B: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom to Know God’s Ways

August 16, 2009

Proverbs 9:1-6

Today’s first reading from the book of Proverbs presents Wisdom preparing a great feast and inviting us all to participate. She calls out to us saying: “Put immaturity aside and walk in the way of insight.” What we need to know about wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures is that Wisdom is a lot more than cleverness or intelligence. Wisdom, in the bible, is an aspect of faith. So when Wisdom calls us to walk in the ways of insight, she is really inviting us to understand the ways of God.

The wise person understands many things about God but chief among them is the conviction that God is always working to bring about what is good. Even in a world characterized by evil and sin, God is moving events towards something that is better. The wise person believes this and also understands that God’s work takes time. So the wise person is willing to wait and to see what God is up to. Even when tragedy and disappointment enter our lives, as wise people we must be willing to wait and see, believing that in time God’s good purposes will appear.

In 1918, a child was born into one of the most influential families in the United States. The family was that of Joe and Rose Kennedy, and the child was their first daughter. They named her Rosemary after her mother. It soon became apparent that Rosemary was a child with special needs. Although in 1918 she would not have been described in that way. In 1918 it would be said that Rosemary was retarded. I do not have any direct information about how Joe and Rose Kennedy took this event in their life. But I would imagine that as most parents, they were disappointed. Perhaps they even saw the birth as a tragedy. As people of faith, they might have questioned, “Why did God allow this to happen? What possible good could come from this kind of a birth?” Wisdom would have advised them to be patient and reminded them that God had a plan. It would, however, take time for God’s plan to become clear.

Three years later, another daughter was born into the Kennedy family. They named her Eunice. Eunice was not a special needs child. She was bright, competitive, and highly motivated. Eunice developed a special relationship with her sister, Rosemary. The two of them talked together, played together and were deeply committed to one another. When Rosemary had to be institutionalized, it was a deep blow to Eunice. All through her years of education and her rise in social society, Eunice remembered her sister and what she meant to her. In her mid life, as she encountered other special needs children, Eunice discovered a way she could make a difference. In 1968 she founded the Special Olympics. Up to that time, children with special needs were discouraged from physical activity. It was feared that they would injure themselves. Eunice knew better. From her experience with Rosemary, she understood that children with special needs could, in their own way, compete and excel. Today, over three million children participate in Special Olympics, in over one hundred and eighty countries throughout the world.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver died this week. She was eighty-eight years old. It took those years for it to become clear what God was up to. Today we see children with special needs in a radically different way than we saw them eighty-eight years ago. The children who were once shut away and told to sit by themselves, now run and swim and jump on the world’s stage. We see them differently and they see themselves differently. They understand themselves as people who can live more deeply and rise to their true potential.

The plan of God, of course, did not happen by itself. It was not magic. Many people had to listen and work and sacrifice to bring about this change of perspective. Eunice Kennedy was only one of them. But her contribution—and it was a major one—was only possible because she had a sister named Rosemary. What appeared first as a disappointment, as a tragedy, did in time appear as part of a larger plan. God was working to bring our society and our world to a better place.

Wisdom calls you and me to walk in the ways of insight, recognizing that God is always working to bring about what is good. This conviction does not deny the presence of real evil. Evil touches our lives. It affects us through sickness and death, through opportunities which slip through our fingers, through relationships that break and fail, through mistakes that we have made and we would do anything to erase. But when those evils assault us, Wisdom tells us that they can be part of a larger plan. Wise people wait to see what God is up to. We should never presume or suppose that evil is good. But we believe that God is good. And therefore we believe that in time God will bring good to us.

Eternal Life

August 16, 2015

John 6:51-58

In today’s gospel, Jesus again presents himself as the living bread that has come down from heaven. He promises us three times that if we eat this bread, we will live forever. That’s quite a promise, isn’t it? Eternal life. And since that promise is so important, we should understand it correctly. When Jesus says that he is going to give us eternal life, he is not presenting that life to us like a present in a box that we unwrap and possess. Jesus instead is telling us that he will work with us to see that the present life that we are living will continue forever. Eternal life, then, is something that we contribute to, something that we shape. Our forever is being determined by the life we live today. The decisions that we make are building eternity.

