14th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - B Cycle - 2002-2003

First Reading - Ezekiel 2:2-5                                                           
Psalm - 123:1-2, 2, 3-4
Second Reading - 2 Corinthians 12:7-10                                   
Gospel - Mark 6:1-6

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples.  When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished.  They said, "Where did this man get all this?  What kind of wisdom has been given him?  What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!  Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?"  And they took offense at him.  Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house."  So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

We've all experienced times in our lives when we wished that we had had the right words to say at the right time or perhaps a witty comeback when we needed it, only to think of those words hours or days after the fact.  A few months ago, I was returning from a trip overseas and entered back into the United States through Miami.  I had been told by some friends of mine in law enforcement that I should almost always expect to be searched and frisked and even questioned because I fit the profile of a terrorist - I'm dark-skinned, in my late 20s/early 30s, somewhat athletic and wearing the perfect cover - my priestly clothes.  True enough - I was questioned in Miami for quite awhile.  I was asked to verify my address, the fact that I was in fact a priest, the whole nine yards.  I wish I had thought of it at the time, but I should have said what our Lord says in today's Gospel, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house."  Ah, too little, too late.  In all seriousness, I did thank the officers who interrogated and searched me but assured them that they had the wrong guy.  I got home, eventually.

More recently, I was speaking with a close priest-friend of mine and the topic of liturgical vestments came up.  He was explaining how in the old Latin Rite, which many of you grew up with and which may be making a comeback in the near future, there was a special vestment worn by the sub-deacon called a tunicle, which is similar to the chasuable I am wearing this morning.  The tunicle is a unique vestment in that it restricts the movement of the sub-deacon so that he can only move his arms in ways that are actually proper to his function in the Mass.  I observed that this vestment seemed very restrictive.  My friend cleverly observed that in fact the vestment actually frees up the sub-deacon so that his motions are not wasted and he does that and only that which he is supposed to do.

On this Independence Day weekend, it is worth considering that the type of freedom that this priest-friend of mine was describing is exactly the type of freedom that the founders of this country envisioned.  They knew that freedom is not merely the ability to do simply what we WANT - we call that licentiousness.  True freedom is the ability to do what we ought to do.  It is the freedom that the tunicle gives the sub-deacon.  It is the ability to do what we do in an excellent way.  It is NOT merely freedom from constraint.  It is actually freedom for excellence.  It is a freedom that demands discipline, perseverance and virtue in order to work.  Perhaps another example would clarify this.  Since it is golf season, Tiger Woods can teach us something this morning.  Tiger is free to play golf well, NOT because he swings the club in any old way he likes.  He is truly free when his technique is perfect and when his swing is true and pure.  That is true freedom - freedom for excellence.  Sadly, many in our land think that freedom is the ability to do what we want, when we want, and with whom we want.  This a faulty notion of freedom.  True freedom allows us to do what we should do, not merely what we want to do. 

That is why we are here this morning.  We are free to worship God in and through the Mass - the perfect sacrifice.  We are free, not because we worship God in any old way.  Rather, we offer to God the Father, the sacrifice of God the Son.  That is why the Mass is not a human work; it is a divine work for it is God the Son offering sacrifice to God the Father. As a matter of justice, we owe God our adoration, praise and thanksgiving simply because GOD IS GOD.  This freedom of religion that we enjoy here is the basis for why the Church has always opposed atheistic communism - not because it is a failed economic system; but rather, because it prevents man from exercising his innate desire to worship God and it violates the justice we owe Him.

Of course, this freedom to know, love and serve God has a price.  We all know from personal experience what a struggle it can be to be a disciple.  Yet, we do well to consider today that all of the discipline, self-detachment and moral standards we abide by are not meant to oppress us but to actually free us to do what we ought.

In toady's Gospel, Jesus experiences a homecoming.  However, rather than celebrate Christ's entry into the human scene, those of his hometown of Nazareth can do nothing but take offense at Him because they cannot believe that someone from their midst could be as wise and as favored by God the Father as Jesus is.  These people are constrained by the limitations of their merely human conceptualizations of who God should be and how He should act.  The Jews of Nazareth are not free to be open to the tremendous gift of that Jesus truly is.  They cannot believe that someone as ordinary as Jesus, a carpenter from their own town, could be so much more.  For their hardness of heart, Jesus does not work many miracles there.  It isn't that Jesus can't work miracles, but He sees it fit to punish his own people by denying them the benefit of all of his divine power.  In the same way, God will not force us to believe Him, but unbelief has consequences.  Our Lord's experience at Nazareth also teaches us that preaching to our own family is very, very difficult, if not altogether ill-advised.  We should be reminded of the old Franciscan Maxim - to preach homilies at all times but only to use words when necessary. 

Isn't it so often the case that God works in ways well beyond our merely human comprehension and yet we often fail to see His hand working in our midst because God's plans don't always fit our plans or because God will chose difficult circumstances to work His plan.  From a merely human perspective, suffering, for example, can be viewed as only tragic and something to be avoided at all costs.  Those with a supernatural perspective are able to transcend the merely human and perceive the great spiritual fruit that may be derived from what a merely human perspective would deem as sad or unfortunate.  This is why St. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians can say that he is content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints for the sake of Christ.  St. Paul sees that it is often in human weakness that we can be the strongest in our spiritual lives.

Amidst the barbeques and baseball games of this holiday weekend, I pray that we each take pause to consider the freedom we enjoy in this country - a freedom for excellence.  May we never fall into the trap of thinking that our freedom is merely licentiousness.  May we grow in our appreciation that what our military men and women overseas are risking their lives for is not simply a freedom which allows us to do what we want.  Rather, that they are risking their lives to secure a freedom that will allow other people to have the capacity to do what they ought - to live in such a way that allows them to pursue life, liberty and happiness.  Finally, through the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we each be freed of our slavery to sin and live in the freedom and glory of the children of God, recognizing Him in the midst of our trials and difficulties.

May God bless America and may God bless all of you.

Praise be Jesus Christ!  Now and forever!

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