March 6, 2011
QuinquagesimaIn today’s society, we are challenged more and more to find meaning to our lives. We are challenged by the many forces and venues that are constantly shifting and changing with the tides of new experiments and thoughts.
Less than fifty years ago, life was much simpler. For that matter the further back we go, the more simple it was. We are in an age where with the flip of a switch, a swipe of a finger, we have instant gratification and information. Here in America, our freedom has a price. Some would say it has utopia, but I say that is only a partial truth and it too has a price.
We can have everything we want, even if it is only in the “virtual” world. We either have the money to buy what we want, or the computer (and cell phones these days) to go onto the internet which will have what we cannot or do not want to buy, but simply enjoy virtual reality.
Because we have this “luxury”, life does not have the meaning that Jesus is calling us to have. Our free will has gained us technologies and advances that have shielded us from the fact that without God, none of this means anything.
An Eighteenth-century American lawyer, James Otis, coined the phrase “A man’s house is his castle”. The context of this statement was his response to the English Parliament’s law allowing searches of colonist’s homes for smuggled goods that avoided taxation. His phrase raises a wider concern that our homes are more than a storehouse of goods and a place of an owner. Homes are where we presume to be free from interference, where we can be ourselves, and to find perfection. Our homes are physical embodiments of ourselves in the life and virtues we value most. We need them to be secure, lasting, and intact.
In today's Gospel, Jesus tells the parable about the wise man who built his house upon a rock. Neither rain nor floods, wind nor buffeting could topple this house. It remains solid, stable, and livable. The parable is doing far more than telling us how and where we are to build our homes. Jesus is instructing us about where our true home is (the kingdom of heaven) and how we ensure that we enter into and remain in his home by doing more than simply listening to his words.
We may remember from the stories of Moses of how Moses admonishes the Israelites to take God's word into their hearts and souls; into their very being. God's will cannot be something external to us. Even merely conforming to God's will is not enough. Doing something simply because it is law is lifeless and not life-giving. If God's will is to lead us to the fullness of life, such as entering the kingdom of heaven, it must be embraced, made our own, and become for us a blessing rather than a burden. As it was with Jesus, our words and deeds must coincide, be in agreement, become one because they well up from deep within us. The solid rock of our very selves is found in listening to Jesus’ words, acting upon those words, and thus building lives consistent with who he is.
Not everyone builds on the solid rock. Some lives are built on the slippery and changing sands of fickleness, showiness, and ignoring the everyday responsibilities we all to face and do well. The solid rock upon which Jesus invites us to build our home is nothing less than doing “the will of the father in heaven.” Words are not enough. Jesus makes clear that it is deeds that set direction for our life. The bed rock of life is doing God's will as revealed to us through Jesus’ words. Jesus is the rock upon which we build our lives, and it is our encounters with him that teaches to do as he did. We are to live in his example.
Jesus’ words must become our words; his deeds must become our deeds. This process of our words and deeds coalescing and aligning with Jesus’ words and deeds can only happen when we truly listen to Jesus. This active listening is not a matter of merely hearing words; active listening is encountering Jesus so that his words are internalized as a deeper relationship with him. The listening is conforming ourselves to Christ.
We encounter and listen to Jesus in the words of Scripture we read in our private prayer as well as those proclaimed during Mass. Jesus' words come to us through the advice and critiques of others. We might hear his word in an encouraging remark that nudges us to try harder or in the warning comment that brings us to reevaluate our choices and behaviors.
We hear Christ also in the words of the Church. The church is the instrument in which Jesus lives and breathes with and for his people. Just as we rely on the government to sustain and protect our lives within the country that we live, we too rely on the Church to do much the same with our spiritual lives. This is sometimes a hard thing to do. But in the case of the Church, we know first that it is made up of fellow human beings, and as such, it is sometimes hard to trust because of the errors that people sometimes make. However, Jesus made it very clear to his Apostles and to St. Peter in particular, that Peter was to be this rock on which Jesus was to build the church of God.
We are called in faith to trust that the Holy Spirit will guide the ministers of the Church to be good shepherds to the people that are called to that Church. As with all things in life, there is good and there's bad. However, when we look at ourselves and we go about our everyday life, whether it be driving a car, riding the bus, or walking on the street, we trust that we will be able to do so freely, safely, and very much as ourselves. If we can put that much trust into our fellow society and the government that governs that society, then surely we can put that much trust and more into our God who we know is far greater and far more trustworthy than any human being we could possibly trust. It is that same God who guides the Church. It is that same God who sends out the Holy Spirit to be among those ministers who are the shepherds of the Church.
The shepherds are given special gifts and inspirations to bring the word of God to the sheep; the members of the Church. So that, every member of the Church can know the word of God, and thus build their home on the solid rock of Christ. All things done in faith in Jesus Christ will not fail. Even in the worst of times God is in charge of the details. As in that well-known poem, the footprints in the sand, it is in times of sorrow or calamity that you can see the one set of footprints in the sand; those of our Lord Jesus Christ carrying us.
This Sunday we are called to know, that in putting our trust and our faith in Jesus Christ, our home - our life - will be on a rock foundation. When the storms come, when life seems tough, that rock will stand up to anything that will come against it. Christ is the good Shepherd who will not allow anyone to fail with their trust in him. That trust, is simply known as faith.
So as we go about our everyday life, as we turn on a switch, as we swipe your finger across the iPhone or iPads, as we watch 3-D television or browse the Internet, let us take time for the simpler and fulfilling things in life. Through simple and fulfilling things, we simply need to take time to know the love of God and his son Jesus Christ. Is it so hard to take a moment and thank God for the food we are about to eat; is it so hard for us to simply say a little prayer before we go to an interview or when we are facing a challenging task at work; is it so hard to put a few minutes aside every day to simply sit quietly and reflect on our life; the beauty of life that God created and put us in the middle of; is this so hard to ask God what is the purpose of our own life in amongst all this? We are called to build on the rock foundation and ask God to be in our lives completely, not just during those times when our lives are at its worst.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.