Now this truth is captured by Ben Pattison in his book, The Grand Essentials. He says, “I believe that when life has whittled us down, when our joints no longer work and our skin becomes wrinkled, when our capillaries are clogged and hardened, what will remain of us is what we have been all along, in our essence, in our inner spirit.” He goes on then to give the example of his grandmother. In her mid-eighties, she had lost most of her mental faculties, and she was deteriorating physically. But if you asked her to say the blessing before dinner, she would reach out and grasp the hands of those sitting next to her, a broad smile would come over her face, her eyes would fill with tears as she lifted them to heaven, and her chin would quiver as she poured out her love: love for God, love for the people around that table, love for all people. She could no longer remember the names of those in her family. Life had whittled that away. But what was left was her essence, and that essence was love for God and love for people.

You and I are building our essence today. Who we are in our heart of hearts is being determined by the choices we make. So if we choose to nurture resentment against those who have hurt us, if we choose to feed our anger or embrace prejudice or hatred, when life whittles everything else away, what will remain is anger and hatred. If we choose to place our own comfort and indulgence as the highest good, if we choose pride over compassion or status over service, when everything else falls to the side, our essence will emerge as one of pride and selfishness.

You and I are building our essence today. Jesus promises us eternal life, but he can only work with the life that we give him. So today we should choose to be people of integrity, justice, and love, so that when life whittles everything else away, those good things will emerge as our essence. And it will be that essence that will live forever.

The Sexual Abuse Crisis

August 19, 2018

Ephesians 5:15-20

“I am deeply disturbed, saddened, and angered.” These are the words of our bishop, Nelson Perez, in response to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on child abuse released this week. It is important for me, as your pastor, to say that I too am deeply disturbed, saddened, and angered. You should be also. The Pennsylvania report is devastating. It documents that over 300 priests molested children over a seven-decade period and were protected by bishops who kept the abuse secret and in some cases allowed the priests continued contact with children. It is morally wrong to abuse children. It is morally wrong to allow that abuse to continue. We are facing a moral catastrophe in our church.

Now clearly the majority of the abuse took place before 2002, when the US Bishops adopted a charter for the protection of children. That charter requires those with credible accusations of abuse be removed from ministry and their actions reported to civil authorities. However, the recent revelations from Baltimore concerning Cardinal McCarrick indicate that the 2002 charter was in some places only selectively enforced. This has to stop. I support Bishop Perez in his commitment to work with the other bishops of our country to strengthen protection against predators in the church and all who would conceal their actions. You may pick up a complete copy of the bishop’s statement as you leave church today.

Where does all of this leave us who love our church and abhor the presence of child abuse in our midst? Today’s second reading from Ephesians says, “Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the day’s are evil.” The days are evil indeed. The presence of child abuse undermines our church’s credibility and life. Ephesians says in such circumstances we should be wise. But what does it mean to be wise? Allow me to suggest three wise choices we should make.

First, face the facts. Child abuse is a reality in our society and in our church. It would be foolish to presume that because a person is a priest or bishop that our children are safe. Priests, bishops, coaches, doctors, teachers, and others in high positions have abused children in the past and unfortunately may do so again. Those are the facts. Second, be vigilant. Because child abuse is a reality we must carefully watch our children. We must know who is with them and why. Our diocese has in place a Virtus program to protect children against abuse. I want you to know that St. Noel is in full conformity with that program. Adults who minister to children in our parish have undergone background checks. We do not allow ministry to take place in private settings where children could be endangered. We are committed to remain vigilant along with you. Third, speak out. Our church leadership needs to know how important this issue is to us. Bishop Perez needs to know that we fully support his commitment to strengthen protection for our children. We must also insist that the bishops of our country realize that any new guidelines can only be effective when there is a mechanism in place to hold bishops accountable when they fail to follow them.

We are deeply disturbed, saddened, and angered. But if we are wise enough to know the facts, remain vigilant, and speak our expectations to our leaders, the deeps wounds of sexual abuse in our church may begin to heal. As we continue this Eucharist, let us pray for all victims of sexual abuse and for our church leaders. Let us also pray for our children that they may grow knowing the love of God in parish communities that are unquestionably committed to their protection.

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