Thursday, September 04, 2008

Finally...my Sunday homily

It happened for both Mother Teresa and Charles Manson. Both felt that what they were doing was the call of God. Why is that we esteem Mother Teresa for doing what she feels God’s call is while we simultaneously deride Charles Manson as being insane. Throughout the school year, I know students will come to me asking me this tough question: What does God want me to do with my life? It kind of makes my heart skip a bit because I think it makes a fundamental assumption that I’m supposed to know what God wants for people. I mean, I think God wants us to have life and to have it more abundantly. I think God wants us, to use the language we use on Ash Wednesday, to turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel. But, I’m not sure how we can know for certain that what we are doing is right.

Our scriptures show us a couple of people that seem to be having difficulty discerning God’s will in their lives. Starting at the end, we have St. Peter. You may remember from last week that, immediately prior to this, St. Peter’s made a profound confession of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the son of the Living God. Then, this week, we hear the great praise that Jesus put upon Peter last week seem to be turned upside down. He calls him Satan for goodness sake. When the Son of God is talking to you, the last thing that you want hear from him is “Get behind me Satan!” Yikes! To me, this episode points to how fragile Peter’s initial steps of faith were. Like a child who is walking for the first time, Peter still falls and makes mistakes. But, he’s on his way. This gives all of us who fall daily a great hope, right.

But, there’s more to it than that. Peter believes that he is doing what is right. I mean, if someone you believed in, an incredibly intelligent, dynamic individual that you trusted started telling you that he knew that he was going to be killed but would be raised three days later, wouldn’t we all react with a little skepticism? I bet some of you would ask what the trick is, as though he’s David Copperfield making the statue of Liberty disappear and reappear a few moments later. Or, you may be like Peter and try to calm him down because he’s starting to sound conspiratorial. He’s like a step away from building a special room in his house and storing dry goods for when he takes down the federal government. Peter couldn’t have known that Jesus was talking about a death that would end the sacrificial system of the Old Testament once and for all, the just suffering punishment and death for the sake of the unjust. Peter believes he is doing what God would want him to do, saving the life of his friend and diffusing a tense situation.

But, as we heard in the first reading, sometimes God doesn’t mind a little tension. In fact, according to the prophet Jeremiah, that may be one way that God works is by making us so tense and upset that we cannot stand by and let happen what is happening. Jeremiah’s message is always, basically, stop doing what God doesn’t want you to do and start doing what He does. But, when he delivers this message, the people start complaining because his messages are always such a downer. I mean, he’s a sinner. What gives him the right to tell us not to sin? And the fact that Jeremiah feels like God is calling him to do this only heightens the derision of the crowd. Only crazy people feel like God is calling them to something. Only crazy people feel like they talk to God. Jeremiah must be nuts if he feels like God is calling him to tell other people that they are sinning. All of this forces Jeremiah into a depression wherein he stops prophesying. He is a prophet who refuses to tell people what God wants them to do. But, then he looks around and gets so angry at the sheer amount of sin that he cannot hold himself in and he starts to prophesy again. He feels duped by God because of his sense of righteous indignation. But, if God wants him to prophesy, why not make the people of Judah as malleable as the people of Nineveh were for Jonah? Why cause all this tension and self-doubt for Jeremiah? Why not make it clear for Jeremiah that he is doing what you want him to do by making his job easier.

Both Jeremiah and Peter struggle with God’s will in their lives. Both of them, to paraphrase St. Paul from the second reading, are trying to be transformed by the renewal of the mind and not conform to this age, to discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. But, both are also disobeying what is really God’s will, Jeremiah is doing so intentionally and Peter unintentionally. And, both get duped by God in order to be set straight.

I think the ultimately fault that both of them have is that both Peter and Jeremiah ultimately lose sight of their role as part of their respective communities. Peter takes Jesus aside to remonstrate him. Jeremiah is constantly lobbing remonstrations at a community that decides to alienate him rather than be berated. Criticism seems to come best from within the community, from people who are part of the church, not from people who think that they are better than the church. We, the members of the church, need to hear God’s word as part of the church in the church. If it alienates us from the church then it is probably not God’s will. Most of the time when we wonder if we are doing what God wants, we need to ask ourselves if we are taking up our cross or expecting everyone else to take it up for us.

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