your cup.” The student replies that he has enough tea, but thank you. The teacher insists, “I must fill your cup.” And immediately the teacher begins to fill the student’s cup with tea. The tea overflows the cup and begins to fill the saucer. The tea quickly fills the saucer and begins to drip onto the table. A pool of tea forms and then spills over the table's lip and into the student’s lap. The student stands up: “What are you doing?!” The teacher responds: “You have come to me to be taught, but I cannot fill you. There is no room in you for me to give you what I have, because like this cup you are already too full.”

*          *          *

As a priest, I have many discussions with many people. So many people are so full—full of the information of the world, full of worldly pursuits, full of doubt—and on any number of hot-button topics. They doubt the Church, they doubt God, they doubt themselves… And maybe credibility was lost some time ago because of scandals-- scandals of bishops or priests or other people in the pews who say they are Catholic but live just like everyone else. So full to the brim of doubt, they are unable to hold the grace that Jesus the Divine Teacher wishes to give them. In their minds and hearts and lives, there is no room for Him.

Perhaps you have heard the saying: “When the student is ready the teacher arrives.” This is so true, isn’t it? How many of us, when we finally admitted that we needed a teacher, suddenly found ourselves receiving deeper wisdom than what we had received when we were so full of ourselves? I don’t know about you, but that’s the story of my life! It was only when I was actually looking for answers that I discovered the wisdom of God. But it’s not easy: to admit that we don’t know something, to admit that we’re empty here, and that we need a teacher.

This is where we begin to see a fundamental difference between doubt and wisdom. Doubt—doubt encounters something that it dislikes and says, “Psh! That can’t be!” and then walks away. Doubt is full of itself; it is certain (strangely) in its doubt. But wisdom—wisdom understands that there could be more which might not yet be known. So, when it encounters something that it dislikes, it humbly presents itself before the teacher and says, “I do not understand. Will you teach me?” In such way, the one who pursues wisdom makes the first step in humility-- not doubt-- and because they do believe, they grow.

In one of my recent conversations, I received from someone a laundry list of everything they disagreed about the Church. It was couched in language of having an “open mind,” and how the Church wasn’t open-minded. The laundry list was so long that I simply responded that I was open to sitting down and talking about these matters further. I'd like to say that I received a reply of equal open-mindedness, but I received instead a flat rejection stating that meeting would be a total waste of time. Oh. I’m sorry.

GK Chesterton once wrote that

“The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

We open our mouths not to eat poison, but to receive what is good. So too, our minds should always be open to the good and the true and the beautiful. And when we do find the true and the good and the beautiful, we should close our mind—just like our mouths—upon that. (Else, if we keep our minds open, we will lose what is true and good—like food being dribbled from an gaping mouth).

Hear Paul:

Brothers and sisters…
you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
in the futility of their minds…

Futility of their minds. Minds having eaten the apples of what is false and evil and ugly. So full of doubt. So full that they don’t need a teacher.

*          *          *

We are different. We know that Jesus Christ taught His apostles (which meant they were open to be taught). And, as He did so, one of the things He taught them was that the Holy Spirit was the Spirit of Truth and that He would send the Spirit of Truth to them as the Truth would set them free. Jesus would call Himself “The Way, The Truth, The Life”—not “a” way, “a” truth, “a” life. No, He was claiming that He was fundamentally different than Buddha and Confucius and the other teachers that said “the truth is out there” or “over there, that’s the way.” No, Jesus pointed to Himself and said “I am the Way and the Truth.” This makes sense because, if God is a good God, He wouldn’t want any doubts about Him. He would want us to know Him definitively. Hence the definitive article: THE Truth.

This power of the Holy Spirit He gave to His apostles; that is, the power to teach definitively—from the Latin “magister,” from which we get the word Magisterium-- such that when the Church teaches on faith and morals (about things like marriage and abortion and drunkenness and when we can and cannot receive communion)-- when the Church teaches on these things, She teaches The Truth and not some mere opinion.

            Whoever hears you [apostles], hears Me.

This is Truth we can sink our teeth into, Truth about which we can close our mind.

In fact, we must.

At Holy Mass, we proclaim the “Mystery of Faith.” Faith—the opposite of doubt. And the mystery we proclaim is Jesus Christ crucified, He who is God who humbled Himself and gave Himself to us in the Eucharist. This deposit of Faith was entrusted to His apostles and to their successors such that our communion with Jesus Christ was totally dependent upon our communion with the Faith which He spoke through them-- since Jesus is the Truth. There is no difference between the two.

To lack communion with the teaching of the Church would necessarily lead to exclusion from the Mystery of Faith which the Eucharist is and of which it is the ultimate source and sign. We cannot receive communion in the Holy Eucharist, the Mystery of Faith, if we are doubting that very same Faith.

We can difficulties, sure. But difficulties of faith must lead to the feet of The Teacher, not a fullness of one's certainty of doubt.

*          *          *

I will admit, this is humbling. It is humbling to admit that I need a teacher. It is humbling to admit that I am oftentimes too full with the world and its ways of thinking; I am too full of doubt and sin. It is humbling to admit that we need to go to confession.

In confession, we are purified, emptied of this sin problem; the humility empties us of our pride and says to God, “Lord, fill me with your mercy. Fill me with yourself!”

Here is the challenge I have for you, then: if you are full of doubt, go and talk with a priest. If you realize you have been full of worldly thinking, that "bread that perishes," then you shouldn’t present yourself for holy communion, the "bread of life," today. Go to confession first. If you are in mortal sin—if you got drunk this weekend or last, if you skipped Mass without a good reason, if you had a huge fight with your spouse in front of your children—if you are in mortal sin, you need to stay in the pew today for your actions were not in communion with Jesus or with The Faith. You need to go to confession first. If you haven't been to confession in over a year, you are full with things that you know need to be dealt with first. Come to confession before you come to Eucharist today.

And I’m not up here to be all righteous—just this morning I examined my conscience and realized that I needed to go to confession before I received the Eucharist today. And so I confessed—and I had to go to someone in the rectory, someone with whom I live. Can you imagine how humbling that is?

Yes, I know how humbling it is to have to stay back in the pew, to have to go to confession. But this is where we humbly admit, “Teacher, I have been too full with the bread that perishes… Make room in me so that I may receive you, the Bread of Life. For I know, Lord, that whoever comes to you will never hunger and whoever believes in you will never thirst. I believe this, Lord. I know it is True."


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