Saturday, August 20, 2016

Aug. 21, 2016: 21st Sunday Ordinary C

Aug. 21, 2016: 21st Sunday Ordinary C

Click to hear audio homily
Ten minutes. It’s about the length of a typical Sunday mass homily. It’s also the length of time that many folks had to evacuate their homes amid rising flood waters around them. What would you have grabbed out of your home if you only had ten minutes to escape? Most folks whom I encountered at the emergency shelters had only a small backpack or a plastic bag of clothes. “Everything was lost; we will have to begin anew,” countless number of evacuees said.

The emergency shelters were filled with people of all ethnicity, languages, and economic backgrounds. The storm did not discriminate. It’s been incredible to see thousands of people who lost everything ushered to the shelters, and to watch all those who could help come to the aid of strangers. To watch this gathering of humanity, those who were displaced and those who came to their aid, was as if everyone received a call from God to assemble. In the First Reading we hear God’s desire to gather all his people, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.” Jesus echoes this call, “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.”  The cause of the flooding may never be adequately explained. We may never understand why this tragedy of sorrows entered our lives. In the aftermath of this flooding, could this now be a call from God for his people to come together?

Each time we look at the crucifix, we are reminded of the cost to Jesus to call forth people of all nations to recline at His table of sacrifice--his very body, blood, and life. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus outlines what his disciples must do to gather at his table, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” The entry through the narrow gate will involve pain and trials, St. Paul points out. “Endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as sons. At the time all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

The cost of entry for an evacuee into the door of an emergency shelter was a great personal loss and suffering. Even though the evacuees were suffering, they were grateful to be alive and compassionate to one another. As I passed by a row of cots against the wall at a shelter, three ladies who appeared to be sisters motioned me to come over.  One lady was knitting, the lady next to her was putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and the other was reading a bible. It turned out that before arriving at the shelter they were complete strangers to each other. The lady who was knitting was the first to arrive at the shelter. Despite losing her house and car, she was so grateful to be alive and to have a place to sleep. Noticing the suffering of evacuees, she began to help welcoming the new arriving evacuees. That’s how she met the lady who was putting together the jigsaw puzzle. That lady was so touched by the kindness and compassion that she decided to help at the shelter as well and met the lady who was reading the bible. She invited the newcomer to join the two of them. The lady knitting also welcomed the newcomer by giving her the sweater that she has been knitting during the three days she had been at the shelter. The three became friends and have been extending welcome and compassion to strangers. As the saying goes, “Strangers are friends that we haven’t met yet.”

Just as there was a tremendous cost to the evacuees, there was also a cost for the strangers coming to their aid. We have all watched people make personal sacrifices to help those who were affected by the flood --“Cajun Navy” plucking people from the waters, Red Cross volunteers from all across the country opening and manning shelters, and countless folks donating time, money, and relief goods. 

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate…” What did Jesus mean by this expression?  The gate  which Jesus had in mind was himself. I am the gate; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.  Through the cross Jesus opens the way for us to enter into his kingdom. But we must follow Jesus in the way of the cross. The word strive can also be translated agony. To enter the kingdom of God one must struggle against the forces of temptation and whatever would hinder us from doing the will of God (even apathy, indifference, and compromise). The good news is that we do not struggle alone. As we have seen the past several days through the tragedy, God uses each one of us to accomplish his work in our lives today. He directs our paths, tailoring our circumstances and the graces he offers us to our individual souls, which he knows so intimately. Any soul who yields to God’s grace can be a vessel of his love.

“May today there be peace within you. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.” (St. Teresa of Avila)
-Fr. Paul Yi