Being Not Afraid to Make the Most of the Opportunity God Gives, 20th Sunday after Pentecost (EF), October 22, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
20th Sunday after Pentecost, Extraordinary Form
October 22, 2017
Eph 5:15-21, Jn 4:46-53

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

St. Paul II’s Continuously Reverberating Message

October 22 is normally the feast of St. John Paul II. Because this year October 22 falls on a Sunday, the Sunday liturgy takes precedence, but I can’t mark this day without remembering liturgically the man whose life and thought, after Jesus’, have probably had the most impact on my life, whom I had the privilege to meet and converse with 11 times, and whose thought, example and intercession remain very much needed for the Church and the world today. It’s particularly fitting to remember him today on the penultimate Sunday of October, which since 1926 the Church has been marking as World Mission Sunday. John Paul II defined himself once in Mexico as the “Pilgrim Pope of Evangelization,” who like a modern St. Paul crisscrossed the globe to share the Gospel, with 104 foreign trips, traveling in sum the distance of three round trips to the moon, and summoning the whole Church in this third Christian millennium to “put into the deep” with him and lower our nets at Christ’s command as fishers of men. Even though he died on April 2, the Church celebrates him on October 22, because this is the day, 39 years ago, when he celebrated the Mass for the inauguration of his papacy and challenged the world, especially challenged all Christians, to overcome our fears to live fully as Christians. “So often today,” he said in his deep baritone at the end of his homily, “man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt that turns into despair.” As one of the youngest participants in the Second Vatican Council he said that the most urgent challenge facing the Church was to give a credible answer to modern despair, and he begged us, as he began his pontificate, to let Christ speak to us with his words of eternal life, with his Way leading through the dark valley to eternally green pastures. “Do not be afraid,” he thundered, “to welcome Christ and accept his power. … Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.”

Living wisely rather than as fools

That appeal helps us better to understand what God is trying to communicate to us in the readings of today’s Mass. St. Paul in the epistle exhorts the Ephesians and each of us to open wide the door of our life to live as full-time, not part-time, Christians, to live by Christ’s standards with Christ’s own help. He tells us not to waste the gift of life God has given us but to take full advantage of all time we have, the means of salvation with which God has blessed us, the opportunities he has placed before us to do something great, holy, life-giving and life-saving. Most people, including most Christians, do not live with sufficient intentionality. They sleepwalk through human existence, osmotically taking in their environment, adapting themselves to what everyone else is doing, wasting so much time doing things that in the final analysis matter very little. St. Paul, like St. John Paul II centuries later, is trying to wake us up, to help us to mature spiritually, and to make full use of the time we have. “Watch carefully then how you live,” he tells us today, “not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.” We can live in one of two ways, he says: as fools or by God’s wisdom. We can cozy up to the fallen things of the age, or we can be the seeds of sanctification. And St. Paul is calling us to live like Christ did in the midst of what Jesus called a “wicked and perverse generation,” as Paul did in the midst of the sins of his own epoch, as St. John Paul II urged us to do in the modern world, and as Christians as salt of the earth and light of the world are called to do in every age. And so St. Paul gets practical: “Therefore,” he says, “do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” Real wisdom is doing God’s will, seeking his kingdom, hallowing his name. To live ignorantly is to do just as one pleases, without reference to the holy will of God, as if God doesn’t really exist or care how we spend our day or dedicate our life. To live wisely is constantly to discern what God is asking in the concrete situations and places in which he has placed us, to be alert to his presence, accompanying us, guiding us, strengthening us, precisely — as we note on this World Mission Sunday — to understand and do his will and help him save and sanctify the world.

And so St. Paul continues, “Do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery.” That’s both a concrete counsel against getting hammered as well as a metaphor to depict what it means to live foolishly. When we get drunk, we are impaired not just from driving well but from living as God wants. Why do people get drunk? So many do so in order to escape stresses and situations rather than turning to God and others for help to face head on. Others get drunk because they do not have adequate self-control, so that one drink soon becomes four, or eight or ten. And we know that once we’re drunk our guard is down to say no to things to which we would never consent otherwise. That’s why St. Peter would say to the first Christians, “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith” (1 Pet 5:8-9). Drunkenness is the opposite of spiritual vigilance and many of us get drunk by imbibing too much worldliness, getting addicted to entertainment and distractions, setting our hearts on Friday and Saturday night rather than on Sunday, eating, drinking and being merry as if human life is a cocktail party with nothing really important going on outside the club.

When St. Paul says this, he’s not at all playing the part of a kill joy. Exactly the opposite. He’s trying to get us to change from the logic and morals of a frat party to those of the unending banquet of the kingdom. He points us to a different type of inebriation, what the early saints called the “sober intoxication of the Spirit,” and a lifestyle that leads not to passing pleasures of debauchery but rather to the enduring joy of sanctity. In contrast to getting slammed on liquor and worldly addictions, St. Paul tells us today for God, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another [in] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” He is telling us to make our whole life a beautiful liturgy led by the Spirit, not only becoming so familiar with God’s word that it influences more and more the way we speak to each other, but loving it so much that we’re almost singing those beautiful words to each other, just like in her Magnificat, when she greeted her cousin Elizabeth, Mary’s soul gave glory to the Lord and her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior.” This is a song of gratitude to the Lord for the gift of every day, every relationship, even the Crosses that help conform us ever more to God and make us co-redeemers. The fruit of this type of life, St. Paul says, is that we become “subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That means that we begin to see Christ in each other and then seek to serve each other as we would seek to serve Christ, with devout, grateful love. This is the path to make the most of our opportunity. This is how we live wisely. This is how St. Paul today is calling us to watch carefully how we live. This is how we saw in our lifetime St. John Paul II lived.

