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Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 31, 2011 (18A)
By Fr. Joseph Pellegrino
During the past number of summers I have been involved in three intense spiritual experiences for Teens. They were also intense for the people who work with the Teens, including the priests, including myself. Every summer we bring about 60 Teens to the Steubenville Youth Conference, usually attending the conference held outside of Atlanta, GA. We also bring 8 to 12 Teens to the Life Teen Leadership Conference, held for the last few years at Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas. Life Teen International also asks me to help by being one of the staff priests at Cove Crest Camp in Tiger, Georgia.
I want to begin today by writing about one occurrence common to all three experiences. At the conferences and the camp a number of people, young and not so young, say that they feel spiritually drained. They know they will leave the conference or camp feeling the Presence of the Lord, but within a few days or weeks they will once more be drained. And they, and I, ask, how do we nurture the Presence of the Lord back in the real world?
I noticed that one young lady, not of our parish, complained about finding it difficult to pray, but back at home she was involved in activities that destroy the presence of Christ. It reminded me of a priest I once counseled who told me that he was requesting a leave of absence from the priesthood because he found it so difficult to provide for the people. At the same time, he was involved in an immoral situation with another person. Well, of course he would find it difficult to preach and administer the sacraments. And so do I and all priests when we are immersed in sin.
There is a Latin phrase, Nemo dabat quod non habat. It means, “You cannot give what you do not have.” It applies to all Christians, not just priests. Even if someone were to give a talk or preach a homily using a well known source, the talk will fall flat if it is not accompanied with the spiritual presence of the Lord. Perhaps you also have witnessed someone giving a talk with such a pained look on his or her face that you have to wonder if the person might be spiritually constipated.
Now there are people who might feel empty, but who in reality are full of the Presence of the Lord, just devoid of feelings. Blessed Mother Theresa describes this in her book, Come Be My Light. Read the book and come to a deeper appreciation of her sanctity. She felt nothing, not even the presence of the Lord, but kept serving Him in the poorest of the poor and in her sisters. For the vast majority of us, though, feelings of emptiness are real because we have not drunk from the fountain of the Lord’s Love, or because we’ve let sin into our lives and pulled the plug on the reserve of God’s Presence.
The readings today help us recognize the gifts we have been given and the responsibility we have to give them to others. The first reading is from the second section of the Prophet Isaiah often referred to as the Book of Comfort. Come to the water, you who are thirsty. Come eat you who are hungry. The greatest happiness in God’s creation is given to us freely. But we have to come and drink, come and eat. The second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, tells us that no one and nothing can take this Source of Life from us. “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Anguish, or persecution, or nakedness, or famine or the sword. Nothing can take Christ from us. We alone can reject Him.
We are called as Christian to come and eat, come and drink. We are told to guard against those forces within us and around us which would destroy the Presence of the Lord. So we do all this, and then we are told, “My gifts are not for you alone.” The people are hungry and thirsty. Give them what you have to drink and eat.” It is here that we realize that our responsibility to stay united to the Lord has a deeper dimension then our own needs. We need to be united to the Lord out of a responsibility to the spiritual lives of others.
Parents know this so well. They know that when they brought children into the world or into their homes they no longer had the luxury of being concerned only with their own spiritual lives. They now had the obligation of leading their children to the Lord. In fact, leading their children to Christ became an essential element of their own spirituality. They looked at their lives and eliminated anything that would prevent them from bringing Christ to their children.
We need to realize that the presence of the Lord is not ours to hoard. He is given to us so that we can bring His Love to others. Therefore, some of the things we do, some of the places we go, some of the things we say, all have to be eliminated not just for our own good, but for the good of those to whom the Lord is sending us.
There is a profound liturgical action that takes place at the ordination of a deacon. After the bishop lays his hands on the candidate and says the prayer of ordination, and after the deacon is vested, the bishop hands the new deacon the Book of the Gospels and says, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” No one can proclaim the gospel unless he believes in the gospel and lives these gospel beliefs. This is emphasized in the ordination of deacons, but it is fundamental to all Christians, ordained or laity. Everyone here is called by Christ to proclaim His Gospel. All of us are empowered to do this. All of us are sustained in this mission particularly through the gifts of the Eucharist and the guidance of our Mother Mary.
We experience the need of others. We recognize our emptiness, our inability to help. We go to the Lord, and he gives us the ability to provide. This is the good news, the Gospel. For nothing can prevent us from being united to the One who provides for us.
How beautifully positive the readings are for today. God will always provide. We have only to go to Him, stay united to Him, and we will receive bread for His people.