In this wonderful homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly shows us the way of the Messiah, as Jesus came to change our hearts and teach us a new way to love.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Second Reading: James 2:14-18
Gospel: Mark 8:27-35
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
Today’s subject is very interesting in many ways, but the most interesting part is watching Peter when Jesus turns and says,
“Who do you say that I am?”
and the lovely Peter says,
“You are the Christ”
meaning the Messiah, also meaning the Son of God, the Holy One of God, the one who has come in to change the world.
And just after that, Jesus begins to tell him, “Yes, I am the Messiah, and now I will tell you the way of the Messiah.”
For I’m sure they thought there was going to be a grand parade from the top of Palestine all the way to Jerusalem, and in great triumph the Messiah would be hailed as the new head of the people of the Jews, and everything was going to be fine at last.
And then Jesus says to them these words.
“He began to teach them”
He’s serious now. He’s not teaching the people, he’s just going to teach his disciples. And he’s going to teach them every single step of the journey all the way to Jerusalem. And, of course, we know what is going to happen at that time in Jerusalem, because Jesus already tells his disciples, but they really can’t hear it yet.
And this is what he says:
“the Son of Man”
That’s the Messiah from Elijah the Prophet, “the Son of Man.”
“the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days.
He spoke this openly.”
And so Peter said, “Oh my goodness,” and he takes him aside and he says, “Lord, you can’t do that. I mean you are going to destroy them. If this is going to happen to you, the Messiah of God, this is the end of the world. How are we going to do anything?”
And Jesus says to him, he stops him very abruptly and quickly he says, “You are a Satan.” Can you imagine that? After he had made him the head of the disciples, to hear the words: “You are a Satan.” A devil, the prince of devils, the one who holds people back from God, the one who stands as stumbling block in front of good people who want to come closer to the mercy and love of the Lord — and you are one of them.
And he means, in your sweet little words you do not understand the problem. The problem is not who’s going to win, the problem is who’s going to lose and in losing be able to change the hearts of the people.
For Jesus came to change our hearts, not to design new ways of conquering, and new ways of appearing even more arrogant than we already are, and new ways of triumphing.
Jesus is going to show us the one lesson that we keep refusing to learn. And from now on, everything that he says and does can be summed up in one sentence: I’m going to teach you how to love. Not the way man loves. First, I am going to teach you how to see. I am going to teach you how to see the world as your Father sees the world, to love the world the way your Father loves the world. This is the only love that can bring you satisfaction, peace, joy, contentment and all the hungers that your heart hungers for. And only this you have to learn, but it’s a very difficult lesson.
To love the way God loves. How does God love? Well, God loves by creating a lovely world, a beautiful world, a wonderful world. And He gets a bit lonely and He decides He will share it. He will share it with someone, people who will be able to appreciate it and love it and care for it. And in that way His love comes full circle. He loves them, and they will love the world and not just manipulate it and control it.
And, of course, poor Adam is sitting there in the Garden of Eden when God says, “I have made this lovely world just for you, that you might appreciate it and tend it and care for it.”
And Adam says, “What do I get out of it?”
Because there’s another hunger that is in our hearts, and it is the enemy of love, and is what Jesus is trying to save Peter from falling into, and that is selfishness: to have everything for ourselves, more of this, more of that, not thinking of what the price is, whether it comes from the ecology of the world, or the ecology of your own hearts. There is this little itch in the back of your thought that says unless I possess, unless I have, unless I take this for myself, for my children, then and only then will I find that I have accomplished my dream.
Love is very strange. God loves. God does not take anything. That’s the first rule. God takes nothing. God loves. Everything goes out of Him towards you. Everything that comes from Him, whether you are good or bad, evil or a saint, the rain comes down. The snow doesn’t come down in places where it is going to fall on the good and not on the bad. The beauties of creation are for all. All these things because God is a giver.
And then He says to us, “This is how much I love you. I am a giver and I give you My Only Son.” God so loved the world He gave His Son that He might come among us, and all those who could accept Him and become one with Him and one with His love, these will have eternal life.
And so now Jesus is the giver. And he comes among men and he works. And he’s a human being just the way we are, but there is one difference: he is faithful to his Father. No matter what happens he will be faithful to the love of his Father. And he knows in loving his Father and being faithful to that love, the possibility of mankind is to redeem itself.
And so Jesus becomes the lover, and he preaches and he teaches and he cares. And how does he love? He forgives. How else does he love? God forgives, he forgives. God loves, he loves. God cares, he cares. And not turning it back to God, but turning it to the people.
And so he tells us, this is the way of the Messiah: to learn how to love and not count the cost. You must give yourself if you are going to experience what is good in life.
He says, “If you do not learn how to lose your life in giving to others, you will never find it, because finding your life is in the heart of finding the people you love.” You will only find yourself when you start going out and not hoarding things in. Very simple lesson, very difficult to learn.
Sometimes we think that serving God is…
And we should serve, because God is love and God serves. God loves, God serves. We love, we serve.
But we think that maybe what we should do is come to church every day and pray. Well, that’s certainly something that’s very important for us. But that’s not what’s important for God. We come here to pray to God for our own wellbeing, not to add anything to God. But, when we go out into the world and take what we have learnt from Jesus, how to love and care for others, then God’s dream is fulfilled, because God is a dreamer, just like we are dreamers.
