Fr. Paul's Homily
I grew up in rural southern Indiana and knew the roads of Floyd Knobs like the back of my hand and even today can picture in my mind the twist and turns. However, it is quite different when I came to a new parish as a priest. Streets, avenues and roads are new and often times I am asking the question, “Give me directions to your house.” Often times I have to be reminded over and over again because I get one subdivision confused with another.
I use this image because frequently people are asking, “Give me the directions to find Christ.” They want to find him, but they are not sure how to do so. I’d like to talk about this for a few minutes.
We start with Jesus’ words today in the Gospe: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him up on the last day.” So, finding Jesus begins with the “being drawn” by God, the Father. Our God is a searching, drawing, attracting God. He searches for everybody. In Ezekiel, God says, "I myself will search for my sheep." Francis Thompson, an English author, referred to God as "the hound of heaven," pursuing us as persistently as a hound tracks a deer. In Luke 15, Jesus asked, "Which one of you, having 100 sheep, if you have lost one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?" That's the character of God--always seeking the sheep that is lost. Referring to himself, Jesus said, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."
Why did you come to church this morning? Sure, you might say, “Well, we always come to church on Sunday,” and indeed, that is a good thing. But someone must have nudged you in this direction, and maybe for a few of you, the nudge was a big one!! God the Father is the great Nudger! We receive little hints, suggestions, longings in our hearts that are directing us toward the Lord. We sense a nudge to stop by chapel one afternoon to pray; we get a suggestion from someone to attend a Bible Study at the parish or join a small church community; I see the Bible laying on the shelf at home and I receive a nudge to open it up. How often might it happen that when we express a “Should” in our lives (like, “I should pray more often”), we are actually experiencing God’s Grace, moving us toward Jesus. Again, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him.”
Second, coming to Jesus always involves a letting go, a surrender. This is the part that always is difficult. Too often we want to find Christ, but we don’t want to give up anything, such as our control, our anger, bitterness, our “toys”, our self-centeredness. In professional golf, Bernard Langer, has always been a respected member of the tour. He tells the story that in 1985, when he won his first Master’s tournament in Augusta, GA, his entire life was golf, golf, golf. He showed a little attention toward his wife, and an occasional nod toward God. One day he felt a nudge to attend a Bible Study run by another professional golfer, Larry Moody. Several weeks later, Bernard Langer realized how messed up his life was and he decided to put Christ first.
What did Bernard Langer give up? He surrendered his total obsession with golf. He reversed the order, so that it became God first, family second, golf third. We can become obsessed about many things and often we must let go of an obsession. In my journey toward Christ, is God nudging me to surrender something to him that is blocking the path? Am I willing to let Christ be number one in my life?
Finding Christ involves spending time with Christ, body, mind and soul. What does it mean to spend time with Christ in my body?
My body needs to bring me to prayer. I have to sit down and engage in conversation with God. Our bodies help us DO things. Our bodies move us from a ‘SHOULD’ to an action. In other words, we need to be physical present to God. It is also through our bodies that our senses become engaged…seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling, hearing. And each of these senses can move me into a concrete experience of God. I was camping last week on Monroe Lake, south of Bloomington. We had one particularly beautiful morning when the air was clear and cool and the blue sky was pronounced. My sense of sight, smell and feel brought me closer to God.
Finding Christ involves physically doing certain things: sitting down to pray, visiting chapel, spending time outside, coming to church, allowing my senses to be a connector to the Lord.
Second, we need to bring our minds to Christ, our intellects. We need to engage the questions of life through the eyes of Scripture and our faith. People who are involved in bible study or faith sharing will draw closer to Christ, for they will grow in their understanding of Christ and his teaches, which then can give meaning to the questions of their lives. Certainly, it is true that all questions do not have answers through religion; sometimes we need to acknowledge the Mystery of God and the mystery of life. Yet, many issues of faith can find deeper understanding and wisdom, thereby helping us when we are confronted by individuals or situations that challenge our faith.
Too often, as Catholics, we have fallen short in this area of intellectual growth in faith. Since Sunday School for adults has not been a strong tradition, Catholics have often felt that their religious education ended when they were confirmed. It always is amazing how often in RCIA, when a Catholic sponsor attends the classes with their candidate, that at the end, it is the Catholic who talks about how much they have learned and how they have grown! How is your mind being engaged with Christ?
Finally, we must bring our hearts to Christ. This involves an encounter in prayer when we find Jesus, heart to heart. Bringing our heart to Christ occurs when I am no longer fearful of Christ, but trust in his love for me. I can bring to him my fears, my hopes, my doubts, my gratitude. This encounter with Jesus can occur at any time, any place. For Bernard Langer, the golfer, not only did he need to open his mind to the Lord through Scripture study, he also needed to open his heart to the Lord.
What has aided me in opening my heart to the Lord is having a picture of Jesus before me in my prayer space. It is a large picture that was given to me many years ago. It helps me talk to Jesus, experience his love and be present to him. You might find this helpful also, whether it be a picture or a crucifix.
So, going back to our opening questions, “What are the directions to finding Christ?” (1) we need to pay attention to the nudges that God the Father is giving us to seek out his Son; (2) we need to be willing to surrender those things that are standing in the way of this relationship; (3) and we need to come to Christ with our whole person; body, mind and spirit.