Homily for November 18

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Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptures for today's Mass


We’re only two weeks a way from New Year’s -
on the church calendar -
where the new liturgical year will begin on December 2
with the First Sunday of Advent.
At the end of every November, as the old year of grace winds down,
the scriptures turn apocalyptic, speaking, as you just heard,
of a time “unsurpassed in distress”
a time of great “tribulation,” the “darkening of the sun and moon”
and the “stars falling from the skies.”
In other words: the end of the world as we know it.

No one knows when this will happen
but the Word of God calls us to prepare for it
as if it were going to happen tomorrow.
As the year of grace 2018 is about to pass away into history then,
the church reminds us that at some point
the whole of creation will pass away and be forgotten
and Christ will come again in glory.

In every age there are those who believe they see signs of the end time.
In our own day there are more than enough natural disasters
shaking, flooding and scorching the earth;
a surplus of hatred, rancor and division in public discourse;
and nearly daily news of mass shootings
to make us wonder if the end is in sight, if our time is up.

Add to all that the man-made troubles
shaking the Catholic Church to its core,
and the resulting anger, disappointment, shame and mistrust
engendered by the failure of so many to protect
the innocent and vulnerable -
and you have a mix that only deepens a crisis of faith
in the hearts and souls of many believers.

The events at this past week’s annual November meeting
of our nation’s Catholic bishops were
surprising, disappointing, bewildering and disheartening.
The Vatican’s unexpected intervention, asking our bishops
to postpone voting on the very proposals before them
that offered some much needed hope,
was, for some, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

As dispirited as I was by what did and didn’t take place at the meeting,
it wasn’t the last straw for me
and I hope I might rightly conclude from your presence here today
that it wasn’t the end of the story for you either.
Or, perhaps you’re here but find yourself on the brink of leaving.

Let me share with you what gets me through all of this.
Many of you have said to me,
 “Father Fleming, I’m so troubled by what’s going on in our church
- but it must be even worse for you.”

I wouldn’t know how to begin to discern who’s having a harder time here:
the people of the church or her pastors.
Actually, I think our anger and pain is in most ways more equal than not -
although we might feel and experience it in different ways,
each of us according to our state in life.

What helps me through all of this
is precisely what we find in today’s scriptures.
Even if this is, indeed, a time “unsurpassed in distress”
when the heavens and earth and the church are shaken to their core,
my hope is not in the church as an institution or organization,
nor is my hope in popes and cardinals or bishops and priests.
Rather, my hope, my trust and my faith are in Jesus
whose body the Church is
and whose ministry is entrusted to weak men,
- and sometimes to the weakest of men.

Why this is so, I don’t know.
Why Jesus chose the 12 apostles he did boggles my mind
especially when I consider that in his hour of greatest need:
one of Jesus’ closest friends betrayed him;
none of them could stay awake for an hour to pray with him;
one denied ever having known or associated with him;
and all of them fled  when the authorities came to arrest him.
Of the 12, only one, John, stood at the foot of the Cross of Jesus
when he was crucified.
The others went into hiding, fearing they might meet the same end.
Of course the history of the church is replete with stories
of thousands of men and women who were, in troubled times,
of far greater and much deeper faith
than were the apostles at the time of Jesus’ suffering and death.

I don’t offer the failure of the apostles as any kind of excuse
for the ways in which a bishop or priest or any of us fails
in fidelity to Jesus,
but rather to show how the power of Jesus, the grace of Jesus,
the love of Jesus, the mercy of Jesus, the presence of Jesus
is never, can never, will never, ought never be overshadowed
by the sins and failures of those sent to preach and live the gospel.

And I haven’t given up on our bishops, either.
The apostles are prototypes for our bishops
and of that cowardly original band, 10 ended their lives as martyrs.
ultimately laying down their lives for Jesus
whom they had betrayed, denied, fled and abandoned.
Only faithful John died a natural death of old age
and Judas died by his own hand.

This weekend’s scriptures make it clear
that the distress and disasters of the end time
are a troubled prelude to the coming of Christ in glory.
No, I’m not saying, suggesting or even hinting
that the end of the world is at hand.

I’m simply pointing to the truth that nothing
(no distress, no disaster, no calamity, no sin, no failure, no infidelity)
and no one
(no pope, cardinal, bishop, priest or deacon)
should or can keep us from the power and presence of Jesus.

The Church as we know it exists for one end and this end only:
to announce the gospel, the good news of Jesus;
to be the source of Christ’s saving blessing and grace for all;
and to be the Body of Jesus in the world today.

The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ among us
and we, you and I, are its members.
When others fail in fidelity
we need to ask God to give us Jesus.
When we ourselves are unfaithful to what we’ve been called to be,
we need to ask God to give us Jesus.
When Church structures fail to provide integrity and justice
we need to ask God to give us Jesus.
When we are tempted to leave the Church, our community of faith,
we need to ask God to give us Jesus.
When we are on the brink of giving up hope,
we need to ask God to give us Jesus.
We need to ask God to give us Jesus
from whom nothing and no one has power
to wrest our hearts and souls.
When our own faith tires and grows weak, O God -
give us Jesus…

(My homily ends with a song
which you can hear on the audio link above)

In the morning when I rise…
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus!
You may have all this world, but give me Jesus.

Oh, and when I am alone…
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus!
You may have all this world, but give me Jesus.

Oh, and when I come to die…
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus!
You may have all this world, but give me Jesus


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