Saturday, June 18, 2016

God the...Father? - A Father's Day Homily on the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Parish of the Precious Blood

Homily for the
Twelfth Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
June 19, 2016

Do you remember what your first word was? With rare exceptions, the answer is no. But lucky for us, there are people in our lives who do…and for many of them, especially our parents, their child’s first word is a moment of great joy. It’s probably the most concrete sign for parents that their child is healthy and growing up…but let’s be honest, the real reason mom and dad so look forward to that first word is because they are hoping it’s going to be “Mama” or “Dada.” What greater gift can a precious little child give to his or her parents than to use their burgeoning power of speech to express their childlike love for mom and dad by uttering their names first? It’s beautiful. Now every so often you get a rebel child – like myself – who destroys his parents dreams by choosing a different word. For me, it was a simple, but clear “No!” that I first spoke in this life…but the vast majority of little tykes will honor one of their parents. We start off this life, even before we’re able to take our first steps or formulate coherent thoughts, by expressing our fundamental and instinctual understanding that this life is all about relationship.

What’s both absolutely crazy and utterly amazing, is that the Eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the very One through Whom all things were made, would not be deprived of this experience. Because He took on flesh and became like us, indeed became one of us, He would have gone through the same thing. One day, out of the blue, after months of goo’s and ga’s and other little baby noises, the little Child Jesus would have come to formulate His first human word. Maybe it occurred in the stillness of the night where no one could hear it. Maybe it occurred while He and Mary and Joseph were shopping at the market. Maybe it occurred when He was playing with a toy that Joseph made Him or while Mary was changing Him. However it happened, whenever it happened, no matter around whom it happened, I would bet my life that the first word the Christ Child uttered was Abba - Father.

Today, in our country, we are celebrating Father’s Day…a day for us to thank our dads for the gift of life, for the care they’ve given us, and for the love they've shared with us. No doubt we’ll throw some steaks on the grill, let dad play some horseshoes, and shower gifts of cheap tools and bad ties on him today, but I think that the best thing we can do for our fathers on this Father's Day is to meditate a little bit on the meaning of fatherhood and to grow in our love for the way that our dads have lived theirs out. And I can think of no better way to do this than to reflect on the meaning and significance of the fact that Jesus calls upon God, and dares us to call upon Him, as Abba - Father.

It has become a rather popularized practice in modern Christianity to speak of the Aramaic word Abba as meaning “daddy” or “papa.” Thus when we hear in the Gospels that Jesus uses this word in respect to God, we can’t help but think of it as a mushy gushy sentimental expression. We like it because it helps us to think of God the Father as some great big eternal Teddy Bear, and it brings us comfort to think that this is the image of God that Jesus is showing us. Unfortunately, while there might be some truth to this, the greater significance of Jesus calling upon God as Abba has less to do with making us feel good and more to do with revealing the very nature of the Godhead. Throughout the ancient world, and indeed in every non-Christian theistic religion in our own day, to conceive of God – the one than which nothing greater can ever be thought – as “father” is completely ridiculous. He is almighty; He is holy; He is eternal; He is creator; He is all-powerful and all-knowing; He is all of this and so much more…but father? Fatherhood is an earthly experience…it’s too common and insignificant and doesn’t seem to adequately express the ultimate transcendence of the Creator of the Universe. Maybe we can get away with saying that God is like a father, just as He is like a rock, or a mighty ocean, or other similes. But to say that He is Father, well that’s tantamount to blasphemy. After all, you can only have a father if you have a son or a daughter, and so to call God “Father” is to call oneself the “Son of God.” But this is exactly what Jesus did. And it’s what landed Him on the Cross. The significance of Jesus of Nazareth calling God Abba - Father is not to entice us towards sentimentalism, but rather to give us the greatest and the most revolutionary revelation of Who God is. We can attribute many things to God, we can conceive of His power and might and so on, but Jesus reveals to us that over and above all else, God is Father. And because He is Father, and because His Fatherhood is the most definitive expression of His Essence, it must be the case that He has eternally – without beginning or end – been Father. But to be Father means that God’s own Self is defined by relationship…relationship with a Son. God the Father and His Son, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. This is what Jesus reveals to us when He calls God Abba. And the eternal Abba sent His Bar (in Aramaic), His Ben (in Hebrew), His Son to us, that by becoming one with Him, we too can call God our Father.

Fathers are great. They possess within themselves the power and the ability to generate new life. They carry on the family name. They provide food and shelter and protection. They pick us up when we fall down and they even knock us down a few pegs when we need it. They offer us wisdom and advice. They empower us and encourage us to grow up and to do great things. And the best of them show us how to love and to be loved in a way that speaks right to our hearts. Our earthly fathers, as human and imperfect as they are, each of them plays a role is helping to witness to us the greatest mystery that the human heart can contemplate in this life: that God loves us, not as some far off Supreme Being, but as Father. He has high standards for us, He wants the best for us, and He calls us to greatness. He can be tough with us sometimes, but His love is all-pervasive and ever-so-intimate because we belong to Him as His children.

