When we listen to the Scripture lessons at a Eucharist like this, sometimes as a result of our reflection on those Scriptures, we're urged to move into our worldly life with some action, try to change something in the world that is not in accord with the reign of God. But today, it's more that God is calling us not to go out and do some action, but to become more meditative, more reflective -- even, we could say, contemplative.
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
And that's in the first lesson today, when you find the prophet Elijah fleeing for his life because he has spoken out against the ruler of Israel, and his life is in real danger. He begins a long journey, and a couple of times along the way, he begins to faint and fall by the wayside, but God assists him, and he goes on. Finally, he gets to the Mount of Hora, which is Sinai, where God entered into covenant with God's people, and there, he finds a cave.
If you were listening, it's quite amazing how God comes into his presence -- how he experiences God -- because there's first the experience of an earthquake, a tremendous disruption of the earth. Then there's a terrible wind blowing everything away in its path, and then fire. All of these have been signs in the past of the presence of God.
This week, we celebrate the first anniversary of the launch of our podcast, NCR in Conversation. Catch the latest episode here.
But the writer of the book says, "But God was in none of those," and Elijah waited. Then we discover after the earthquake a fire, but God was not in that fire. After the fire, the murmur of a gentle breeze, something you would not experience unless you were very quiet. And that gentle breeze is a sign for Elijah, and the experience for Elijah of God's presence.
And so this message is really calling us to try to discover God, not in all the disruptions of our lives, the things that take so much of our attention every day. We won't find God often in those things. But if we take time to be quiet, go apart even if only for a couple of minutes, and try to be aware of what could be just a gentle breeze -- God at our side.
I'm sure that if we do this, if we enter into our deeper self and become aware that God is present, we will begin to experience that love and goodness that God pours forth upon us all of the time. So this lesson really is a call to quiet prayer, reflection, letting God speak to our heart. But then if we go to the Gospel lesson, we discover in a different way the same truth: God calling us to quiet, and to discovering in a deeper way than perhaps ever before the reality of the most important, one of the most important mysteries of our faith -- the reality that Jesus is son of God and son of Mary.
He's fully human, but he's also God, as the apostle John puts it in his Gospel: "In the beginning was the word. The word was with God. The word was God, and the word became flesh." God entered into human history, and so Jesus is God, fully God, but also fully human, one like us in every way except sin. And if we reflect quietly on the Gospel lesson, we discover how God is drawing us to a deeper awareness of Jesus present in our midst as son of God and as son of Mary ... as a human.
You may have noticed that, or maybe remembered that before Jesus did that extraordinary miracle in the desert that we read about last week. Jesus had gone apart to be by himself. He had just got the word that John the Baptist, one whom he loved, of whom he was even a disciple -- Jesus had been a disciple of John -- John had been executed in a horrible way, beheaded because he had spoken out against King Herod, and Jesus was overwhelmed with grief, as any of us would be.
See, this is Jesus truly human, and it's important for us to get a sense of Jesus as human, one like us that can relate to our own experiences. At that moment, he was overwhelmed with grief, as we would be at the loss of someone very special in our lives. So he had intended to go apart to pray, but then he took the boat across the lake, and by the time he got there, the people had circled the lake, and they were there. So he spent the whole day ministering to the people -- those thousands of people that were seeking his healing, his blessing, his nourishment, the food that he gives them.
And only after that day, then we hear in today's Gospel how once more Jesus wanted to go apart by himself up to pray. And so he goes up the mountainside and tells the disciples to leave. So as we listen to this and reflect on it, isn't it true we begin to see Jesus so much more clearly as one like us? He truly felt that loss of John the Baptist. It wasn't as though he knew, "I'm God, I know he's OK." No, he was human, fully human, so he had the same sense of loss that we would have.
And I think when we begin to reflect on that, it helps us in those moments when we need comfort, when we need support, to know that Jesus is like us. He's experienced what we're experiencing, and it gives us a little bit more strength and courage to accept what is happening because we do it together with Jesus, who is our human friend.
But then also in this Gospel lesson, don't we see Jesus as son of God? ... The apostles are struggling, trying to cross that lake, and suddenly there he is, present to them in a way they can see him, and they're afraid at first. "What is this? Who is this?" But then he said, "It is I. I am," the words God used at Sinai in the appearance to Moses, "I am." That's the word Jesus uses to get a sense, "This is God." And then Jesus calms the storm, but before that invites Peter to walk to him.
And Peter, very bravely at first, gets out of the boat, walked in that rough water and the winds and so on, but then he begins to doubt: "Is this really God? Is God ready at my side?" He doubts, and so he begins to sink. And Jesus, when Peter cries out, "Lord, help me!", Jesus reaches out his hand, holds him up. The son of God present to those disciples; the son of God present to us. We must take the time ... in prayer, and we will if we listen deeply, sense God's presence, experience that quiet breeze, but also know God as one who can support us in those difficult things that happen in our lives.
And to show us that this is not something out of the realm of possibility for any one of us, I just read about this week a situation in Iraq where, you're probably aware that that most violent group of -- terrorists, really, the [Islamic State], an organization trying to establish [Islam] in that area, have overtaken the city of Mosul, which is the most Christian city in Iraq, the largest number of people there.
There's an order of nuns that I came to know a few years ago when I visited, Dominican nuns, and like everyone else in the city of Mosul, they have to flee. They're in the mountains, as you may have read in the paper, desperately in need of food and water and protection. One of the nuns posted a quote on the Internet describing their situation, quoting from the Talmud, a Hebrew book of wisdom: "For we are like olives. Only when we are crushed do we yield what is best in us."
"We are like olives. Only when we are crushed do we yield what is best in us." That's a beautiful statement, and it's true, but it might be hard for any one of us to think of applying that to ourselves. "Only when we are crushed do we yield what is best in us." They're undergoing the most horrific kind of suffering. Any Christian who is captured is compelled to give up his or her faith, or be killed, so they're facing a desperate situation. And yet [the sister] can still say, she understands what she's saying: "We are being crushed, but it brings forth the best in us."
God brings good even out of evil, and in our being crushed, we're not responding with hatred, we're not responding with violence, we're trying to follow the way of Jesus, responding with love. So in our being crushed, the best of the way of Jesus is being brought out. That may seem almost impossible that any of us could experience that kind of horror and yet respond quietly in prayer, in love, in forgiveness, and yet those people there in the mountains are doing it.
Christians like ourselves responding to the way of Jesus because they understand that Jesus is there with them in their suffering, but also that Jesus is son of God, and that Jesus will ultimately bring them out of that suffering to a new fullness of life and peace.
When we take the time to reflect in quiet, experience God present in our hearts, perhaps each of us will be better prepared to understand, begin to understand the mystery of our faith, and respond to it with joy and confidence. Jesus is son of man, our brother, but Jesus is also son of God -- always there to bring us through any suffering or any trial. Quiet prayer will make us aware very deeply of God's presence as our brother and as son of God at every moment of our lives.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Catholic Church in Detroit. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]
Just $5 a month supports NCR's independent Catholic journalism.
We are committed to keeping our online journalism open and available to as many readers as possible. To do that, we need your help. Join NCR Forward, our new membership program.
Looking for comments?
We've suspended comments on NCRonline.org for a while. If you missed that announcement, learn more about our decision here.