Today’s readings introduce Jesus as a prophet and they touch on also what the role of a prophet is in this world. The readings challenge us to face rejection and hardship with the courage required as Christians. First reading touches on one of the great prophets of the Old Testament, Ezekiel, and he was sent by God to deliver a message, a prophetic message, to the Israelites while they were in exile. They were living in Babylon. And during this time, he faces great rejection and persecution. God says, “I’m sending you to a stiff-necked, obstinate, stubborn people,” right? And if you didn’t know that the readings are just set by Rome, there’s a [inaudible 00:01:23] he said, “Father Jeff,” He’s speaking right to us, eh? Stiff-necked people of San Front, or Rose Valley, or Kellington. It’s every town in Saskatchewan, every person. You and I.
At times, when we hear even what’s true, and what’s worse is when we know it to be true but we don’t yet want to change it about our lives for whatever reason, especially for immoral issues. We hear it, the word of God, we hear the truth. We even hear people say it. And we balk at it. We’re not ready for it yet. But yet it still needs to be said, okay? So I was telling the other parishes, I said, you know it’s not wrong, but someone says something like, “Oh, Father Jeff, he’s getting fat.” Okay. Well, it’s true, it is, just as they give me a piece of pie, right they say that, right? Well, I need to hear that, it’s like, “Okay, we’re concerned,” but you say it with love, right? And I use that example.
I can think of 1000 things I have had to say to someone. And I have to say that it’s true, “This has to change.” Or, “This isn’t right.” And you say it with compassion and you say it with love. But our world does not need more nicey-nice people or Christians, okay? As Christians we’re called to speak the truth, especially about the things of God, the things that require conversion, both in our lives but also in others’. To speak truth with great love. It’s not easy.
Second, in our second reading of Saint Paul, he says that he is experiencing the persecution, the struggles. And he describes that as a thorn in the flesh. A messenger of Satan that humbles him. Okay. And before you think well, he was unmarried first of all so you know so it’s not a spouse, if the women are wondering that. No, the thorn in the flesh is something else. And we don’t really know for sure what it is. Saint Paul just, he references it in his letters. He says this thorn of flesh that wears upon him, that makes it hard to fulfill his ministry as that prophetic, that apostle of our Lord. And the thorn of flesh could have been many things.
Some say it was maybe a speech impediment of some sort. Because he writes in his letters and in Greek he says, “Sometimes I come to visit these communities that I’ve written to, and they say, ‘You write with such big letters – bold hand,'” like he’s a great writer – “‘but when you finally arrive'” – when he arrives to that little parish, that church, they say it’s sort of a letdown. It’s like he doesn’t speak as well as he writes. It’s sort of like, oh, you hear great things about Father so-and-so coming as a speaker or to be the new priest, shows up and you’re like, “Eh, not all he’s cracked up to be.” Right? Well that’s a little hard, right?
So how does Saint Paul deal with that? How does he deal with that struggle? He reminds us that we’re called to be humble. That ultimately, as I shared over the last couple of weeks, too, you know what the hard thing is as a priest and it should be for any Christian, whether it’s our prayers or our work, often we don’t see the fruits of our labors. So Saint Paul, he has this line and I have to be reminded of it often when you sort of doubt is, are things taking effect? It’s like a farmer, if you plant the seeds and you never get to see the harvest, right? And Paul says, you know, I might have planted the seed,” Apollos, the next priest, next bishop waters, but it’s God that provides the growth.
So the lesson Saint Paul reminds us is it’s, it’s ultimately it’s God who is building up His kingdom. We are messengers, we’re prophets, but it’s His message not my own. That’s the mark of the prophet, too, is that we speak the truth and the story of God. And God will provide the growth. So don’t despair when you don’t see the immediate effects of your words or your life in action. Because God will provide the growth.
And in the gospel, thirdly, we have the story, a great story, where Jesus goes back to His hometown. And He lived in the northern country area of Nazareth, the City of Nazareth in Galilee. And He went to His own blood, His own kinsfolk. So of course He’s Holy God but He’s Holy Human. And His humanity comes from the bloodline of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So He comes to this town and they knew Him as this son of some obscure carpenter, right? And they reject Him. They know that the Messiah has to be born from the line and City of David and in Bethlehem, right, not from Nazareth, not from Galilee. And they question Him. And Jesus ultimately is rejected by those most familiar to Him.
