Deacon Homily, Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time: October 20, 2019

Homily – Deacon Tony Bellitto

Sun., Oct. 20, 2019

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading – Exodus 17:8-13

Second Reading – 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

Gospel – Luke 18:1-8

 

The theme that we hear repeated in all three readings today is persistence. The widow in the Gospel does not give up in persistently and repeatedly asking the judge for a ruling on her case. Moses in the first reading must persist in holding up his arms with the staff of God in his hands as the Israelites do battle, so much so that he needs two people to help him as his arms grow weary. And in the second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to Timothy it is specifically stated to “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” So we’re being told “don’t give up, no matter what.”

 

I think this is a message we can all relate to. In our human endeavors, it is usually the trait of persistence that is a primary ingredient needed to attain any success in life. We can flourish and thrive best when we develop good habits and consistently apply the necessary discipline and repetition and persistence to overcome obstacles and setbacks, until we reach the goal we’ve set out to accomplish, whatever it may be.

 

But although we know we should persist and keep going, despite the difficulties we face, it is often hard to do so. We do grow weary. Our energy level has limitations. We can get worn down. Maybe we’ve said to ourselves, at one point or another, things like the following:

 

I’m tired of taking care of my sick, elderly parent;

I’m tired of fighting with my rebellious teenager;

I’m tired of the cancer treatments;

I’m tired of arguing with my spouse;

I’m tired of worrying about my finances.

I’m tired of defending the Church to my friends and family, in the midst of more stories of scandals, poor decisions, and failures of leadership in the clergy.

 

We can easily get worn down from it all. We can become discouraged and lose heart. Maybe we’re even tempted, at times, to just give up.

 

But the message of persistence in these readings today reminds us to keep going, even when the going gets tough. We are advised to bring all our concerns to God in prayer. We must remain faithful, even in the midst of our trials. We are to be persistent and persevering in prayer.

God hears you. God will not abandon you or forget you. He will respond in his own way and in his own time. So don’t lose heart; don’t give up. Even when we face opposition and injustice, God will remain faithful to his people. God would rather that we look to Him for assistance, rather than look to the idols of this age. Asking God for help also strengthens the virtue of humility in us – it is an admission that we are not in total control of everything and that we do need His help. When we do persist, despite our difficulties, we can be a witness to others – a witness to perseverance, faith, and trust in God.

The very last line of today’s Gospel reading is important. After we hear about the widow repeatedly badgering the judge for a decision, Jesus wraps up the story by saying, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” He’s also asking, “Will he find faith in us? In our hearts? In our homes?”

 

Let me tell you a story, if I may, that relates to this idea. The story is entitled “Push – P.U.S.H. – Push.”

 

A man is walking along one day and he comes upon a huge boulder in his path. It’s an enormous rock, bigger than he’s ever seen before, and it’s right in front of him. He cannot go around it. So God comes to the man and tells him, “I want you to push against this boulder.” So the man says, “OK, God, I’ll do whatever you ask me to do.” So the man pushes against the boulder with all his strength. He puts his arms and his shoulders into it; he puts his back and his legs into it. He strains against the weight with all his might. The man continues to do this for hours, and then for days and weeks; he pushes against this boulder for months and even for years.

 

Then after a few years pass, Satan comes up to the man and says, “What in the world are you doing? Why do you continue to try to move that boulder? You have not moved it one inch, even after years of trying? Don’t you see that God has given you an impossible task? God does not want what’s best for you. He just wants to frustrate you; he wants to see you fail. Come away from there, and follow me instead.” And then Satan slithers away, like the snake that he is.

 

So the man thinks about what Satan said, and he goes to God and says, “Hey, God. Why did you give me this impossible task? I’m a failure. I cannot move this boulder, no matter how hard I try.”

 

God replies, “I never asked you to move the boulder. Who told you to move it? Was that Satan who came to you, twisting my words again, like he always does?” I told you to push against the boulder, not to move it. And you have done exactly what I asked you to do, my precious child, and I am so proud of you. You have been faithful and obedient. Look at the results. See yourself in the mirror. You have become so strong. Your arms, your shoulders, your back – you have been shaped into vigorous physical condition. And more than that, you have become a person of dependability, and integrity, and loyalty, and fine character. You’ve been such a witness to so many other people who have watched you endure the struggle and never give up. You’ve been a model of perseverance, and dedication, and persistence. Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.

 

So I would ask each one of you here today. What’s your boulder? What are you pushing against? Maybe it’s a financial problem, or a health issue, or a difficult marriage, or a troubled child, or the death of a family member, or a broken relationship, or an unexpected pregnancy, or a job loss, or an addiction, or something else.

 

Whatever it is, it’s there in your path to strengthen you, to shape you into the person that God wants you to be. It’s there to mold you into the person you could not otherwise become, unless you faced that difficulty. You could never have grown into that strong person, or that humble person, or that caring person, or that helpful person that God made you to become without the experience of pushing against that boulder, that challenge, whatever it is for you.

 

When we push against all those problems, those obstacles, when we embrace those struggles placed in our path and face them head on with all our energy and faith in God’s plan, when we persist, those difficulties will shape us to become better. Eventually, our adversities become our advantages.

 

Maybe we don’t know why we’re being asked to push against that particular boulder, when we’re in the midst of it, but we must have faith that God has a reason, and he will make it all work out in the end, for our greater good and for his glory.

 

May God bless you all.

Deacon Homily, Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: September 22, 2019

Homily – Deacon Tony Bellitto

Sun., Sep. 22, 2019  

Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading – Amos 8:4-7

Second Reading – 1 Timothy 2:1-8

Gospel – Luke 16:1-13

 

A lot of people really don’t like this Gospel reading. On the surface, it appears that Jesus is praising dishonesty, and they can’t get past that. But he is not. We have to dig below the surface to get at the root of the real meaning of this message. So let me try it this way, and you decide if it makes sense.

