Homily – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Most good stories contain three important parts: the Beginning, the Middle and the End. In the simplest of terms, the Beginning introduces the characters and events that shape the rest of the story; the Middle is where we witness the characters develop; and the End reflects the choices made by the characters throughout the story. Today’s readings, when viewed as a whole, are an example of a good story with a Beginning, Middle and End.
Our First Reading today (IS 66:18-21) is a story of God gathering his chosen people to himself and preparing them to go out and proclaim his glory to people who have never heard of Him before. This is the beginning of our Salvation Story – Our good, good Father calling us to share in His love and to “proclaim his glory to distant lands.”
Today’s Second Reading (HEB 12:5-7, 11-13) takes place in the middle of our Salvation Story. It is a story of how we are shaped and formed by the Father. The author of this Letter to the Hebrews reminds us to “not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when we are reproved by him.” That can be a difficult thing for our “modern” ears to hear, as the word “discipline” has so many definitions in the English language.
The word “discipline” can mean:
- To punish (as you would someone for not obeying rules or laws)
- To coach (as to help someone act or perform in a certain way)
- To train (as to learn to do something)
In this reading, God’s discipline is about coaching and training, not to punish.
So why does God discipline us? Because he wants us to be what Matthew Kelly describes as “the best version of ourselves.”
The Olympic Challenge
For the last couple of weeks, the world has been following the Olympic competition. It is always fun to witness the fantastic athleticism of the competitors. It is a celebration of the God-given gifts these athletes received. But winners in athletic competitions don’t rely solely on their own natural abilities. To achieve “greatness” in their field, they must be disciplined. Olympic champions appreciate:
- The important of practice
- The value of coaching and learning
- The benefits of growth and progress
The attributes of an Olympic champion are the same as for those who want to grow spiritually and to develop a deep relationship with God. It takes practice. It requires coaching and learning. It requires a willingness to grow. Not to be perfect, but to make progress (which is all that God asks of us).
Many Olympic competitions are decided by the smallest measure (fractions of time, millimeters of distance). Our Gospel story today (LK 13:22-30) teaches us that admittance into heaven may also be decided by a small measure (what Jesus describes as our ability to pass through the narrow gate).
Training for the Narrow Gate
What does it mean to “enter trough the narrow gate”? It means living a holy, God-focused life by following God’s commandments and the teachings of His Church. It means developing a strong, genuine relationship with God. And it means being strong – not just physically strong or mentally strong, but also spiritually strong.
So, how do we become spiritually strong?
A couple of years ago, the parish gave parishioners a copy of the book, “The Four Sings of a Dynamic Catholic,” written by Matthew Kelly. The premise of the book is that “Dynamic Catholics” (who Kelly describes as the top 7% of the Catholics he studied) demonstrated great signs of discipline. In his work Kelly identified four characteristics of Dynamic Catholics:
- They practiced their faith. They were a people of prayer, praying regularly and giving prayer a priority in their life. Some had a prayer ritual for the morning, some prayed a Rosary each day. Some attended daily Mass. Prayer was a discipline they developed and valued.
- They were continuous learners. They invested time each day to learn more about their faith (not great, prolonged amounts of time, just 14 minutes or so every day). They would read scripture or other spiritual writing. They listened to Catholic CDs, podcasts and radio programs. This continuous learning was a way for them to explore the Way of Jesus and the teachings of His Church.
The two remaining characteristics of Dynamic Catholics are:
- Generosity. They were filled with a spirit of service
- Evangelization. They invited others to share the love of God with them.
I know that regular prayer has made a big impact in my life. And even before I entered into formation to be a deacon I had a voracious appetite to learn about our faith. Listening to Catholic Answers Live and other programming on Catholic radio were a great help in building up my knowledge. Reading books about Catholic spirituality helped me put into words the longings I had in my heart. Practicing my faith through prayer and dedicating myself to a system of lifelong learning has been a great blessing in my spiritual life and in my service as a deacon.
Gut Check Time
So, how doe you measure up with Dynamic Catholics?
- Do you give a priority to regular prayer?
- Do you take time to read and learn about your faith?
- Are you a person of service?
- Are you willing to share your faith with others?
We all want to get to heaven. These are the type of things that will help us enter the narrow gate that leads to heaven. Our relationship with God, our openness to the Holy Spirit, and our willingness to grow in our faith will support us in that journey.
I pray that you will take time this week to reflect on these thoughts and to take action.
- What is the ending to my salvation story that I want to write with God?
- What am I being called to do to ensure that my story ends with the best ending possible …
And they all lived happily ever after!
Be at peace and know that you are loved,