Saturday, July 6, 2013

All are called to the harvest | Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.”  The temptation for me today, especially as a vocation director, is to take this passage and preach about the need for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  And that would be an appropriate application of these words of Jesus.  But, as a young person reminded me recently, we always hear about priestly and religious vocations; what about everyone else?  And, I think that today, when we hear Jesus speak about the harvest and the need for more laborers, He isn’t speaking only about those who would follow His call in a formal way.  Jesus today is absolutely talking about “the rest of us.”  He means to call each and every last one of us who believe in Him and in His message.  We are all called to be those laborers who spread His message around the world; not matter what it is that we do in life.  Let me share a few examples today.

Sr. Margaret Mehren is a Franciscan nun who teaches high school English in South Africa.  But, she grew up in a family that was very anti-Church and anti-Catholic.  As a teenager, Margaret had read atheist pamphlets that tried to prove that the Bible was false and that Christianity was dead and no longer relevant for the modern world.  Then, one day, out of curiosity, she picked up the Bible to see for herself what it was all about.   After a while, she put it down coming to the conclusion that the pamphlets were right.  The Bible didn’t make sense; and so, it couldn’t be true.  She would do this more than once with the same effect, but then, one night, she picked it up again, this time turning to the Gospels.  And this time, not only did it made sense, but it had an impact that changed her life.  She later wrote about this experience, “Something happened to me that night when I read the words of Jesus.  I knew He was alive!  I knew He was there in the room with me, even though I could not hear or see anything.  Jesus was real, more real than anything around me.  I was no longer alone.  My life was no longer a dead-end street.”  Eventually, Margaret became a Catholic, and not long after that, she became a nun and continues to teach poor young students in South Africa.

Consider another example.  Fr. Anthony de Mello, is a Jesuit priest and writer on spirituality from India.  He grew up near Bombay, India in a Catholic family.  One day he came home from school and asked his father if he could become a priest.  His father said, “No, you are my only son, and I want you to carry on the family name.”  Then, after a span of 14 years of having no children, Tony’s mother became pregnant.  When she was rushed to the hospital for the delivery, Tony ran the four mile distance on foot.  Arriving out of breath, he asked his father, “Is it a boy or a girl?”  His father smiled and said, “Tony, you have a brother!”  Tony said, “Great, now, can I become a priest!”

One final example.  Ann Landers, the famous advice columnist, was asked once by an interviewer, “What is the question that you are most frequently asked by your readers?”  She answered, “Most ask, ‘Why am I so lonely?’”  The interviewer asked what the solution was.  Her answer, “I tell them, ‘Get involved.  Do something good for other people.’”  And the people who need help are all around you everywhere you look.

These three examples of Sr. Margaret, Fr. Tony and Ann fit beautifully today.  Jesus tells us, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.”  What Jesus means is that the world is full of people in need.  From the students that Sr. Margaret teaches to the millions of people who read Ann Landers to members of our own community and even our families, people are looking for help; looking for connection; looking for compassion; looking for God.  The problem is that there are too few people willing to offer it.  There are too few Sr. Margaret’s and Fr. Tony’s in the world today.  Never before has there been such a need for compassionate people – people like you and me – to step forward and help Jesus with the harvest.

Pope Francis reflected on this on Wednesday, the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. The Gospel gave us the famous passage where Thomas places his fingers in the wounds of Christ’s hands. Reflecting on that image, the Pope said, "Jesus reveals Himself in His wounds. His whole body was clean, beautiful, full of light, but the wounds were and are still there.  The path to our encounter with Jesus are His wounds.  We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because and is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. 'Oh, great,’ you say, ‘Let's set up a foundation to help everyone and do so many good things.’ That's important, but if we remain on this level, we will only be philanthropic. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. We have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis when he embraced the leper. The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed. To enter into the wounds of Jesus all we have to do is go out onto the street. Let us have the courage to enter into the wounds of Jesus with tenderness and thus we will certainly have the grace to worship the living God.

The temptation may be to make this a homily about the need for more priests and religious.  The danger of that is to make it seem that it is only their responsibility to “enter the wounds of Jesus” as Pope Francis said. But, our Gospel today reminds us that it is the responsibility of us all – whether we are priests, deacons, religious, popes or any of the myriad of beautiful, wonderful Baptized members of the Body of Christ – we are all called; we all have that vocation to reach out to the world around us – especially the world in need; especially to touch Christ in His wounds.  If we have the courage to do it, we will be changed and changed for the better by it; changed to be more like Christ.

Never has the harvest been so great and the workers so few.  The Lord once again sends each of us today to proclaim the Kingdom of God; to live the Kingdom of God; to be the very Kingdom of God in the midst of our world; to enter His wounds.  It is the call - the vocation - of us all!

May the Lord give you peace.