 

I have learned a lot from my grandchildren. I have three grandsons, all under two years old. The youngest is only four months. As many of you know who are parents and grandparents, newborns and very small children who cannot yet talk or walk have their own way of communicating what they need. Sometimes they want to be fed; sometimes they need their diaper changed; and sometimes, many times, they just want to be held and rocked in the secure arms of a loving adult. They have a certain way they cry out for each of those needs – one type of cry that says “feed me;” a different cry that says “change me;” and a different cry that says “hold me.”

 

We know this, and somehow they know this too. We human beings, from the moment we are born, are innately transactional in the way we interact with others. Before we can talk or even reason, we know how to get what we need by some form of negotiation.

 

So is the parent training the child, or is the child training the parent?

 

I am amused to think what the conversation might be like between a few such small children in daycare. Little Johnny might say to his little friend – “So, how’s it working out for you? Are your parents getting the hang of this yet?” His friend might answer, “Well, yeah, they’re picking it up. Although my Dad’s a little slow getting me my bottle of milk if he’s watching football, but he’s coming along. I just cry a little louder, and that gets him moving. You know how it is with first-time parents.”

 

So the point is that we know from the youngest age how to get what we need. We figure it out.

 

As a human species, we have figured out many things. We’ve figured out how to make our homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We’ve figured out how to communicate across long distances with a handheld electronic device. We’ve figured out how to fly around the world in just a few hours. We figure out whatever we have to do to secure for ourselves the earthly benefits that we need.

 

Something similar is being described in our Gospel reading today. The steward who has been told by his boss that he will be losing his job because of mismanagement of his affairs, has figured out how to secure an opportunity for a new job by doing a favor to those who were indebted to his boss. Those who had their debt reduced would, in turn, be grateful to him and would be inclined to return the favor in the future. That’s what the steward was banking on. Those who had their debt reduced might hire him in a new job, or might at least get him an interview with their Uncle Sol’s jewelry business, for example.

 

We are surprised to see that the steward’s boss actually praises his employee after he’s already decided to fire him. He is not praising his dishonesty, but rather he commends his clever way of thinking, his resourcefulness, and his willingness to think outside the box and to make the effort to figure out how to get what he needs – in this case, new employment so that he won’t become homeless. The steward is not proud of his past actions, because it was, after all, his dishonesty in prior business dealings that got him fired in the first place. So dishonesty is clearly being condemned here, as it was also condemned by the prophet Amos in the first reading. But rather the steward is now focused on making his future better, and that is what is being praised here. He is planning ahead to avoid personal disaster. Although his method is questionable, it is at its core, transactional, and that’s the way all humans innately behave when we are motivated to get what we need.

 

Jesus is pointing out here that if people in this world go to extreme measures, even stealing, to provide for themselves in the future, then how much more should his followers also go to extreme measures to prepare for their eternal future. We all make monetary investments now to provide for our future needs later in this life, but we should also be making spiritual investments now to secure for ourselves a place in the eternal life. In a striking way, Jesus wants his followers to act prudently – to be wiser with the spiritual wealth entrusted to them, than sinners are with their material wealth. This also requires resourcefulness, and foresight, and a willingness to make an extra effort.

 

The point is that it’s far better to place a priority on God, on faith, on worship, and on helping others in need, more so than on the material things of this world – like money, possessions, and career – which will not last. You will never see a U-Haul trailer being pulled behind a hearse in a funeral procession. All your possessions are left behind when you die. Everything we possess in this world does not really belong to us anyway. We only use it for a time. We’re basically all stewards of the one true master, who is God.

 

As Jesus says here, you cannot worship both God and mammon, which is money. Earthly benefits that can be secured with money cannot compare to heavenly benefits that can be secured by having a relationship with God and participating in the faith life of the Church.

 

The Church offers us a way to fulfill our spiritual needs, but it requires our active participation.

Remember the grandchild who cries out “feed me,” or “change me,” or “hold me.” In a similar way, as adults we do the same – our hearts need to be fed, to be changed, and to be held.

 

When the Mass is offered, when we come and participate and receive the Eucharist, as we all are doing here today, then we receive the benefit of God’s offer to feed us with his body and blood.

 

When the Sacrament of Confession is offered, when we come and participate and receive the forgiveness and the absolution from our sins, then we receive the benefit of God’s offer to change us with his healing power.

 

When the Church teaches us true doctrine to guide us, when we accept that teaching and reject our selfish desire to live a different way, apart from that teaching, then we receive the benefit of God’s offer to hold us in the palm of his hand with his truth.

 

When we grow out of childhood and into adulthood, we are no longer dependent on our parents to meet our every need. We become self-reliant and independent, which is good. But the danger in that, in the supernatural realm, is that we mistakenly think we don’t need to rely on God or his Church anymore. That kind of self-reliance and independence is not good.

 

But if we know innately, even from birth, how to get what we need in this life, how much more will eternal rewards await us when we do what God wants us to do, to get what he knows we need in the next life.

 

And so, my brothers and sisters, here is yet again another story from the many in Luke’s Gospel that puts a twist on what we would expect to hear. It’s God again surprising us to grab our attention. He is pointing us toward what matters most. He wants to bless us with his extravagant generosity and abundance. He wants to cancel our debts and lavish real treasure upon us, which cannot compare with the treasures of this world. He wants to lead us into a new and better life, even in the midst of our human failings. How fortunate we are to have a God who loves us that much.

 

May God bless you all.