12th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A

     Our bodies have a unique ability to preserve our lives. When we place our hand on a hot stove, our brain quickly sends a signal through our body and before we can rationalize it, we pull our hand off the stove. When we perceive a danger, without thinking about it, our blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate increase, preparing us either to fight the danger or run away? Even more impressive is how the human body responds to terrible trauma. First, the body shuts itself down to protect its vital organs and then quickly begins to heal. It never ceases to amaze me how in a matter of a few short weeks a traumatized body can move from knocking on the door of death to starting the long journey down the road of recovery. Ultimately when our bodies recognize danger, they naturally close in on themselves and focus solely on getting past the danger.

     Our bodies have a unique ability to preserve our lives. When we place our hand on a hot stove, our brain quickly sends a signal through our body and before we can rationalize it, we pull our hand off the stove. When we perceive a danger, without thinking about it, our blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate increase, preparing us either to fight the danger or run away? Even more impressive is how the human body responds to terrible trauma. First, the body shuts itself down to protect its vital organs and then quickly begins to heal. It never ceases to amaze me how in a matter of a few short weeks a traumatized body can move from knocking on the door of death to starting the long journey down the road of recovery. Ultimately when our bodies recognize danger, they naturally close in on themselves and focus solely on getting past the danger.

     While self-preservation is certainly a good thing for our natural bodies, we were created not just to survive but to flourish. And if we want to flourish we need to take a step back to see the eternal picture and recognize that we are destined, not just to survive in this world, but to flourish forever in heaven. While our bodies may be able to preserve us for a while on this earth, they simply cannot preserve us for eternity. Just as our bodies naturally preserve us for this life, we need to open ourselves to the Lord and allow Him to preserve us for eternal life.  But “are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? … No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose … absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation… Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.”[1]

     One of the biggest surprises in my first two years as a priest is how broken our world is. Daily I encounter people who are facing unimaginable tragedies, anxieties, worries, concerns, and self-doubts. Sadly not knowing where to turn, most people I encounter in these situations allow their natural instinct for self-preservation to take over. It can be so easy to turn in on ourselves and try to preserve ourself, but today Jesus begs us to step back. He begs us to see the eternal picture and place ourselves in His hands. For when we are in the hands of God we have nothing to fear. While this is certainly a risk “the Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there waiting for us with open arms.”[2]

     Before we can begin to place ourselves in His hands, we first have to recognize His infinite love of us. If we are honest, I think all of us have to admit that there have been moments in our lives where we either doubted God’s love for us or probably for more of us, moments when we forgot that His love exists. Yet we need to look no further than the crucifix to see His love for us. Jesus wasn’t wrestled on that cross. No, He showed us how much He loved us by freely going to the cross for us. If He was willing to pour out His blood on the cross, what will He do for us now, if only we will trust Him? But how often do we walk past crucifixes at church, in our homes and perhaps even at work and not even notice? If we want to move beyond self-preservation then perhaps we need to begin recognizing Christ on the cross and every time we pass a crucifix offer Him a prayer of thanksgiving for His unmerited love for us.

     I believe one of the greatest problems in our culture today, is that we often place our own worth in the things we do. We find our value in the job we have, the car we drive, the house we own, or in what we can contribute to society. But the cross reminds us that our value doesn’t come from what we do, it comes from who we are. Our value comes from the truth that we are created in God’s image and likeness. We are sons and daughters of a God who loves us so much that He knows every hair on our head. Parents, don’t you love your kids for who they are, and not for what they do? Why would it be any different with God?

     If we remember the story of Jesus’ crucifixion we recall that two other criminals were crucified with Jesus. The bad thief demanded that Jesus do something, namely save them from the cross, but the good thief did just the opposite, He simply asked to be with Jesus and Jesus rewarded that simple request, assuring Him that He would be preserved forever in heaven. What about you? Are you going to ask God to do something for you or will you ask God to be with you?

     There is always a natural tendency within us to try and preserve ourselves but in trying to preserve ourselves we ultimately lose ourselves to fear. Today Jesus tells us not to be afraid. He extends to us an invitation to place ourselves in His hands. What about you? Are you focused solely on surviving or are you ready to allow Him to move you past self – preservation towards human flourishing and eternal life?

[1] Pope Benedict XVI. Homily from the Mass, Imposition of the Pallium, and Conferral of the Fisherman’s Ring for the Beginning of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome  https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/homilies/2005/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20050424_inizio-pontificato.html

[2] Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium. Washington DC: USCCB. (2014) . Pg. 1.

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