Monday, July 13, 2015

First Homily

XV Sunday Ordinary Time
St. Martin de Porres Parish
July 12, 2015
How good it is to be here, to be home. Bishop Danny, Rev. Fathers, Deacon, Seminarians, Family, and Friends, all. Thank y’all for coming this morning. It is really good to be home again. And as a Deacon, no less!

Indeed, after the great grace wrought by the Lord at yesterday’s Ordination, we cannot help but hear and see familiar images in today’s Gospel. After sometime together—those first disciples with our Lord—Jesus calls the Twelve to Himself, ready to send them forth; to give them their first mission. We can imagine the scene: the Twelve lined up one-by-one, poorly clad, roughed up after much travel, yawning probably, in much need of a shower and a haircut—a motley crew. Not much different, I am sure, than what you, Bishop, saw yesterday in the six of us who were ordained. These Twelve had been through a great deal with Jesus, their master and teacher. He had called them from their fishing nets, their tax collecting, political movements. They had seen Jesus calm the sea, cast out demons, heal the sick and cure the lame, give vision to the blind, and teach profound truths about God, His Father. Yes, after all that time, a little seminary so to speak, Jesus looked upon His disciples, His brothers, His friends. They were ready. And so Jesus called them, gave them authority to cast out demons, and sent them out two by two. Yet only temporarily, one might even say He gave them a transitional ministry much like I have received, for they were to preach the word, cast out demons, and take care of the sick. And it was a short time, since they returned in the time it takes to recount the death of John the Baptist. 

Yet while these images and scenes recall the grace and excitement of yesterday, this Deacon is a bit troubled. For according to the story, he is now to preach repentance; it says they went forth preaching repentance. 

I could skirt around this, focusing on other aspects of this passage, yet Mark is clear; he wastes no words. Matthew recounts Jesus commanding His disciples to preach that the Kingdom of heaven is near. Luke writes that Jesus sent them to preach the Kingdom of God. But Mark? No, Mark’s account of the Gospel, the Good News from which we hear today, places repentance at the center. Indeed, there is here a direct reference to the first proclamation of the Gospel in Mark’s account in which Jesus says “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” There is no mistaking the message. Repentance is the first word out of Jesus’ mouth and so it is to be the same for His disciples—they have learned something it seems!
Yet the idea of preaching repentance for any preacher—let alone in his first homily—is daunting if not terrifying, a true test. For as he begins to formulate his thoughts, he cannot escape that inner voice which reminds him of his own need for repentance and conversion. Indeed, he calls to mind his own struggles and apathy in responding to God’s call to repentance. This preacher is convicted by the first reading. There we hear of the prophet Amos who when told by Amasias to go away and prophesy elsewhere abruptly responds, “No, I am no prophet, nor am I from their company.”  This response is no different than my own when I first heard the call to be a priest. “No, I am not to be a priest. I am the son of an engineer and a horsewoman, and I want to play basketball.” But if the mercy of God which wipes away all sin is true, and it is, then I cannot allow this my own fault to keep me from calling others to the same repentance. For if not, then how would St. Peter, my own patron, who denied our Lord three times in His darkest hour come forth from that upper room at Pentecost and filled with the Holy Spirit, preach Christ’s saving message literally to all the world! St. Peter Rock of Faith! For if not, then how would St. Paul, infamous for his persecution and killing of Christians, return from blindness to be the greatest preacher the world has ever seen, St. Paul Apostle to the Gentiles!
And so I preach repentance, sorrow for one’s sins, contrition for acts contrary to the will of God. Often times we think of sin as breaking a rule or a commandment. This is not wrong. We do in fact have 10 Commandments and they can be broken. Yet, sin is more than breaking the rules set by the lifeguard at a swimming pool. Nor is sin simply a foul or penalty as in a sport—God has no yellow flag. These rules show us how to relate to God. And breaking them, sin, weakens, damages, or challenges that relationship. A perfect example of this dynamic is the honored practice here in our great state of Texas that men open the door for women. Such a practice is a social norm or rule which demonstrates how a man should relate to a woman. If he does not open the door, it is not a simple matter of breaking a rule; she does not roll her eyes at him because he broke a rule. No, she just thinks less of him. We cannot forget that the moral teachings of our faith point to a relationship with a person, who is Jesus Christ. Our sins threaten this relationship. 
Repentance is sorrow for one’s sins. Sorrow, not meaning sad and crying, though these may in fact come. Repentance is more than beating up oneself over a mistake, or apologizing profusely. When a child who had upset his parents says he is sorry, he is repentant. When a husband or wife apologizes for not taking out the trash or for forgetting how long they’ve been married, they are repentant. When a friend forgets an obligation or an important event, he is repentant. Yet, in all of these what is expressed by this repentance? What is the desire behind that word “sorry”? Relationship. A desire for a relationship. Repentance says I want to be in right relationship with you again. Or better, repentance expresses our desire to receive the love of the other again. On the lips of a friend, it means I want to receive the love of your friendship again. On the lips of a spouse, it is a desire to stay faithful to the marriage and receive their love again. On the lips of a child, it is a desire to be a son or daughter, to receive the love of a Father and Mother again. 

This is truly good news. This is the saving message of the Gospel. This is what Jesus and His disciples preached: Life-giving repentance, the expression of a desire to receive the love of God again. Is this not beautiful, this repentance. As our second reading from St. Paul reminds us, we were chosen before the foundation of the world to be adopted sons and daughters of God the Father through Jesus Christ. Our repentance, then, is simply our way of saying we want to be sons and daughters of God, we want to receive the love of God, our Father again. Simply put, this is what we do in confession. Yes, we apologize, we name and number our sins. Yet, in so doing so we express our desire to be a son or daughter of God through the Blood of Jesus Christ which washes us clean again! “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  

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