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The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 7, 2024

Watch this homily! (Begins at 36:40)


 
     A few weeks ago, two young men, vested in white alb and stole, lay face down and motionless on the cold slate floor up there before the altar, while a Cathedral full of people sang a litany calling on the saints of the Church, “Pray for us!”, “pray for us!”, “Hear our prayer!” It was the Mass for the ordination of priests, and for those young men - and for all of us who prayed that litany - it was a profound reminder of how very small we are before God, and how much in need.

     Many times over the years I have found myself similarly prostrate before the altar – at my own ordination, of course, but also each year at the solemn liturgy of Good Friday. But the truth of the matter is that no day goes by that I don’t experience how small I am before God, how weak, how much in need of the grace of God. And isn’t that true for all of us?

     Many years ago, when I was serving as director of vocations for the Archdiocese, a Jesuit priest by the name of Michael Buckley gave a talk on the qualities needed in candidates for the priesthood. Fr. Buckley didn’t say the expected; instead, he posed this surprising question for us to ponder when working with candidates: “Is this person weak enough to be a priest?” A puzzling question, for sure until he explained what he meant by weakness. Weakness was, he said, an ability to live with a certain amount of failure and an inability to separate one’s self from human suffering. And he expressed the hope that candidates for priesthood would have experienced some struggle with self-doubt, fear and inner anguish, and that they would have learned how to live with a certain amount of ambiguity: without easy, pat answers for every question.

      He ended by reminding us of a passage from the Letter to the Hebrews: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…(Christ) can deal gently with misguided sinners because he himself is beset with weakness.”

     Weakness. It’s not something we normally view as desirable in a leader, is it? We’re used to political leaders, for instance, who model just the opposite. Their interest seems mostly in power and its prerogatives, and despite their big talk and big promises, too often they fail to deliver. That’s a far cry from what Fr. Buckley was talking about, and a far cry from Jesus who modeled servant leadership, Jesus, who knelt before his friends to wash their feet, and who, in the Garden of Gethsemane, struggled with the demons of dread and fear.

     Perhaps thoughts like these can help us understand St. Paul who, in the second reading, actually boasted about his weakness. Paul, I feel certain, was no more inclined than we are, humanly speaking, to feel good about being weak or vulnerable. But God had his way with Paul as God does with anyone who is serious about following Jesus. God gave him a “thorn in the flesh” to remind him of his weakness.

     Scripture commentators speculate about what exactly that “thorn in the flesh” might have been for Paul. Was it some physical ailment he suffered from? Was it some form of mental anguish such as depression? Was it a recurring temptation, or maybe a troublesome person, a fellow believer who turned against him? We don’t know. And we don’t need to. All we need to know is what St. Paul came to learn through it all: that God’s grace was there for him in the midst of it. All we need to know is what Paul was able to affirm with such conviction when he wrote those extraordinary words, “I am content with weaknesses. I will even boast of such things so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

     My friends, I began by recalling a striking image of weakness here in the cathedral when those young men lay prostrate before the altar. What happened at that moment – grace working its wonders in human weakness - is a thread which runs through the entire story of our salvation. And if it weren’t so hot today, I would trace a bit of that story for you. But you know it. It’s on nearly every page of the Scriptures. And it’s not just St. Paul’s story: it’s your story and mine, because we have all come to discover the truth of St. Paul’s words, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”

     It is in the Eucharist more than anywhere else that we become strong!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303