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The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
God is my help? Who will prove me wrong? These words are from the 2nd part of the Book of Isaiah that contains four poems of the servant of Yahweh. Sometimes the servant identifies with a group of people; other times, an individual. New Testament authors interpret these passages as a reference to Jesus of Nazareth.
The key point for me is that the servant is depicted as listening closely, attentively, to the word of God. Frankly, I am never sure when God is speaking to me. I cannot even grasp whatever message there might be. I do believe God continues to be present to us on our journeys but I cannot tell for sure.
Listening is a way of knowing and empowering others — the immigrant, the single parent, the person of color, the transgendered person, the entire LGBTQIA community.
Such attentive listening is difficult because restlessness in this country and elsewhere is pervasive. Covid variant continues to be a threat, finding the right job is a challenge, studying in school or at home is not ideal. People of color are afraid for their lives, immigrants everywhere are looking for security, families are recovering from fires and floods in need of water, food, housing.
Knowing that God is my help is a difficult claim and to assert “prove me wrong” is even more unbelievable— as voters’ rights, women’s rights, human rights, democracies in general, erode all around us.
Listening is hard to do even in good times. The practice of not listening is increasingly more apparent in this country built on independence, individuality, entitlements. The meme “cancel culture” is no longer aimed at celebrities and politicians -- some studies suggest we are canceling each other out. What you say or believe does not matter so why should I listen to you.
Consciously or unconsciously, some of us often focus on our own ambitions and strategies for living without regard for others. Some politicians seem more interested in their careers than the common good. Some religious leaders are intent on maintaining doctrinal power rather than listening to the concerns of dwindling congregations.
As a Church and a nation, we are polarized and divided. Pope Francis reminds us to respond by building a “better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good” (Fratelli Tutti, no. 154).
Of course there are thousands of people who labor for the common good — we are reminded of the first responders on September 11th twenty years ago, the heroic women and men who work endless hours in our hospitals trying to save people’s lives, the teachers who want to teach, and YOU who want to learn more from these teachers and from one another in social connections.
So how do we learn to listen to others which is to listen to God?
Mindfulness is one way but it is also difficult to practice. We have to take the time to be still, to believe in ourselves, to ponder what it means to be alive, to be grateful in order to take our place in the larger family. It means to be aware of others and the environment we seek to protect.
Like Peter in the gospel you probably continue to assert that the wandering Jew from Nazareth was the One to come to show us how to choose a better path. His sermons and actions were based on truth, justice, reconciliation and peace.
As I think about what is a moral crisis in our society the response is not to depend only on hope. Hope is not a good strategy when faced with struggles. The faith we have in a God whose presence is constant but often unpredictable must be coupled with resilience and good work. The second reading from James is clear about this. Like hope alone cannot save us, faith cannot save us if it is not accompanied by works of justice.
It is not our job to end the sin and suffering of the world or to stop the mindless march of violence. Nor is our charge to bear the cross like Jesus did, to suffer pain and die a horrific death.
Rather, our task is to follow a different way of life, a lifestyle that is unique -- to take opportunities, small as they may be, to reduce poverty, injustice, fear and hatred in our midst; to let go of our own fears and to live simply within our means.
We can find the strength and resilience to develop an ever new identity together, in the eucharist and in our solidarity knowing that we are among other human beings — people of faith or no faith at all — who share our convictions.