Trust and Obey

June 26, 2022

Deacon Ken Henry
Prince of Peace Catholic Community, Houston, Texas

Video of Funeral See video of this homily
GOSPEL READING STARTS AT 20:04
HOMILY STARTS AT 22:04

NOTE: The video of this homily includes some things that add to the power of this homily, especially at the end.

Reading 1 1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21

The LORD said to Elijah:
“You shall anoint Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah,
as prophet to succeed you.”

Elijah set out and came upon Elisha, son of Shaphat,
as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen;
he was following the twelfth.
Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak over him.
Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said,
“Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,
and I will follow you.”
Elijah answered, “Go back!
Have I done anything to you?”
Elisha left him, and taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them;
he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh,
and gave it to his people to eat.
Then Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant.

Gospel Luke 9:51-62

When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled,
he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,
and he sent messengers ahead of him.
On the way they entered a Samaritan village
to prepare for his reception there,
but they would not welcome him
because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.
When the disciples James and John saw this they asked,
“Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven
to consume them?”
Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.

As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him,
“I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus answered him,
“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

And to another he said, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
And another said, “I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”
To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

So, the first reading today tells us about Elijah picking Elisha to succeed him as a prophet. Elisha went and kissed his parents goodbye and slaughtered his oxen. He followed Elijah. The slaughtering of his oxen was symbolic of him separating himself from his past to devote himself fully to his future as a prophet.

Now the other morning as I was getting dressed, I was thinking about this reading. And I’m looking at my trousers. On the  right, I have trousers that I wore when I was a little bit thinner than I am now. And I can kind of squeeze into them. In the middle are the trousers I can wear now and they’re kind of comfortable. Over here are my fat pants. [laughter] Those are the pants that when I was my heaviest I wore, and I’m saving them because who knows what could happen, especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And so, I’m thinking, that shows I have less of a commitment getting rid of my past, my sins, than Elisha did. I did not throw away my fat pants. C’mon now, I’m not the only one here who has them.

Pre-modern people did not compartmentalize their lives like we do. They did not have our idea of mindless, lifeless, purposeless matter or our idea of a ghost-like purely spiritual mind. They were viewed as two dimensions of the same thing – the human being. We moderns separate concrete realities and deal with each of them alone. We have our physical dimension, our emotional dimension, our political dimension. They viewed these as a concrete whole. They saw God in everything, not just a special department that we call religion.

When Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha, it was his acceptance of Holy Orders, of his total life committed to the Lord. He had a new life that called for the destruction of the old, and he did that. Our body and soul are not separate. They fall together into both sin and death. And the body and soul are redeemed together, we pray, into both resurrection and salvation. The body and soul are two dimensions of the same thing – the human person, fully integrated. Not a haunted house with some ghosts living in it. We have to be ready as Elisha was to follow Christ when he calls not matter what He calls us to do, whether it is a little thing, or a life-changing event. Whether the call is for sudden or gradual change, we must say yes with our entire being. There’s only one God to whom we must always say yes. And if we find ourselves saying yes to the different parts of our compartmented life, then we’re worshipping more than one God. If you give yourself to many things, to many gods, to many absolutes, then you are not one person in Christ, but you have many selves. Now, none of us do that perfectly. But if we strive to do that, we can be called Disciples of Christ.

In the second reading we heard that we are called to freedom. Freedom – what is it? It is not a license to do what we want. That is called sin. Like a drug, sin is a temporary, short-range pleasure with a terrible long-range pain as its price. But let’s face it – we’re all sin-a-holics. Sin is an addiction, and the worst addiction is to be addicted to your own will, to your self-will, because it is not something outside of us that we can escape, but something inside of us – our own willfulness. We are free to follow the truth.

Friday, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. How do we exercise freedom in light of this? We have the freedom to thank God for this decision. We should not gloat or claim victory. What we should do is pray for the babies that will be saved and that their parents get the help that they need in raising these children of God. THAT is what free people do. To practice this freedom, we need our Church because we’re not God. We don’t need a church that pats us on the head and praises us for understanding popular platitudes. We need Her to lovingly correct us to understand the complexities and mysteries of our lives. We don’t need a Church that moves with the spirit of the times. We need a Church that moves with the Spirit of God. As G.K. Chesterton said, “He who marries the spirit of the times will soon be a widower.”

