YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: FAST-FOOD SPIRITUALITY.
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
A priest found out that there was a problem with the microphone during Mass. So he tapped it while mumbling, “There is something wrong with this microphone.” And the people came up with their usual response: “And also with you.” (It’s a good thing the new translation of the Roman Missal changed this response.) I remember one incident in the seminary where I studied. A seminarian was assigned to do the reading for meditation before Mass. Noticing that most seminarians were sleepy, he thought of something to wake them up. At the end of the reading, instead of saying, “This is the Word of the Lord”, he said, “This is the end of the world.” And the sleepy seminarians unwittingly responded, “Thanks be to God!”
I believe all of us here have healthy hearing faculties. I do not see anybody with hearing aids or something stuck in their ears. Physically, we are not deaf. But that does not mean that we hear everything God wants us to hear. On many occasions when Jesus was teaching, he would end up by saying, “Let those who have ears, hear!” He is always aware of the human tendency to be selective in what we hear. We may not really be deaf, but sometimes we can be selectively deaf. We close our ears to the truths communicated to us by God, which hurt us or pose any serious challenge to us. An author uses the term “Cafeteria Christians.” When we go to a cafeteria or fast-food restaurant, we look at the food on display, and just choose to buy and eat the ones we like. Many people apply this to their spiritual life. They would like to follow Jesus, but only when he talks about rewards and the good things. But the moment he starts talking about the hideousness of our sins, about the need for repentance and conversion, about the cross, self-sacrifice, humility and dying to self, their ears automatically close and they choose to become deaf. Such Christians are obviously the followers of the “Prosperity Gospel” being preached by many false prophets and tele-evangelists. As St. Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel and reject what you do not like, it is not the Gospel you believe but yourself.”
I know of a priest in Metro Manila who was assigned to a parish of millionaires and powerful politicians. He had no problem raising funds for the parish. But he had to maintain two versions of his homily every Sunday. One is for the early morning churchgoers: the housekeepers, cooks, drivers and gardeners. The other one, in a more subdued tone and wrapped in cautious and politically correct language is for the churchgoers late in the morning and in the evening. And these are the families of the rich and the powerful businessmen and politicians. He cannot afford to offend them for he might lose their huge donations.
This is one big challenge for us priests nowadays. As ministers of God, we have to exercise our prophetic role. It is our duty to preach the whole truth of the Gospel, the teachings of Jesus himself, in season and out of season. It is never easy because the Gospel is not always pleasant to the ears of some people. There are people who already have their own set of ideas and values that are not in conformity with the Gospel. A quotation says: “Some minds are like concrete: thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.” Nobody can influence or move them to change their principles and convictions. In fact, many of them even want God to conform to their ideas. They come to Church, not to be enlightened and guided by the word of God, but are expecting to hear what they like to hear, and be entertained. If not, they turn deaf, and worse, when they hear something that is against their preconceived ideas or beliefs, they would try to discredit and attack the messenger.
This is not surprising. It has been the lot of every prophet in the Bible. As God’s spokesman, the prophet is to proclaim what God wants His people to hear, not what the people would like to hear. It happens that many times the truth that comes from God is painful and may offend some people. That is why, the prophets were killed by the very people to whom they were sent to proclaim God’s message. Jesus himself was rejected by the people of Nazareth and was eventually nailed to the cross. Proclaiming the Gospel, indeed, is a risky business. But that is the duty of every Christian. As St. Paul said: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” In the face of opposition and attacks from some quarters, we should not wilt and falter. Rather, let the words of St. Peter give us courage and strength: “We must obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
The Gospel this Sunday invites us to reflect on one word: “Ephphatha”: Be opened. He said this to the deaf man who had a speech impediment. This man represents all of us who have become deaf to God’s word and mute in our Christian witnessing. This is the same word spoken to us by the priest when we were baptized. And now Jesus says it to us again: “Ephphatha!” Be opened. Not only should we open our ears, our mouth and our minds. Most importantly, let us open our hearts to welcome Jesus, not selectively but entirely, regardless of whether his message is pleasant or painful. Then he will change us, and transform our lives that we may become the living Gospel in the world today. As it is said, “We do not change the message; it is the message that must change us.”
In a few moments we will receive Jesus in Holy Communion. With open hearts and minds, let us allow him to make us new and lead us to a life of true obedience, humble service and unconditional love for one another. Let us bring home the words of the Psalmist: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” We don’t change the message; the message changes us.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs, Susano Road Camarin, Caloocan City 1422
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