The wisdom that leads to, and flows from, faith

Today in the Gospel we see an example of someone who likewise made the most of his opportunity, who wasn’t afraid “to welcome Christ and accept his power,” whose example of wisdom and faith the Church puts forth perennially as an example for our own. A Royal Official, a centurion, upon hearing that Jesus had returned to Galilee from Judah, left Capernaum to go to Cana in order to beg Jesus for a miracle for his son who was dying. The distance between the two places was 22 miles, but with fatherly love, the man hastened on the journey to do something that a centurion and royal official would rarely ever do: to beg. But even though he was not a Jew, he was already in some sense a believer. He had heard of Jesus’ miracles before and he was too down-to-earth and commonsensical not to put two-and-two together and to recognize that Jesus wasn’t a magician, but someone who time and again had been able to effect cures that were humanly impossible. He implored Jesus to make the return trip with him to heal his son. Jesus, however, wanted to give this man not only the miracle he was requesting but an even greater gift: the gift of faith not just for him but for his whole household so that they might all live not as foolish persons but as wise.

So he said to him first, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” He was challenging him and others to put faith before miracles rather than miracles before faith. But it’s a shocking thing to say to someone who’s begging for a miracle for an imminently dying child. It’s reminiscent what Jesus did with the Syro-Phoenician woman in Tyre, when, as she was imploring him to heal her dying daughter, he first ignored her, then said he had come just for the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and then said it was not fit to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs. But just like she never gave up and Jesus not only worked the miracle she requested by proclaimed “Woman, great is your faith!,” so today this father didn’t give up. The royal official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” And Jesus gave him the supreme test, saying, “You may go; your son will live.” He would have to believe without seeing. The man trusted in the Lord and left. The synoptic evangelists record that Jesus had originally indicated to this man who was also a Centurion that he would come, but that he had replied, that he was not worthy to receive him into his home, but “just say the word and my son shall be healed,” leading Jesus to marvel that he had not found such faith in Israel. And as the royal official was on the 22 mile journey back, he received word that his boy had been healed, and he asked for confirmation of the precise time he got better, and it was at the very moment Jesus had told him that his son would live, something that led the entire household to come to the gift of faith.

Wisely going to Jesus like the Royal Official

What do we learn from this scene that can help us make the most of our opportunity of our life, of our opportunity to grow in and live by faith? I think it’s this: we meet the same Jesus here that the Royal Official met in Cana. Like him, we bring to him a request for someone who needs to be healed — not just our family members and friends and others in need of prayers, but first and foremost ourselves. With the Centurion’s own words we pray, “Domine, non sum dignus,” “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” And Jesus gives us a gift greater than the healing of the Centurion’s son; the gift of himself. And he wants, like with the Centurion and his family, to give us the grace, too, of a huge upgrade in our faith.

To watch carefully how we live, to understand the will of the Lord, means that we order our life to what Jesus is doing here. Few of us would have to walk 22 miles to get here, but even if we needed to crawl 2200 miles it would be worth it, even for an early Mass at 9 am. What we receive here is worth more than all of the most precious wine kept in guarded cellars and leads to a much holier and long-lasting inebriation. St. John Paul II tried to help the Church, over the last years of his Pontificate, to rediscover what he called genuine “Eucharistic amazement,” so that we might be blown away by the reality of God’s real presence in the Holy Eucharist and open our hearts to what the Eucharistic Lord wants to do not just for us but literally within us. He tried to help us to see that the Church is built on what Christ does for and in us in the Eucharist, that this is our greater mysterium fidei. The celebration of the Mass is where we come to understand better the will of the Lord as he speaks to us in Sacred Scripture and we carry out what he commanded, to “do this in memory of me.”

This is where, filled with the Spirit, we address each other in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. This is where the instrument of our hearts sings and plays to the Lord in thanksgiving. This is where we help each other to do everything in the name of Jesus, united in communion with his person and with everyone in communion with him. Recognizing him in the Host, this is where we learn how to recognize Jesus in each other and are strengthen to be subordinate to each other out of reverence for him. To make the most of our opportunity in life, to understand the Lord’s will, to live not as fools but according to the way of wisdom, we need to come here, as St. John Paul II urged us, to receive the sober intoxication of the Spirit that will help us to lead truly Eucharistic lives, making a continual thanksgiving to the Lord in our hearts, and going out not only to revere others as we do Christ but to also to help them learn how to live not as foolish persons but as wise!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians
Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another [in] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The continuation of the Gospel according to St. Matthew
Jesus returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death. Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The royal official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “You may go; your son will live.” The man believed what Jesus said to him and left. While he was on his way back, his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live. He asked them when he began to recover. They told him, “The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon.” The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live,” and he and his whole household came to believe.