Here is my this Sunday's Homily. Not my best, a little too moralistic and not as scriptural as I'd like, but it was convicting to me as I prayed this past week...
One aspect of my life as a priest that I immensely enjoy is visiting nursing homes. Elderly parishioners, with wisdom, suffering, joys and perspective enrich my priesthood. Whenever I visit, I remember a brother priest’s story of his own visits. He had one parishioner, we’ll call her “Ethel,” who was very sharp in her old age, and she was over 90. Ethel’s body was failing but both her mind and mouth was spot on, so she would visit with Father. Ethel was frustrated by her failing strength. Her hands, which had raised her large family, held her husband, and spoiled her grandchildren mourned for her past years.
One day, in frustration, Ethel said “Father, you know how St. Paul says that we are the Body of Christ? Hands and feet surround Christ our Head? Right now I feel like the appendix of the Body of Christ. I feel useless.” My brother priest looked at Ethel and loved her and said: “Ethel, you couldn’t be farther from the truth right now. You have the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus- to be at the heart of the Body of Christ. You are free to be where all of us should be.”
As my priest friend realized, poor Ethel was stuck in our American vision of a valued life. Ethel thought that because she was unproductive by the world’s standards, she was now useless. Ethel worried and was anxious now that she was unable to care and serve the way she had lived.
Jesus gives Ethel and all of us a different vision of value. Value comes not from productivity, form practical measures, but from the worth God has placed in each of us.
All of us Americans, you and I, have a great practical sense. “Productive! Practical! Multi-tasking!” We use cell phones, Blackberrys, iPods (yes I have one!) to stay productive, even away from work. We have the Internet and even tabbed web browsers to double, triple our output. We fear that if we are not productive members of society then we will have no value.
St. Luke’s Gospel is great at challenging the assumptions of the world. Martha is so worried, “Lord don’t you care?” Jesus does care and does help Martha- but in an unexpected way. It is as if Jesus says, “My love, my care for you is not based on your efforts, the only effort you need is to sit at my feet and hear my words, that is the only needed thing.”
To sit at the heart of the Jesus and know his love. That is the source of all Christian vigor and virtue. Mother Teresa, perhaps the greatest saint of our century, knew this truth. She fed the poor, card for the dying, and received the orphan, working at a pace that few of us could match. She and her sisters began each morning with a Holy Hour of prayer and then the Mass. She knew from where her strength came- not her own energies but Christ’s!
There is a story that one day, as their efforts expanded amongst the poor of Calcutta, a sister came to Mother with a request. “Mother, we are so busy and there are so many poor to love and serve. Could we miss the Holy Hour and so get to work sooner?” She wanted to be more productive, more practical in her day. Mother Teresa looked at her and loved her and said, “If we are that busy, then we should spend two Holy Hours!”
How often are we tempted to put the practical in place of God? As a priest I have taken a vow to pray the Liturgy of the Hours throughout my day: Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer. Five chances to be enriched by the Word. I’m often tempted to rush these moments of prayer- “How fast can I get it done, how fast can I return to my real work?”
There is no more real work than to “waste time” with Jesus in prayer. Maybe you are tempted the same way? Whether it is a funeral, a wedding, a baseball game, you might think it more practical not to go to Mass. If Jesus really is who He says He is, if the Mass really is what Jesus says the Mass is, then there is nothing more practical or productive than to waste time finding the Church and going to Mass.
So this Sunday, as you approach the Heart of Jesus in Holy Communion, ask Him to give you the strength, the courage, the imagination to be impractical. Don’t fear being labeled as an “appendix” by the world, for it means you are at the heart of Jesus.