This is the theme I want to reflect with you upon. This story also reminds me of a joke. When I first met with the bishop after I was first ordained four years ago, the personnel committee talks and tried to figure where to put the priests, and the bishop talked to me and said, “Okay. We’re thinking of putting you at Holy Spirit.” Which is the parish where I was born and raised. I grew up my whole life there, and so [inaudible 00:06:32]. And he’s like, “But I’m well aware, Jesus kind of warned, a prophet’s not accepted in his hometown, or amongst his family. What do you think of that? Are you gonna be okay?” And I was like, “That’s all right, no one there, including my family, is going to think me to be a prophet. So it’s not going to be a problem, right?” And God provides the strength.
And in a way it was a wonderful experience, because when I went back there as a priest, or even when I went back as a chaplain to the high school – I just graduated some years before, even the same principal that was my principal, some of the teachers that taught me were still there, they were on staff with me as a chaplain – and it provided me the grace, almost the grace of healing to see my parish, my family, my school, things that I might have had a lot of uncharitable thoughts about, to see them with the eyes that hopefully God sees them as. And to fall in love in a way with where I came from. So there’s challenges, but there’s also blessings in going back to those most close to you.
This is the challenge, okay? Walk with me for a while on this thought. It’s a paradox. That the things we’re most familiar with, and not just things but people, we don’t always cherish them the same way. Because we routinely encounter them day and day. We routinely come and do the same prayers again and again. We lose the sense of the awesomeness, the beauty, the truth, the goodness that’s in those we’re closest to. We don’t realize how much we . . . that’s why great explosion of emotion comes out at funerals, from a bunch of people often that have neglected relationships they should cherish the most. I say that now, not in the context of a funeral, but that’s what happens. It’s a volcano of emotions with broken relationships with people so close to you, your own blood, and we’ve separated and it comes out at those funerals.
You know people that live in New York; they’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty. Or people that live in Anaheim, not Saskatchewan Anaheim but California, never been to Disneyland, right. You go talk to those people and they’re like, “Ah, I hate Disneyland.” Right? They never been there and they live in that area. You know sometimes the things and the people we’re so close to; we forget how important they are to us. A priest can forget how important it is to pray. A priest can forget how sacred it is the consecration that he offers, you know five times this weekend, that consecration, that his very hands is the living body and blood of Jesus Christ.
When we’re praying and we’re strong, I mean for eight years you’re trying to get through the seminary crap that we got to go through. And you long as a young guy, I say, when I shall be able to be a priest to celebrate Mass or have baptisms, weddings. I want to be able to say that Mass and every Mass of my priesthood as if it was my first. How much care, how much attentiveness, how much love we pour out. Okay.
On the flip-side, for you to relate with. How beautiful it would be if couples cherished and every day really saw in their spouse, in their children, that image of the amount of love they had when they first met, when they first entered those vows of marriage, when they first held that child in their hands. It becomes hard, as we get cracked and old, or as those children some days say such hurtful things to their parents, or do such things, to remember that, the depth of the beauty that was given. But it’s still there, and we have to cherish that as people, as priests.
So secondly, the message. So there’s that paradox there. Not to take for granted the great gift God gives to us daily, and in a special way, through that sacrament, through the Mass we celebrate. How beautiful, how good it is to be here. Second, as prophets we’re reminded that God often speaks to us in very familiar ways, in the neighbors, the family we meet. But yet it’s the hardest to listen to it, to the truth, when it comes from someone that loves you.
You know when I’m at, I was at [inaudible 00:10:46] and some guys they were coming, driving by or they say something. They’re trying to be funny but they insult me as a priest. I don’t know them, I don’t really care, it doesn’t really hurt me. If someone I love or respect insults me, it breaks your heart. That’s a wound. Well Jesus, when He went to His hometown, I was just reflecting with this this weekend, that it must have hurt Him so much that His own loved ones, His own family, are the ones that rejected Him the most, right? And this is hard, and He cherished that. He didn’t get angry but He left, and He offered up His life for them on the cross.
It’s hard to see in those we meet, and those who we even resemble the truth that God is speaking to them. They are prophets for us, at times. And also, we’re called to be prophets in this culture and sometimes we have to uproot and challenge people, even those closest to us. Friends as we continue this Mass and every day of our life, cherish the gifts God gives to us daily. Practice that presence of God. In those we meet, in those things, those beautiful gifts we encounter in our faith, in our prayers. Try to cherish the love and the presence of God in those moments.
As we continue this Mass, we lift up our prayers, we ask for healing, and we ask that we might hear God’s prophetic voice, His truth, for us listening.