Homily for the Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C 2019
We have come to that time of the year when we literally hear bad news. A time when we hear of natural disasters, wars, famines etc. A time that the Church’s language is apokálypsis. That is, she speaks of the future, and she unveils what is to come. A time she speaks of the Day of the Lord; a day that will be marked with terrible cosmic upheaval and destruction. She remembers the prophecy of the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Second Coming of Christ.
A time the Church as mother and teacher is very honest with us, her children. She affirms us. But she also reminds us of the price we must pay for bearing the name of Christ and living in the world as her children. A time we hear, “men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment… You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death…” Luke 21: 12-16.
In many ways, it is a dark period. It is a time that is best captured by the present season in Europe and America where leaves are falling off trees. A time when everything seems dead; the streets are empty of people as the weather gets colder. It is also a time in Australia when we hear of dry, windy and scorching summer heat; a time of bushfire, loss of lives and property. It is a time of sadness. A time when we count our losses. A time of scaremongering, depression!
Somehow, we are all caught up in this time. We are struggling to make sense of what is happening. Why are we having this severe drought in Australia? Why the bushfires, the death toll and the loss of properties in a time when famers are struggling to make ends meet and the economy seems to be getting weaker with lower interest rates? Where is God? Why is He allowing this to happen in the world He created? It is that time when we have more questions than answers.
These questions come from the heart as a cry to God for answers. While some of us may not be direct victims of the recent happenings, it is good that we join our voices with those of our brothers and sisters and make their cry our cry. By so doing, we become truly the Body of Christ; sharing in the suffering of others; journeying with them to the God who not only has answers but can also heal our broken hearts and restore our dry Land with deep soaking rain.
So, as we ask why is this happening and where is God, we should also ask ourselves, what shall we do? How shall we cope with the present situation and equip ourselves for the future? Thus, our first response as Christians is faith. Faith is our response to God’s love. It is an act of turning fully to God in a time when we are tempted to turn away from Him and focus either on ourselves or on evil. Faith is simply loving God. And when we start loving Him, fear bows out.
But that is not all. “Faith”, as C. S. Lewis puts it, “is believing in the Christian God just as we believe the sun has risen; not only because we see it, but because by it we see everything else.” By faith, we see something much more than the ruins of bushfire. By faith, we come to treasure the memories of our loved ones lost to natural disasters. By faith, we see and appreciate the sacrifices of firefighters and we summon up courage to join them in that great human project.
By faith, we see the need to become stewards of God’s creation, treasuring and caring for all that God has entrusted to us. We begin to live out our baptismal priesthood of sanctifying creation. We become with Christ, the new Adam, who loves creation, not to the point of making an idol of it but raising it up to its proper dignity and allowing it to flourish, to sustain life and remain our common home. By faith, we rise to the summons of Pope Francis in Laudato Si, “not to abuse creation.”
Our second response as Christians is hope. It is what Johnathan Sacks describes as “The belief that together we can make things better….” It is an active grace that enables to get us out of bed, sends us to the fields to keep ploughing, to hang in there. It is hope that makes us ready at every moment for the rain, to join in putting out the fires, and building on the ruins of bushfires. For Erich Fromm, “Hope is an inner readiness that makes us to live in the present that is in a state of pregnancy.”
Hope helps us go through tough times like a mother goes through her pregnancy term. She copes with the discomfort that her growing child inflicts on her. She keeps living despite the untold pain she bears. She lives so that her child will live in her womb. She lives because that is what mothers do. Perhaps, in a time like this, we just have to keep living, not because we have a reason to live, but because that is what human beings do. We survive. We live to see the future.
Finally, Luke in the Gospel reading gives us some troubling details. “Men will seize you and persecute you….” Hearing this, we may feel like giving up. After all, what future is there for us? But we should not give up. We should rather do what St. Francis of Assisi said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible and you find yourself doing the impossible.” What is that thing that is necessary? For us Christians, it is love. We have to love our persecutors.
No doubt, this is a big ask. It is a like asking a Jew to love Hitler, which for many is impossible. But notice the wisdom of St. Francis, start by doing the necessary. Necessary in the Greek sense of the word which means the super essential thing. And love is that super essential thing. For love is our origin. Love is our calling. Love is our destiny. Thus, to live and not love is to die to who we are. So, Love those who persecute you. Love those who have made the earth, our common home inhabitable. Love because love is God’s answer to evil and natural disasters.
Fr. Francis Afu