Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
It sometimes comes as a surprise that I’m not naturally a people-person. I’m in the people business, after all, and so sometimes it’s assumed that I’m naturally gifted for that kind of work. But that’s definitely not the case. From the time I was in sixth grade until I was a sophomore in college, I had a general aversion to being around people, especially people I didn’t know. I often didn’t know what to say in social situations, and it caused me a great deal of anxiety. Whenever a conversation went wrong, or I caused someone to feel awkward or uncomfortable, a tape would begin to play in my head: “You’re pathetic. You’re a failure. You’ll never overcome this.”
As the socially awkward kid in school, I experienced a lot of rejection during this time in my life. I had a close group of friends who appreciated me for who I was, but it wasn’t enough. I longed for a deeper love and acceptance, one that could free me from my self-hatred, one that could heal me and make me whole. In many ways, I felt like the robbers’ victim in our gospel: life had beaten me up and left me half-dead. I needed a Good Samaritan to find me and show me compassion.
Because I was socially awkward, and hated myself for that, I had a hard time believing in God’s love for me. No one seemed to love me for who I was, so how could God? These doubts led me to shutting God out of my life. I still went to Mass on Sunday, but I stopped going to confession. If I prayed during this time, it was out of a sense of desperation and despair: “Where are you God? Why did you make me this way? Why don’t you love me?”
In early October of my freshman year of college, I heard a homily that changed my life. The priest spoke about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the need to receive Him worthily. I was cut to the heart and realized in that moment that I needed to be reconciled with Jesus before receiving Him again. And, so, for the first time in my life since second grade, I didn’t receive Holy Communion at Mass.
I was afraid, however, of going back to confession, and so I found myself at Mass the following Sunday in the same situation as I was the weekend before. This time, a different priest gave almost the exact same homily. It felt like a conspiracy—a divine conspiracy. It felt like I was playing chess with God and I had just been checkmated. It was one of those, “Okay, God, I get it!” moments. And so, I once again made the resolution to go back to confession, and this time I kept it.
Returning to this Sacrament, and then receiving Holy Communion fully reconciled with Jesus, was my encounter with the Good Samaritan. Finding me beaten up and half-dead, the Lord poured oil and wine over my wounds and bandaged them. He made me know, through these saving encounters, that I was loved, valued, and cared for. Without a doubt, I would not be a priest today had this not happened.
You know, we hear so many times in our lives, from so many different people, that God loves us. But these are only words, and until they become flesh in a sacramental encounter with the Lord, they don’t always leave an impression on us. This is why the Word became flesh and why He left us the Sacraments to perpetuate His presence here on earth. The Son of God could have saved us virtually, from the comfort and safe distance of heaven. But He chose to assume our human nature and walk the same road with us. He chose to save us in a fully human way.
Our gospel today is the story of Jesus coming to save us. The descent from Jerusalem to Jericho represents the fall of man. Sin has left us beaten up and half-dead. The priest and Levite represent the Law and the Prophets. Although good in themselves, they are unable to save us. They can tell us what sin is, but they can’t help us overcome it. Only Christ can, who is the Good Samaritan. Seeing our plight, Christ is moved with compassion. He pours oil and wine over our wounds, which represent the Sacraments, and He takes us to the inn, which represents the Church. The two coins which are given to the innkeeper represent the price of our salvation, which Christ pays for us.
We are the robbers’ victim. And to show His love for us, Christ came to save us. He then left the Sacraments for us, and established the Church as a inn for weary travelers, in order to preserve the possibility of a saving encounter with Him. The question is, will we let Jesus encounter us? Will we let Him stretch out His hand and show us His mercy? Although Jesus could have saved us virtually, He chose not to. He chose to save us in a fully human way, in a way that involves our bodies and our senses.
One of the things I most excited to offer you as your new priest is the gift of the Sacraments. Since I am here full-time, I hope to make these Sacraments as readily available as possible. Beginning in August, there will be daily Mass offered Tuesday through Friday, as well as First Saturdays. There will also be additional time offered for confession. The Anointing of the Sick and the Last Sacrament should also be easier to receive, since I will either be here at the church or just a phone-call away.
My hope and prayer is that all of us will utilize these Sacraments. God not only wants to tell us that He loves us; He wants to show us that He loves us in a tangible way. Perhaps you have experienced some rejection in your life, even as I did. Perhaps you too have a tape inside your head that plays whenever you mess up. Perhaps there’s some struggle that makes you feel like a failure. Perhaps there’s a sin that you don’t think you’ll ever overcome. Perhaps you feel beaten up and half-dead. Wherever you’re at, the Lord wants to meet you there. He loves you where you are at, but He loves you too much to leave you there. He wants to heal you and make you whole. In the Sacraments, Christ comes to meet us. May we allow Him to find us and show us His mercy. Amen.