Now the Gospel today opens a new section in Luke. The dominant motif in Luke is Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Now, although it is presented as a geographical journey, its import is theological. It is a journey to the Father. Jesus tells us how difficult it is to be a follower of Jesus. When the Samaritans refused passage, James and John want to call down fire upon them. They are intoxicated with their new authority and influence. And when you are self-absorbed, you treat all rejections personally, as they did. The Samaritans symbolized the opposition Jesus receives in proclaiming His message. But rather than call fire down, Jesus says there’s another way. His message is love, not to punish.

Once a year I go to Nashville for 3 days for my job, and last week I went there. Our oldest son lives in Nashville. And last Thursday night, our granddaughter gave birth to our first great- granddaughter. I was blessed to be able to bag the meetings on Friday and I went to my son’s house and then to the hospital so I could hold my new great-granddaughter. So, I went into my son’s house from the garage – the side door that goes to the garage that I always enter, and I announced my presence. Now what I forgot was they have a new dog, and this dog doesn’t like strangers. And, in fact, it has tried to bite a couple of their neighbors. So as soon as the dog came barking and growling, my daughter-in-law came over and hugged me and said I was a friend. And the dog came over and licked my hand. Now my daughter-in-law explained that what they used to do when the dog acted like that was, they would grab its collar and scold it. But then they have a new dog whisperer, and the dog whisperer said “Do this to show the people, whoever’s coming in, is OK. So, I was thinking about that. The dog understands Jesus’ message better than James and John did, and perhaps better than we do. Love is what works, not scolding.

And we’re called to give up our need to control others, to change others, to grab others by the collar. We’re simply called to be present to them and to love them. If they need to be converted or changed, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Our job, as it was Jesus’ during the time He was on this earth is to be present and to speak a word that is truth and life-giving. Rather than learning to love, however, we tend to live inside the envelope of our senses. Our grasp of reality is limited by what we can see, hear, touch and smell, like that dog. C.S. Lewis said, “It is absurd to assume that reality is restricted to what bipeds on a small planet at the edge of the galaxy can perceive with their senses.” Our textbook, our Bible, expands our knowledge beyond our senses. The Bible was not written to be a dark puzzle to be solved by brilliant scholars, but to be a lantern shining a light in a dark world.”

Now every journey has a measure of the unknown. This was true for Christ, and it is true for every one of us Christians who accepts the radical call and makes this journey with Him. Every day of our life presents new challenges as Christians – new problems of faith, new moral choices. There is a great force in Luke’s statement about Jesus. “He set His face for Jerusalem.” Commitment in the face of the unknown. Great hesitation surrounds us with any commitment. Those that we make are sometimes regularly broken. How reassuring it is when we know people who remain strong and firm in their Christian commitment throughout their life.

Now God has a good reason for everything he does, and there is no reason for us to think that we will always recognize what that good reason is. Do we think we are as wise as God? God preached to St Catherine the shortest sermon on record, and it contained the whole of Divine Revelation in 4 words. “I’m God; you’re not.”

So, what is the bottom line for us as Christians? It’s very simple – perhaps too simple for us. We need to do 2 things and only 2 things – trust and obey. When we fail to do those things, we spend all of our energies with incessant planning, organizing, running, manipulating, maintaining, possessing and processing. And those are all products of our ego. And not because these are necessarily bad, or even narcissistic on their own, but because they preclude awareness of the Divine.

None of this is easy. Jesus tells us in the Gospel its not easy. Last week I had occasion to talk to a person who grew up in a very Catholic family in Poland. She was telling me about it. I asked her if she still practices her faith. She said, “Oh, no. It’s too hard. Now I go to a church where everyone is okay. We let our consciences establish our morals. We don’t need doctrine. No guilt.” You know, I was thinking about this. And thinking about how Jesus said this is difficult, so she might have something. Why should I continue with these difficult teachings of the Gospels? This calls for a lot of personal sacrifice on all of out parts. Why should I give up the fat pants of my life – my sins? Why don’t I just do what is easy? [starts to turn toward the Crucifix] What did you ever…do…for me?…..  Ooops!

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