In our Gospel today, taken from St. Luke, Jesus asks His disciples Who they say that He is. Peter replies that He is the “Christ of God.” In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Peter provides an additional word in His response: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Today we call upon Christ as the Eternal Son of the Father, and we ask Him to make us more and more like Himself so that we can be in ever-more perfect union with the One that He, and we, call upon as Abba, as Father.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

"What's in it for me?" - A Homily for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Parish of the Precious Blood

Homily for the
Eleventh Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
June 12, 2016

How many times in the course of any given day do we ask ourselves – either consciously or subconsciously – the question: what’s in it for me? If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s probably pretty constant. We’re always assessing the pros and cons of any given choice we have to make, or any choice that we think we have to make, and trying to figure out if we’re going to benefit or not. Now often times this is good and necessary…thinking about our own health and well-being when choosing to eat an apple or a doughnut is important…bargaining while buying a new car is smart…and carefully thinking about the good or adverse effects of any significant life decision we have to make is virtuous and to be commended. In other words, so long as the question – what’s in it for me? – stays in the realm of prudential, deliberate, and virtuous discernment, it is a good and necessary question. But, when it enters into the realm of the heart, it can quickly become deadly.

Our Lord tells us plainly that the entire law of God for us can be summarized in two great commandments: first, that we love God; and second, that we love our neighbor. There is a hierarchy here, an order that we must obey if we are to follow Christ with any modicum of authenticity. We are called to love God, and the things of God, over and above all things and all others. And it is only when we genuinely try to fulfill this first commandment that we can begin to fulfill the second, that is to love those who God loves: our neighbors. This second commandment compels us to look at the world in the way in which God Himself looks at the world, and to see every beating heart in every man, woman, and child, as an object of our love. Whether they be father or mother, son or daughter, family or friend, ally or enemy, we are called to love them in simplicity and in truth by willing what is good for them. Often times we hear more modern Christians celebrating these two commandments as some great reduction of expectations from us on God’s part, but the reality is that the true observance of these two commandments is more demanding than the observance of the 613 commandments of the Old Law. These two commandments amount to nothing less than a death sentence. To fulfill them, and to thus enter the Kingdom of God when our earthly lives are complete, we have to sacrifice ourselves – first to God, and then for each other. This is not for the faint of heart…and it’s not nice, fluffy Christianity. If you want to live eternally in the life of the world to come, then you must die now in this world. But how can we do this in any real way if our first love is ourselves? When that question – what’s in it for me? – infiltrates our hearts, the game is over. There’s no room for God, and thus no room for anyone else. That question then becomes the voice of the Evil One, who lures us and tempts us to act on it. And when we do, we sin. Every time. In big ways, in small ways, but still, every time. The Christian life is all about love, but always in the right order. God first, others second, ourselves last. No exceptions.

In our readings today, we encounter two great sinners…two people who put themselves first. Both were entrenched in the snowballing effects of sin…and it should come at no surprise that sexual sin was at the core in each of them. David is the first sinner we encounter. He watched Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, bathing on her roof and he began to lust for her. This was when the question entered into his heart: what’s in it for me? Instead of rejecting the question and using this as an opportunity to turn his attention elsewhere, he shirked his love for God, and the proper and ordered love he was called to have for both Uriah and Bathsheba, and then he acted on his lustful desires. When Bathsheba was found to be with child, David’s selfishness took him to even greater lows. He became consumed with covering up his folly with acts of deceit, and when these didn’t work, he had Uriah killed. David, the King of Israel, the adulterer, the liar, and the murderer, all because he put himself first. Then we meet the anonymous woman in the Gospel. Saint Luke only tells us that she was a “sinful woman,” but considering her notoriety and Simon the Pharisee’s visceral reaction to her, we can safely assume that her sinfulness, too, was found in the realm of the flesh. Carnal desires, because they are strong in us, can often lead us down bad roads…and no doubt this woman had herself become entrenched in them. Placing herself first, she too shirked her love for God, and the right and ordered love for the men she had been with, and likely gained for herself the reputation of a prostitute and adulterer. Both David and this woman asked, and ruminated upon, and acted upon the question: what’s in it for me? And contrary to what they thought, their own self-love brought nothing but destruction and folly.

You and I are not that different from either David or this woman. We may or may not commit the same kinds of sins that they did, but each one of us is battling selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-love. Each one of us destroys, in big ways and in little ways, the lives of others by loving ourselves first. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Our Lord knows our weakness, and He provides us the means and grace by which we can learn to love as we ought. His death on the Cross – itself the greatest act of love history has ever or will ever know – actually and truly effects in those of us who seek refuge in Him the true forgiveness of our sins, the forgiveness of our selfishness, and the restoration of what we have destroyed. And His death on the Cross gives us the example we need to move forward…if our God, innocent and without blame, can die for us…why can we not die for Him and for those whom He loves? Every soul admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven can be nothing other than a martyr.

Both David and the woman in the Gospel, after seeing how selfish they had been, made a concrete act of the will to re-order their love. David repented and cried out, “I have sinned against the Lord!” and the Lord restored him to wholeness. The woman in the Gospel threw herself at the feet of Jesus, and placed her entire livelihood in His hands. She surrendered all her earthly wealth to Him as she anointed His feet with the costly perfume. She surrendered all her earthly fears and concerns to Him as she bathed His feet with her own tears. And she committed herself to loving Him above all by kissing His feet. And the Lord restored to her to wholeness. David and this woman both died to themselves, ceasing to ask what’s in it for me? but rather what’s in it for God? what's in it for my neighbor? May their conversion story be ours as well, as we continue to muddle through this life. May we learn to love God first, our neighbor second, and ourselves last of all. This is what it means to be Christian. This is what it means to be holy. And this is what has to happen if we are to inherit the Kingdom of God.