Homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Imagine a young married man in his early thirties, lying next to his wife early on a Saturday morning.  He’s had an exhausting week, and he’s thinking to himself, “Finally, a chance for a little sleep-in.”  All of a sudden, he jolted awake by having his giggling five-year-old daughter leap up onto his belly.  “Good morning Daddy!” she exclaims.  A little winded, he barely has time to rub the sleep out of his eyes when he hears an impassioned squeal coming from outside his bedroom.  His wife has been feeling unwell, so he hurries himself out of bed to see what’s wrong.  He makes his way to their young toddler’s room, where he is greeted by the sight and smell of what appears to be projectile vomiting over the floor and walls.  He picks up his toddler to try to comfort him, and hangs his head with a sigh.  Then, on the vomit-stained wall, he notices a picture that his five-year-old drew of him and her holding hands, with the words “I love you Daddy” written underneath.  The subsequent tingling in his heart counters the frustration that had been building, and with a deep breath, he begins the work ahead of him.

When his unmarried friends ask him what parenthood is like, he sometimes confesses that, if he’d known beforehand just how demanding it was going to be, and how much he was going to have to sacrifice, he might have had second-thoughts about it all.  But he quickly adds that he has no regrets, because the love he feels for his children is unlike anything he has ever experienced.  And moved by this love, he is able to embrace the sacrifices without resentment.  He was drawn into this situation without fully realising what he getting himself into, but now he can’t help himself – he’s madly in love with his children, and he would do anything for them… even cleaning a vomit-stained room early on a Saturday morning.

I’m sure many of the parents here this morning will be able to relate to this little anecdote.  And as we hear in our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, our walk with God in this life is also a little bit like this scenario I’ve described.

Now, the way some Televangelists paint the Christian faith, you would think it is one long gravy-train.  The “Prosperity Gospel”, as some people call it.  God wants us to be happy, and he will fulfil all of our material wants if we only accept him into our hearts.  Of course, as we heard in the Gospel, we know that the reality is not so simple.

Our faith is not simply a vehicle for unending happiness – it is a calling, which makes demands of us.  Furthermore, our lives of Christian discipleship inevitably involve bearing the Cross from time to time, with little or no this-worldly explanation or compensation.

As we heard on the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah was himself experiencing great difficulties in his calling, and in the midst of this he offers a beautifully poignant line: “You seduced me Lord, and I let myself be seduced!”  Like a parent who cannot help but love his children, Jeremiah complains that he was seduced by the Lord into bearing his present predicament, and he willingly went along with it.

He goes on: “I used to say, ‘I will not think about (the Lord), I will not speak in his name anymore.’  Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones.  The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not bear it.”  Jeremiah’s sufferings were such that he even contemplated giving up his call.  But the Lord’s seduction was too strong, and he could not help himself.

Jeremiah was captivated by God, and even though he experienced great difficulties in following his call, he also experienced a tremendous fire within—lit by God’s love—that urged him on.

I certainly know that in my own return to the practice of the faith—and my subsequent call to the priesthood—there have been a number of times when I have found myself in situations that I would rather not be in.  Perhaps when I’ve felt compelled to defend unpopular teachings in the face of hostility, such as in recent debates about marriage and euthanasia.  Or when I’ve had to forego my own ideas out of obedience to my superiors.  Or when I’ve faced hurtful opposition from people whom I thought would have been supportive, including some within the Church.  Or when I’ve been tarnished by association with abuse and infidelity that I had nothing to do with.  Relationships with friends and family have at times been strained by these and other situations, and in my weaker moments I’ve sometimes even longed for the perceived simplicity of an earlier time, when things seemed to be less complicated.

But I have no choice.  I’m caught.  I’ve been seduced by the Lord, and I let myself be seduced.  I have been beguiled and convinced by his Truth, and I have no choice but to proclaim what I know to be true, and to be faithful to the Church that he founded.  As Saint Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!”  And in my heart of hearts, I know this is what I’ve always wanted.

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And so, in the face of a self-centred culture and even self-centred approaches to Christianity, it is important to be honest about the demands that our Catholic faith makes of us.  However, it is also important that we don’t talk only about the sacrifices involved in following Christ without also talking about the great fire of God’s love that enables us to embrace such sacrifice.

Our walk of faith is ultimately like a great romance, with God wooing us and seducing us into relationship with him.  Like the prophet Jeremiah, Saint Augustine—whose feast we celebrated last week—also saw this reality, albeit after years of resistance.  Augustine would eventually lament about how long it took him to embrace the God who had been embracing him since he was created.  In his autobiographical “Confessions”, Augustine’s expression of this lament is one of the most beautiful and poetic accounts of the soul’s longing for God, and it speaks to the inner fire of faith that draws us on through the shadows and valleys of this world:

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! … You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

Pray for such an experience of the Lord’s love.  And as you struggle to be faithful to the Lord in the midst of loneliness and the forces of darkness, know that you are walking a path that has been trodden and sanctified by great men and women of faith, and that these predecessors of ours are interceding for us now in Heaven.

Most of all, know that the Lord who made and sustains you, and who’s love for you dwarves any possible response we could make – this God of ours, he will not abandon you, but is—even now—preparing a place for you, where trials will be no more, and where Truth and Goodness and Peace will reign for all eternity.  Amen.