The 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK
June 23, 2002
Jeremiah 20:10-13 + Romans 5:12-15 + Matthew 10:26-33
It is Jeremiah who speaks the first words to us today. For me and for St. Mark Parish it is blessing and a fortunate assignment of texts. Jeremiah is one of my favorite personalities of the Old Testament. He is a model for any who would seek to explore the prophetic call into which we are all baptized as a people of faith. He is a man of choices, who lives with courage his relationship with God: a man who grows, who suffers, who is thoroughly human, yet always tuned to the divine call, the Word of God, and prayer.
I am beginning a new time in my life. I come here this week grateful for you and the warm welcome you have extended with compassion and understanding. As a priest, I have moved only five times in 35 years. I tend to stay and go for the long haul. Three years at the Old Cathedral in Downtown Oklahoma City as my first assignment at twenty – five years of age. Four years at Mt. St. Mary High School as a teacher and administrator. Five years at St. Joseph Church in Union City. Six years at St. Thomas More Parish in Norman; and most recently, fifteen years at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral in Oklahoma City. For fifteen of those years, I was Director of Youth Ministry and Director of Vocations for fifteen years as well. I told the people last week at the Cathedral that I had begun to expect that my move from there would be announced in the Obituary column of the Daily Oklahoman, and that I would go out of there in a box rather than go out carrying boxes. Perhaps it shall be so here, but this move has been different from all the others because of so many of you. Never before have I anticipated a move with such a warm welcome. I received emails, phone calls, and hand written notes extending a welcome, offering to help with the physical side of such a move, and simple, personal kindness. I am deeply grateful, and you have revealed more about yourselves and the spirit of your parish than you might have imagined.
At the same time, I am sorry that you must go through a transition that you did not ask for, were not consulted about, and are left to work through on your own. It is not my style of leadership. I am uncomfortable with it, and you will find in time that what you think and how you feel matters to me. I shall listen to you. At the same time, as the leader I may not always choose to do what you want, but it will not be because I did not listen, and you will always deserve to know the reasons for my decisions even if they are contrary to your expectations and wishes.
What all of us have right now is an opportunity to grow, but it is a choice we can make, but growth does not happen unless we choose to make it so. We make choices every day. We choose whether to feed and exercise our body in a healthy way or let it grow old and frail. We chose whether to engage in community or to cultivate isolation. We choose whether to develop a healthy relationship with God through prayer and God’s Word, or to fill our days with worldly activity. We choose whether to live “awake” by sharing and standing up for our beliefs and our faith, or to spend our days in slumber.
Most of the time, the choice to grow brings some pain. We’re physically sore from a workout, emotionally confused, and sometimes spiritually uncertain. We might be called a “health-nut”, a “crack pot”, or worse. If our chosen lifestyle or spiritual path differs from that of family and friends, we risk ridicule, rejection, physical attack, and sometimes death. We hear this experience echoed in the today’s readings from Jeremiah, Romans, and Matthew. Our God is one who encourages growth and has an endless supply of lessons for teaching us this fine art. Putting aside fear is the first step into the divine classroom; and in its place, we are invited today to put faith. Rather than be sucked into the crises and drama of everyday life, of trying to control the people, places, and things in our life, with might with simplicity and love choose to grow.
I will take Jeremiah as a model for ministry and leadership here among you. I would like for his prayer to be our prayer today. It is a prayer of confidence and hope. It is a song of praise and thanksgiving. In one form or another, the words “fear” or “afraid” appear over 700 times in the sacred scriptures. In almost every case, the appropriate response to fear is faith: faith that trusts in and hopes in God’s power to save, to deliver, and to protect. Jeremiah knew what it was to be afraid. His whole career was riddled with countless fearsome experience. He feared he was too young. He feared that he would not know what to say or how to speak to his contemporaries in God’s name. He feared facing others with the truth of their sinfulness. He feared to speak God’s Word. He feared not to speak it and when he did speak it, he feared the consequences.
Like Jeremiah, disciples of Jesus are charged with speaking God’s word of truth, and like Jeremiah they often bare the brunt of disdain because of it. Yet Jesus sends them and sends us gifted with grace and a message to proclaim from the housetops. I ask you to come with me a little further into the deep water of discipleship and the prophetic life of faith. It is a faith that conquers fear, or at least keeps it at bay. Together, we can become prophetic and real deep-water disciples: “Fear imprisons, faith liberates, fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages, fear sickens, faith heals; and most of all, fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life, but faith rejoices in its God.