The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2019 – Cycle C
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40; Hebrews 112:1-4; Luke 12:49-43
What was it like for Jeremiah sinking into the mud?
coating his body
weighing heavy upon him
dragging him down
What did Jeremiah feel?
What was it like to be thrown into a hole with no way out and left for dead?
That I expect is how some people feel about the Catholic Church.
So they have thrown us away or left us as unredeemable, or worse, irrelevant.
We have been left for dead with no hope as people simply fade away.
Does the image of Jeremiah sinking into the mud resonate with you?
It does with me. I often feel that I am presiding over a large funeral.
Who will save us from sinking deeper into the mud? Who is our Ebed–melech?
I watch as good people of our parish no longer gather regularly with us to worship God. I encounter them on the streets, in the eateries and stores. They are friendly and pleasant. We briefly chat. But they are absent. Do we know who they are? Do we miss them?
I pass by the baseball camp on the outskirts of our town every Sunday morning
with its processions of young people and overflowing parking lots. It reminds me of Corpus Christi processions of the past.
I extend myself to parents for baptism and couples for marriage who are not practicing hoping beyond hope that the beauty of the liturgy and your presence and prayers will make a difference. Does my approach bear fruit? I don’t know. I must bear the burden of not knowing.
At most Funeral Masses, I am more often presiding over congregations of non – believers (?). Some people have just the most tenuous connection to us. Good people I expect, but lost to us.
As I read the diocesan newspaper, I watch as reported we reach for forms of public prayer and activities from our past and faded “glory days”. The past is what we are most familiar with. It is an easy knee jerk response in times of a present crisis to return to forms that worked in the past. But it takes courage and trust in the Holy Spirit to move into an unknown future; especially as you try to reach up from sinking deeper into the mud with despair engulfing you.
We are a church that is suffering and broken and much of it by our own hand.
And when you are hurting you tend to curl up. At least I do. Is that what Jeremiah did in the mud?
How did Jeremiah feel?
I expect like many of us do, dejected; confused and scared.
That confusion and fear has only grown with the Child Victims Act going into force in New York State this past Wednesday. The Child Victims Act, created a one-year “look-back” period for the filing of previously time-barred abuse lawsuits against alleged abusers and the institutions that may have covered up the abuse. A landslide occurred of names and accusations including Bishop – Emeritus Howard J. Hubbard.
Bishop Scharfenberger has stated that “The truth is the only way through this…” The bishop continues, “[The survivor’s] stories and testimony are changing our church…. Do not allow the horrors of the revelations of sexual abuse in the past to lead you to feelings of discouragement or helplessness. They should not paralyze us but rather drive us further into action. The shock that they may bring is but a microcosm of the pain that many survivor’s experience daily and for many years.”
Confused and scared is how we began our Christian story. Do you remember those two disciples wandering home on the road to Emmaus? They too were confused and scared. They were walking away from Jerusalem and away from what they did not understand, perhaps seeking solace in a place less chaotic and noisy and scary than where they were coming from. On that road they meet Jesus, who listens to them, teaches them, shares a meal with them and inspires them to rush off to tell others of their encounter with him. They cannot help but proclaim the Gospel with their very lives.
When [people are] introduced to Jesus by someone who knows him themselves, they come to realize that Jesus is someone who loves them, longs for them and is close to them. Their hearts will and do begin to burn. Disciples grow; they are not born. They are befriended, listened to, valued and encouraged by those who have been befriended and heard themselves.
The faith is caught, not taught. It is witnessed to, not merely explained. They stay and we stay because friendships [are] formed with others, and that friendship and intimacy with believers leads to friendship and intimacy with Jesus himself.
To rise with Jesus from the mud, we have to grow close to [people] and help them become close to Jesus. There is no more important work at this moment. There is nothing more essential to the work of the church. There is nothing more pressing than to walk with people so that they stay in the church and stay in love with Jesus.
Jesus is our Ebed–melech. The one who comes to save us from sinking into the mud.
Jesus, the Son of the Living God, is at the heart of the Church even when we have cast off and considered irrelevant.
Do you believe that?
Do you and I know and love Jesus so as to be able to introduce him to another person?
There would seem to be no other way out of the cistern of mud.
[Excerpts from the article, “What will it take to keep young people in the church?” by Katie Prejean McGrady, America, The Jesuit Review, August 14, 2019]