|Don't Haggle with God unless You're Prepared to Accept the Deal.
The Thirteenth Wednesday of Ordinary Time; or, the Memorial of Blessed Junípero Serra, Priest.
Lessons from the primary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Genesis 21: 5, 8-20.
• Psalm 34: 7-8, 10-13.
• Matthew 8: 28-34.
The First Class Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lessons from the proper, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Hebrews 9: 11-15.
• I John 5: 6-9 (in place of the psalm).
• John 19: 30-35.
The Fifth Wednesday after Pentecost; and, the Feast of the Holy Unmercenary Healers & Wonder-Workers Cosmas & Damian.
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• I Corinthians 2: 9—3: 8.
• Matthew 12: 31-36.
9:55 AM 7/1/2015 — This will be the last time we have the opportunity to celebrate the Memorial of Blessed Junípero Serra, since he will become Saint Junípero Serra when our Holy Father visits our country later in September. When Father Serra was first ordained in Spain in the middle of the Eighteenth Century, he was such a brilliant student the Franciscans sent him to the University of Padua to teach philosophy and theology; he had no inclination that he would end his days on earth tramping the coast of California where he would establish nine missions and convert thousands to the Faith; but, it is an essential quality of almost all the saints that they were able to take the unexpected and run with it. For those who choose to follow the Lord, regardless of their state in life, the road is always filled with potholes and detours. Our ability to deal with them and emerge from these trials calmly and with our heads still facing forward is a measure of our faith.
But let's turn our attention to today's Gospel lesson, in which our Blessed Lord exorcises demons from two men, casting the demons into a herd of pigs. What I always found interesting about this episode is that, after He does it, they run Him out of town, or, as St. Matthew puts it, “And thereupon all the townspeople went out to meet Jesus; and when they found him, they entreated him to leave their country” (Matt. 8: 34 Knox). Now, there could be a lot of reasons for that: He is, after all, wandering around the country of the Gadarenes who are Gentiles, which is confirmed by the presence of a herd of pigs, which you would never find in the country of the Jews. So, it’s possible they just didn’t like Him because he was a Jew. It’s also possible they didn’t think much of having a whole herd of valuable pork disposed of in such a casual manner. But one commentator I read suggested a more sinister possibility. He suggests:—and I'm quoting him—"The attitude of [the] local people towards this miracle reminds us that meeting God and living a Christian life require us to subordinate personal plans to God’s designs." In other words, if we have a selfish or materialistic outlook we fail to appreciate the value of divine things and push God out of our lives, begging Him to go away, as these people did. And I found that to be a very astute observation, because I’ve found—and perhaps you have, too—that even people who pray very much are secretly wishing that God would keep His nose out of it. I think of St. Augustine who, before his conversion, while in the midst of a life of reckless abandonment, prayed to God saying, “God, give me chastity, but not yet.”
We want things from God. We want relief from our sufferings; we want an end to our troubles; we want to enjoy good health; we want family harmony; we want success in our relationships; and God is not adverse to giving us these things. But that’s not all you get when you haggle with God. When you accept Christ into your life, your whole life changes, or at least it should. This is what our Lord meant when He said, “If you would be my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me.” In other words, it’s a package deal: the price is that you give yourself completely to Him. And there are a lot of us who don’t want that deal. I remember when I was first ordained chatting with one of the neighbors who lived in the house behind the church, and she was chewing my ear off about all of her problems, and why doesn’t God ever listen to her prayers. And as it turned out she wasn’t practicing any religion at all with any regularity, and had lived with a succession of men, both in and out of marriage, not unlike the woman our Lord met at Jacob's Well. And here she’s wondering why God has not come to her rescue. She wants the benefits of a relationship with Christ, but she doesn’t want the relationship itself, because any relationship—including a relationship with God—is a two way street.
Our Blessed Lord is always very patient with us, but He is not milquetoast. He certainly is willing to forgive us when we go astray, particularly in the Sacrament of Penance. But even the forgiveness we receive in confession implies an effort to change; that's what we mean when we speak of a Purpose of Amendment in Confession. But if we’re continually praying to God for this or that, but aren't making any effort to live a life that conforms to His plan as found in the Gospel and the teachings of the Church and of the Fathers, then what’s in it for Him?
The Gadarenes had to be impressed by our Lord casting out demons and helping these men that no one else could help. But they understood the implications of His presence among them; and, while they were happy for the two men who were now free from their demons, they weren’t willing to give anything in return; so they asked Him to leave. Which He did. God forbid that any of us, who have received so much from our Lord, would ask Him to leave.
So, on this last feast day of Blessed Junípero Serra, let us ask this great missionary priest, who brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to so many in this country, to intercede for us, that we might receive the Grace we need to be faithful to what our Lord requires of us, no matter how onerous it may seem.