Focus On God – Fr. Anthony Williams

Fr. Anthony Williams’ Homily June 27, 2020

“One word that for me stands out with respect to the three sacred readings proclaimed is obedience, obedience to God, something that we clergy, monastics, religious, so forth are giving an understanding of in our formation.  You might ask the question today, ‘well what does that mean, obedience?’  For some would intersperse the word, loyalty, but overall it has to do with a surrender to Jesus the Christ, the Kingdom of God and our Lord himself is in the Hebrew word is understood as the shiliah, the ambassador of the Father, his representative who has the authority to speak in the name of the Father and that kind of understanding is such that the Father is actually before the people in the person of Christ.  They share the divine nature, so that is another theological understanding that might take a little time to understand what that means, but overall it’s obedience to God.

In looking at the prophet Elisha who it’s said to have performed between 16-18 miracles.  He’s obviously the oil and the bread and the raising of Elijah, the widow’s son of Naine, and now he makes the promise to this person that she will have a baby son next year, but for me as I look at this passage, but that’s not the focal point.  He’s a prophet and he’s done miracles, but in my understanding of that passage it’s the fact that he is recognized as a holy man of God.  Somehow what he has done, what he has said has kept the focus on the Father on the Creator on God his Master, the one who has given him what he must do and say to the people of God.  That’s how he is remembered.  That’s how he is remembered.  That perhaps is why this person and her husband extend hospitality to him.  They recognize him as a man of God who has visited their home before, so the question that I would raise for us is, is that how we will be remembered through what we do and say that points to God in our life.  There is the understanding with respect to John the Baptist and our Lord.  With John we hear the familiar phrase, ‘I must decrease and He must increase.’  Sad to admit, I think I shrunk two more inches last year.  My alb is a lot longer now than it was when I purchased it, so something is decreasing.  I don’t want to go any further than that, but I think the point is well made clear.  The focus is always on Him, the Kingdom and that’s how they recognized Elisha.  He keeps that focus on God, a holy man of God and I hope that’s how we will be remembered in the days to come as Christians, as Catholics we are people of God because we keep the focus on Him.

The second reading, Paul’s letter to the Romans gives us sort of a rendition of baptismal theology.  ‘Being baptized into His life, suffering, death, and resurrection’ and the image of going under the water in immersion if we can use that image briefly is a dying to sin and a rising to new life and what I find particularly outstanding with regards to this passage in the commentary is that it requires a daily conscious effort to stay ethically focused on how that impacts our lives and an easier way to put that is: every choice we make must be for the Kingdom in morality, in our life, in our decisions, they may have to be involved in businesses and so forth.  It all has to do with how the Kingdom and the focus on that Kingdom is played out in our ethical and moral lives and for the early Christian being baptized meant that they were so conscious of their ethical responsibilities that they could not sin.  That’s what it meant to be baptized in the Lord and to believe in Him in such a way that they died to sin.  Sin was no more.  A beautiful image, but in some respects it’s very hard to put into reality because of the weaknesses of humanity, but the early Christians had a sense of what that meant.  When they died, they died because He died and when He rose they rose into Him with the hope of the resurrection at the end of time.  I would put that in with the context and perspective of where we are today with COVID-19, the virus and as I may have eluded to last weekend it has changed our lives I think forever.  No more theaters, movies, popcorn.  Going out to dinner is questionable because we still are concerned about the contagious speed of this virus.  Still working from home, banks only drive-thru.  Lives have changed.  Schools still struggling to find a happy medium to try to return to some kind of business and normalcy.  It’s changed our lives and I think as a result of that there has been some dying to self.  Sports.  After three months, do we really need as much as we had?  Out to dinner, families at home cooking new meals maybe, more time at home with family and extended family, children; that’s precious time that we now have and speak of church, not going to Mass for three months, being dispensed and streaming which is not my cup of tea I must add, I’d rather be where I am now.  Two dimensional doesn’t do it, but we are an incarnational people.  Sense, touch, hearing, sound, so on, that’s what we do in communal liturgy, so we missed it, but I think the COVID-19 has shown us how much we have missed being in this church seeing one another and singing and the communion line and coming through confession where we receive grace one again in the confessionals!  So there has been some dying and there has been some rising and maybe we appreciate our faith and our coming together a lot more than when it was taken for granted when time moved us from theaters to restaurants to the sports arena so fast that it’s next week now and where did time go?  So we’re rising, still rising to newness of life.

My last reflection has to do with the Gospel not wanting to get into the meaning of which Gospel writer said and used the word hate as opposed the other Gospel writer who softened it and said, ‘love father and mother more than me you cannot be worthy of being a disciple.’  That’s not the point and the question has been raised, ‘Why should I hate my father and my mother?’  It’s a valid question, but Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, ‘Always interpret scripture with scripture.’  And for the Jew, the Hebrew, the shamah was it, ‘Here O Israel the Lord our God is Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord with your whole heart, your whole body, your whole soul, mind and strength.  In essence, love the Lord unconditionally, so what our Lord is saying in the Gospel whether he uses the word love or hate is that your love for God must be unconditional.  It must go beyond love for father and mother because if you love father and mother more than me you cannot be worthy of my disciple.  That’s what that passage means and so our Lord who when said, ‘Have you come to sort of do away with the commandments?’  said, ‘No I have come to defend the commandments, to reinterpret the commandments based on the need of the father’s will being done in our life and then to fulfill them to every iota of a letter and ‘t’ and that’s what he’s doing.  There’s only one God we love unconditionally, then we love our mother and our father and our neighbor as we love ourselves.  That’s what I believe the Lord is saying and the apostles teach and what has been given to the Church is based on the authority of Christ himself, so these are his words, these are his instructions.  What we cannot change by way of scripture and tradition, what he has handed on, ‘Teach them everything I have commanded you and know that I am with you until the end of time.’  So that’s what we do in this Church, in the sacramental life of the church in this Mass in the hearing of the Word of God receiving it and then the Liturgy of the Eucharist we’re doing what he has told us to do in memory of him.  ‘Take this.  Eat and drink and then go out into the world and do what we’ve done here by living faith and putting it into practice.’  

So I would close by simply saying and leaving with us the image and perhaps the rhetorical question in the spirit of Elisha, how do we want to be remembered by others?  Do we want to be remembered as Christians, as Catholics (I use the terms synonymously) as good people who lived according to the fruits of the Holy Spirit who was obedient to God and everyone who looked at us knew that?  Or better still the rhetorical question, if someone walked into your home, would there be enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian or a Catholic or a person of faith?  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.