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The 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 2, 2016

     How much of our lives do you suppose we spend waiting?  It is said that death and taxes are the two inescapable realities.  Waiting must be a close third.  Our lives are one long wait.  We wait in line at the grocery store checkout, the welfare office, the doctor’s office, the airline security, and we wait endlessly at red lights and in traffic tie-ups.  Parents wait nine long months for the arrival of a child, and kids wait what seems like ages for a birthday or Christmas or Halloween to come. And, let’s be honest, we all wait, now and again, for a homily to end!

       Today’s first reading from the Prophet Habakkuk is all about waiting.  Habakkuk lived in the waning years of the sixth century before Christ at a time maybe not all that different from our own: a time when things were sliding in society, sliding downhill: morals were loose, the poor were oppressed, and God’s law was largely ignored.  Habakkuk had had it!  He was sick and tired of living in this mire where the wicked always seemed to have the upper hand, and so he prayed, “How long, O Lord?  I cry for help and you do not listen.  I stand at my watch post crying out to you…but you do not intervene.”  And Habakkuk waited a long time for an answer to his prayer, but God finally spoke some very reassuring words to him: “The vision still has its time.  “If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”

     Now, it probably won’t come as a surprise to you that God’s idea of “no delay” didn’t match Habakkuk’s!  The justice that God promised would come without delay was long years off – more than eighty years, to be exact, because between Habakkuk’s prayer and the fulfillment of God’s promise came the Babylonian Captivity: eighty long years of exile for the Chosen People in a foreign land, eighty long years of humiliation and just plain waiting.

     It is no different for us, my friends.  We, too, wait endlessly - or so it seems – for an answer to our prayers.  And the question arises: what are we to do while we wait?  What are we to do when, like Habakkuk, we feel very small and powerless to change things – the things in our lives that need changing: old patterns of sin, family rifts or tensions, ruptured relationships?  Or the things in our world that need changing: unchecked violence, random acts of terrorism, religious extremism, racism, disregard for human life, the callous neglect of the environment?  What are we to do while we wait for our prayers to be answered?

     Simple answers are dangerous, I know, but the only answer we get is the one in today’s readings.  While we wait we are to live by faith.  That was God’s message to Habakkuk when He told him that “my just one lives by faith.”  It is also the message of Jesus who reminds us that God can work wonders even with faith no larger than a tiny mustard seed.  And it is the message of St. Paul to Timothy when he encouraged him to “stir up” the faith that was passed on to him on the day of his baptism.

     Does this sound a little passive?  It could, I know, but it really isn’t.  Living by faith doesn’t mean sitting idly by.  In our Catholic tradition, faith involves waiting, yes, but it also involves working: working to right wrongs, working for justice, working to build God’s kingdom.  Working as if all depended on us; waiting with the knowledge that all really depends on God.  It does, of course.

     Waiting and working – they are the point-counterpoint of the Christian life.  And -- did you ever notice? -- they are woven into the very fabric of each Mass we celebrate.  It is as if the Church is saying, “here is the pattern for your lives. This is where you learn to wait and work!”  At each Mass we have moments of waiting when no words are heard except, perhaps, the still small voice of God. I think of the quiet moment after the priest says “let us pray,” and of those moments when we sit and settle ourselves to listen to God’s word, and of the moments after we receive the Eucharist. Brief moments of waiting, of quiet, but potentially pregnant and powerful moments.

     And we work at Mass as well as wait.  Did you know that the very word “liturgy” means work (‘the work of the people?’). Our work at Mass involves bringing to God our hopes and our discouragements, our struggles and our joys, along with the agonies of our fragile and too violent world.  As we pray together, joining in the responses, acclamations, and hymns, we are working: we are doing the awesome work of offering to God our lives along with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which alone can transform our lives and redeem our world.

     And the work we do here doesn’t end here.  Which gives me a lead into my letter in today’s bulletin where I gave you some work to do - some thinking and reflecting, some homework, if you will. I’m hoping that you will give some thought to the questions I pose there. They are meant for each of us, not just for the highly involved.  We have a wonderful parish but it can become even more wonderful if we each will work toward making us a more hospitable, more welcoming, more engaged community.

     My friends, waiting and working are the warp and woof of our lives. As believers, we wait in faith and we work in community, and wonders do happen. They do. In today’s gospel Jesus told us that God can work wonders with even a tiny bit of faith - faith the size of mustard seed. Think, then, what God can do with the combined faith of a community like ours. The sky’s the limit!    

Father Michael G. Ryan




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Seattle, Washington  98104
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