Sunday Sermon for August 3, 2014, the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Is 55:1-3; Rom 8:35, 37-39; Mt 14:13-21
In the second reading today St. Paul asks the question of what can separate us from the love of Christ. He then gives a few examples of what people might think will separate us from God; anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword. He states that in all of these we conquer overwhelmingly. How?
When St. John asks what it is that conquers the world, he says that it is our faith. Jesus told us that we do not have to fear because He has conquered the world. So, if we have faith in Jesus we are conquerors through Him. More than that, if we have love for Jesus, then we are united with Him. He experienced distress, anguish, peril, and many of the other difficulties that we face. So, we are united with Him in our suffering.
Part of our problem is to learn to be united with Jesus in times of trouble. So often, when we are in the midst of some kind of problem, we turn away from the Lord and either turn in on ourselves or we turn to something that seems pleasant in an attempt to cover up the pain. By now we should have figured out that not only does this not work, but it actually makes things worse.
In the Gospel we see the people seeking the Lord in the midst of their need. Some among the people needed healing, but others just needed to hear the words of our Lord. He took care of everything for them. After the people had been with Him most of the day, He even provided food for them all to eat.
In the first reading God asks through Isaiah why we would spend our money on what is not bread and why we spend our wages on what fails to satisfy. This gets right to the point of what I mentioned in the last paragraph. We spend a lot of time and money on what fails to satisfy. It might be food that we use, not for the purpose of sustaining life, but as a comfort. It might be alcohol, gambling, internet, “toys,” or any number of things that might seem pleasant for the moment, but fails to satisfy what we are really seeking.
What are we really seeking? In the immediate it is often a way out of our pain or our circumstances. While our Lord can provide that, we know that He often does not take it away. Instead, He requires us to face the pain and address whatever is causing us trouble. The consolation is that He is willing to walk through it with us. Of course, at the time this may not seem like a consolation; it certainly is not what we would prefer since we just want the pain to be gone.
If we are honest with ourselves, our means of running away from the pain does not take it away either. It simply provides a few moments of something pleasant that distracts us from the pain temporarily. However, while we can keep coming back to the same things during our trials, those things do not actually go through the trial with us. Only Jesus and, maybe, a few good friends will do this.
By walking through the pain with us, we draw closer and closer to the Lord. We learn to trust Him and to rely on Him. Depending on the cause of the problem, sometimes, once we have gone through it with the Lord, the pain is behind us forever. At other times, He uses the pain to strengthen us and, especially, to strengthen the virtues of faith, hope, and charity within us.
This brings us right back to where we started. The difficulties in our lives can cause us to separate ourselves from Jesus if we turn away from Him in anger or pride. However, the difficulties themselves cannot separate us from the Lord; only we can choose to separate ourselves from Him.
On the other hand, the problems in life can serve to bring us closer to the Lord. Again, it is not the problems themselves that bring us to Him, but the choice we make in the midst of our troubles. If our faith, hope, and charity can grow, which only happens in the midst of trials, then we grow in union with the Lord and we conquer with Him.
This is why St. Paul can say that no creature can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Truly, nothing outside of ourselves has the power to tear us away from God and His love. It is only our own will that can choose to adhere to Jesus or separate from Him. Pray for an increase in faith, hope, and charity and conquer overwhelmingly with Christ!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.