23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Preached September 9, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

Things have been very difficult lately. It should be evident now that we are living in extraordinary times; it is not your imagination.  Crazy wildfires and other natural phenomenon apart, the human world seems to be falling apart, every part of the world. In some places there is open warfare and it has been going on for years with no realistic hope for any resolution; other places there is general chaos and violence; but it is really hard to say that there is any place in the world that is truly at peace.

In the midst of this general chaos and confusion many who still bother to come to Church come precisely seeking a refuge from all the chaos; they come seeking peace. Yet now the Church herself is plunged into a deep crisis; so deep that I would daresay that the like has not been seen since the Protestant revolution 500 years ago.

At the same time, every one is trying to get on with their own personal and family life, and each one has their own personal struggles; maybe with finances or a job, maybe with spouse or with children, maybe with some health issue; inevitably a swirl of interpersonal conflict or drama is interwoven with these struggles.

In the midst of all the immense turmoil and confusion we should call to mind the promise of our Lord, Jesus Christ, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Mt 24:35)

Now as Pastor of St. Peter’s I am deeply affected by what is going on in the Church at large, but my ‘post’ is this parish; that means that I am here for you. So long as God keeps me here I will do by best, by his grace, to serve you in the Gospel, regardless of the flames of spiritual wildfires.

To serve you in the Gospel: that means to help you find Christ in your life and to follow him on the way of the Cross, together with your brothers and sisters in Christ, amidst your particular struggles and challenges so as to reach finally the heavenly goal that is promised to those who persevere to the end. (cf. Mt 24:13) Or to set it in terms of the whole parish, we could use our new mission statement, “To walk the path of love in the Body of Christ, which is the Church, nourished by the Body of Christ, which is the Holy Eucharist.”

The Lord says to those who are frightened; be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. He comes with vindication; wait for him in hope.

What is happening now, in the world and in the Church and in our personal lives, belongs to God’s providential plan. That means also that he provides each one of us with the grace and help to live precisely in this time of history. So we can say that Donald Trump is not in charge. Vladimir Putin is not in charge. Mark Zuckerberg is not in charge. Jeff Bezos is not in charge. Jesus Christ is Lord.

What we see happening in the world today is that he is bringing things to light, bringing them to judgment. History is not the judge. Jesus Christ is the judge of the living and the dead.

He comes with vindication; he comes with divine recompense. We need to know that there is nothing that we can lose in this world and there is nothing that we can suffer in this world that he cannot restore to us sevenfold in the resurrection of the dead.

In that light we want to turn our attention to today’s Gospel in which Jesus himself, through his living word, speaks to us hear and now today. He speaks to us as he once spoke to the deaf man in the Gospel; he speaks to us because in many ways we have become deaf. He says, Ephphatha, which is Be opened! Be opened to what? He does not want us to be opened to all the lies and deceit and manipulation that is going on around us; he does not want us to be opened to the spirit of the world; he does not want us to be open to relativism. He wants us to be opened to the word of God.

In many ways we have become deaf to the word of God; often we hear only the words of men. The words of men are noise and confusion. We live in the ‘information age’. We are bombarded by information; so many words; so many images. They are more than we can absorb and more than we can digest. There is no order in it; no rhyme or reason. All the ‘information’ – too much information – attacks us like a barrage of bombs and breaks us down, wearies us, makes us want to give up hope.

Let me suggest cutting back your use of Facebook and the Internet this week. Let me suggest taking some time to read the daily Mass readings, even if you are not attending daily Mass. Let me suggest stopping by the church some time this week and spending a few minutes quietly in the presence of the Lord.

We need to be opened to hear the word of God, a word not of information, but of truth, a word that can only be heard in silence and in prayer.

Cardinal Sarah, the Prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship, writes, “The word is not a sound; it is a person and a presence. God is the eternal Word, the Logos. This is what Saint John of the Cross declares in his Spiritual Maxims when he writes, ‘The Father spoke one Word, which was his Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence it must be heard by the soul.’” (The Power of Silence, pg. 23)

All the words of God have been spoken so that we might learn to hear his one eternal Word. That one Word became flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and rose again from the dead, and that same Word has become for us our Bread in the Holy Eucharist, all so that we might learn to hear the one Word spoken in the silence of eternity. In order to hear that Word we must have silence within ourselves. Jesus says, Be opened. We need to have an interior that is empty, open, and silent.

The Virgin Mary, from her Immaculate Conception, was the one who was most truly and perfectly opened to receive the word of God; her heart was a tabernacle for that word; indeed we could say that she heard the one eternal Word, spoken in the silence of her heart before she gave flesh to that same Word in her womb.

We need to turn to her so that she might help us and teach us to listen to the one Word spoken in silence and received in faith.

She will teach us the practice of prayer that is meant to lead us into that interior silence where we can truly hear God speaking.

Yet, when we try to practice prayer we meet with so much in the way of distraction; so much noise. That is because we do not have a secure refuge in our own interior, in our heart. We have no interior cloister where we have learned to be alone with God.

Often we cannot enter and establish that interior cloister because it has become like Eden that was lost. As the cherubim with the flaming sword blocked the road of return to the tree of life, (cf. Gen 3:24) so the sword of our own guilty conscience leaves us with no peace. It is easier to distract ourselves in the garden of God’s creation than enter into the presence of God. (cf. Gen 3:8)

Nevertheless, the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ has extinguished the flaming sword of the cherubim. Now, through the regular practice of confession we are able to turn away from sin and follow the new and living way Jesus opens for us through the veil that is his flesh. (cf. Heb 10:19-20) By turning away from sin and practicing virtue under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can learn to enter into ourselves and build that interior cloister.

In sum to find the way into that interior cloister we need the word of God handed down to us through Scripture and the Tradition of the Church; we need the religious discipline of prayer, fasting, and the works of mercy; we need the grace that is given to us in the Sacraments, especially the Most Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The Psalmist says, I will listen for the word of God; surely the Lord will proclaim peace to his people, to the faithful, to those who trust in him. (Ps 85:9)

Jesus says, Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (Jn 14:27-28)

That peace of Christ is given to us in the deep cloister of interior silence where the Father speaks his eternal Word within us.

When we hear that Word then indeed will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then will the tongue of the mute sing in praise of God.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.