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The 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 9, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 35:35)

      It’s not Catholic custom to give a title to a homily and post it on a reader board, but if it were, I would probably call this one, ‘Does our faith make sense?’ And my answer to that question would have to be, ‘yes and no!’

     And if that sounds a bit irreverent, let me remind you, for starters, of the Christmas story – the Annunciation, the virgin birth, the birth in the stable. In what way do those stories make sense? Or how about the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are you who mourn, blessed are you when they persecute you”). Do the Beatitudes really make sense? Or how about the twelve apostles – unlettered and unimpressive as they were: how much sense do the apostles make? And then there are some of the parables of Jesus – the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the eleventh-hour vineyard workers – do they make sense? Or how about the crucifixion? St. Paul dared to speak of “The folly of the cross.” You get my point.

     There is something about our faith that defies the rules of logic and runs counter to human wisdom. Take today’s gospel. It contains this wonderfully spontaneous prayer that gives us a window onto how Jesus prayed, how he talked to his Father. We hear him praising God for hiding the great mysteries from the very ones who ought to be able to understand them the best – the learned and the clever – and of revealing them instead to mere children. Does that make much sense? Only if you abandon the normal rules of human logic and buy into God’s logic, buy into our upside-down faith where God does the strangest things: God uses the little ones of this world to confound the great, the weak to put down the strong, the foolish to eclipse the wise, the poor to shame the rich.

     All this comes home to me in a striking, very personal way whenever I celebrate Mass with the L’Arche community over on Capitol Hill as I’ve done many times over the years. Some of you know about L’Arche. L’Arche – French for ark (as in Noah’s ark) - is a world-wide movement that welcomes the “merest children” of this world - most of them with developmental disabilities - into loving, familial communities. L’Arche believes that each of these ‘little ones’ is sent by God to teach and heal, comfort and challenge the rest of us. L’Arche is today’s gospel in flesh and blood: “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, to you I offer praise; for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children.” 

  Celebrating Mass with the L’Arche Community is, if I may understate, in marked contrast to celebrating Mass in the Cathedral! It is, shall we say, a tad less formal and solemn than a cathedral Mass! My ‘concelebrants’ are likely to have Down Syndrome or to be severely deaf, or to be living with other disabilities. Often, they sit next to me on the couch and always they pray with a joy and an intensity that can take my breath away. And I venture to say that they understand things about God and God’s love and God’s mercy that I will never understand. And not only do they understand, they teach! They teach me – they teach everyone present - how to sing and laugh, how to celebrate and how to bask in God’s love. No theological treatise I’ve ever pondered, no weighty tome I’ve ever read or studied has taught me the deep things of God I learn just from being with, and praying with, the L’Arche community.

     Our upside-down faith! The gospels tell the story, but the roots of our faith are in the Jewish scriptures, as today’s Old Testament reading from the Prophet Zechariah makes clear. The reading painted a strangely incongruous scene: a victorious king who is not a warrior but a messenger of peace. He is a humble figure with none of the trappings of royalty. He comes among his people not in the usual manner – sitting astride a charger surrounded by troops and weapons of war; no, he comes in utter meekness, riding on the back of a lowly beast of burden.

     Our upside-down faith. That story gets repeated time and again throughout our history. Think of some of the great saints who were virtually nobodies and should never have made much of a splash, but did. Think of St. Francis of Assisi, the radical mystic who gave up his wealth and became rich beyond measure; of St. Catherine of Siena, whose illiteracy didn’t stop her from profoundly influencing a Pope and changing history; of St. Joan of Arc, the unlikely peasant girl who led the French troops to victory over the English; of St. Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower” – little, but mighty beyond words. Just for starters! Unlikely people to change history and yet they did.

     When you put people like them – and my friends over at L’Arche - up against the great powers and great power brokers of the world, you come up with a strange picture indeed, but no stranger than the helpless child of the Bethlehem manger, or that vulnerable figure, arms outstretched, on Calvary’s cross. All are part of the upside-down logic of this faith of ours, the mysterious wisdom which God withholds from the learned and the clever and reveals to mere children.

     We go now to the table of the Eucharist, the table to which Jesus bids us come. And we will find nourishment here, abundant nourishment, but only if we abandon our pretenses, drop our facades, and approach the table with the wide-eyed wonder of a child!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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