And that is the point of becoming a Christian. So God loves, Jesus loves. God serves, Jesus serves. Christians love and Christians serve.
Saint Teresa of Avila, she was a wonderful lady. She reformed the whole convent, and about thirty convents in her time going all through Spain and these different places. She had a great sense of humour, too. And she was a great dancer. She used to dance and sing and tell funny stories. And she would be very, very, very, very strict about what the nuns should learn and what the nuns should do.
And one of the things was a nun came in to her, a young novice, and she said, “Oh Sister, I just love to spend my whole time in the chapel speaking with Jesus and talking with Jesus and loving Jesus. And I think I could be here for the rest of my life and would not have to move, so great is it and so wonderful it is to experience this love.”
And Mother Teresa winks at her and she says, “You’ll find God in the kitchen.” What she meant was when you start serving the meals and cooking the food and working and sweating and doing this for others, then your love is accomplishing something. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray. It means we get the energy in prayer to learn how to love.
The second thing about God is He plays no favourites. His love goes to everyone.
Someone said to… This little boy, many years ago, he said to his father, the little boy said, he said, “Does God love Adolf Hitler? You know, the one who killed all those people.” And the father said, “Well, um.” The little boy said, “Will God forgive him for all the terrible things he did?”
And then his father couldn’t answer him so he said, “I think this is what happens. I think what happens is when Adolf Hitler dies, God is going to meet him at the gate and he’ll say, “Adolf, you’ve been a very terrible person and nobody will talk to you and nobody wants you. But I’ll go in to the Jews that suffered the most under you, who are all happy in heaven now, and I’ll ask them will they forgive you.”
And, of course, God goes in, and they’re in heaven, and they say, “Of course. Everything is forgiven.” And that’s how Adolf Hitler gets to heaven, according to this eight year old, nine year old little boy.
But the idea is there, you know. God does not choose and judge. We judge, but God does not judge. God accepts what we do and accepts the way we are. And He helps us to struggle to become better, but He’s not judging us. He knows what He has made. God only makes good things. He doesn’t make garbage. Whatever He creates is good, because He is in what He creates. He’s not going to judge Himself.
The other thing about it though is this, that if everybody is equal, that means that we’re called to love everyone. God loves everyone. Jesus loves everyone. Why do we pick and choose? Why do we have pecking orders of love, and some are welcome and some are not? This is not learning how to love as God loves.
Some people are fairly… I’m going to end this now because it’s getting on a little bit. But I’ll tell you a story, a personal story where I am the villain in this one, not the hero by any means. And after I went through this, it’s a true story, after I went through this, I realised how much I had to learn how to love.
Now, I used to be the pastor of a parish in Chinatown, New York. And next to Chinatown was what they called the Bowery, the street of forgotten men. It was a collecting place at the time for alcoholics, where they could find solace in each other’s company, believe it or not, because they’d been kicked out of every place. These were considered hopeless alcoholics. And you would see them standing in the doorways, and sleeping in the doorways. And they would all be sharing a bottle of cheap wine. But they gave whatever they had to each other.
And Bernie, I made friends with Bernie. He came in to see me one day and he was one of these people. And he would tell me this story. And his story would change each time: how he had been a miserable whatever and ever. But you couldn’t help but love Bernie.
And he’d come in. And one day I was fed up, and he’s kind of dirty and filthy and never washes and all the rest of it. So I’m about to leave the office and go upstairs after a miserable day where everything failed, everything was going wrong, and there’s Bernie, sitting in my office, and he’s saying, “Father Hanly, I’ve come to tell you a story.”
I was so… I said, “Bernie, will you get out of here. I’m not listening to any more stories.”
And he got up, and in quiet dignity, and a little smile on his face, he got up, he walked over to me, he shook my hand, and then, he was walking out and he turns back to me and he says, “You know, Father, you have to listen, you’re a priest.”
I never got over it.
That’s what we have to do. We have to know where the superior people really are. Because it’s the voice of God and Bernie telling me that I have to listen and you have to listen and we all have to listen in order that we might find God, for in the heart of Bernie is God Himself. And if God is to be served, it’s not in grand parades. It’s going to be… He wants to be served in the people who want Him and need Him the most. And it’s usually the difficult cases that are the hardest.
I say this because, from that time on, I always thought of Bernie as my saviour. And that God spoke more through Bernie than I can speak about God for another fifteen to twenty minutes, but I’ll spare you that.
Today’s lesson is very simple. God loves the world. You learn how to love the world and you’ll be happy. God cares for people. You learn how to care for people and you’ll be happy.
I think it was Dag Hammarskjold, who was the head of the United Nations during the Sixties and a wonderful man, he said, “The burden you’re carrying,” he always said, “the burden you’re carrying will only become lighter when you’re carrying somebody else’s.”
Think of that now, “The burden you carry will only become lighter when you carry someone else’s burdens.”
This is very true. Everybody that is a social worker, that works with people, they are filled with problems themselves, but they know that whenever they go out to the needs of others and take on other people’s burdens, they become lighter of heart, happier, and more aware of what life really means.
It’s a simple lesson. And Jesus taught us. You are given until you die and then after you die there is eternal life? No, there is life in the whole process of giving, and eternal life is only a continuation of that life that has started in your heart when you begin to become a giver. And when you go out and share the burdens of others, you will find your own burden is very light.
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This homily was delivered on 13th September 2009.
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