2017-07-09. Homily. Fr. François Beyrouti. True Joy of the Gospel.
Sunday, July 9, 2017. True Joy of the Gospel. Homily. Fr. Francois Beyrouti.
Sunday, July 9, 2017. Fifth Sunday after Pentecost. The Healing of the Gerasene Demoniacs.
PROKIMENON (Tone 4)
How great are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you have wrought them all.
Stichon: Bless the Lord, O my soul!
You are very great indeed, O Lord my God!
A Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans (Romans 10:1-10)
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God in their behalf is for salvation. For I bear witness to them that they have zeal for God, but a zeal that is not informed. For ignorant of God’s holiness and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to the sanctification offered by God. For Christ is the consummation of the Law in terms of justification for everyone who believes. For Moses has written that the man who brings about that justification which is of the Law shall live by it. (Lv.18: 5) But the justification which is of faith says, Do not ask in your heart, who shall go up to heaven that is, -- to bring down Christ. Or, Who will descend into the abyss (Dt.30: 12) that is, to bring up Christ from the dead? But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. (Dt.30: 14) that is, the word of faith which we preach. For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved. For a man believes with the heart and attains justification, but he professes his faith with his mouth and attains salvation.
ALLELUIA (Tone 4)
String your bow, go forth, reign for the sake of truth, meekness and righteousness, and your right hand shall lead you wonderfully.
Stichon: You loved righteousness and hated iniquity: therefore God, your God, anointed you with the oil of joy above your companions.
Gospel: Matthew 8:28-34; 9:1 (5th week After Pentecost)
The Holy Gospel According To St. Matthew The Evangelist.
At that time as Jesus reached the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two men who were possessed, coming from the tombs, so exceedingly fierce that no one could pass by that way. And behold, they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with you, Jesus Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now at a distance from them there was a herd of many swine, feeding. And the devils kept begging him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go!” And they came out and entered into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed from the top of the cliff into the sea, and perished in the water. But the swineherds fled, and going away into the town, they reported everything, and what had befallen the men possessed by demons. And behold, all the town came out to meet Jesus; and on seeing him they insisted that he leave their district. And getting into a boat, he crossed over and came into his own town.
From July 1-4, 2017, Fr. Philip Raczka and I represented our Melkite Diocese at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders held in Orlando, Florida.
There were over 3500 participants, with 300 priests and 100 bishops. This convocation brought together delegates from all the Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic dioceses across the United States.
Also present were the Cardinals of Galveston-Houston, Daniel Nicholas Cardinal DiNardo, of New York, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, of Boston, Seán Patrick Cardinal O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., of Newark, Joseph William Cardinal Tobin, and of Washington, Donald William Cardinal Wuerl. Also participating was the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Pope Francis’ representative in the United States.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hosted this event which took them five years to organize. A meeting of all these bishops, priests, and lay people sounds like a very somber event. Well, though it was a very serious one, it was also one that was full of great hope and joy.
There are three important aspects of joy that we focused on. First, there is great joy in the Gospel, which is the good news. Second, there is great joy in noticing and helping the poor and those who are needy. Third, there is great joy when the Church, though extremely diverse, focuses on the above two with a spirit of unity.
The theme of the convocation was Pope Francis’s letter “The Joy of the Gospel.” It might seem strange that Pope Francis would wright a long letter on “Joy” and the United States bishops would spend so much effort to prepare a conference on the theme of joy. Actually, this should not surprise us, as the words “joy” and “rejoice” appear 109 times in the New Testament. We find these words from the beginning of the Gospel all the way to the end.
When the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce to her that she will be the mother of Jesus, the Messiah, the Archangel said: “you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth” (Luke 1:14). When the shepherds saw the star “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt.2:10). During Jesus’ sermon on the mount, He said: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matt.5:12). And, when the women went to the tomb of Jesus, the Gospel of Matthew tells us: “they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples” (28:8).
The word joy is an important one for our faith and one that is misunderstood in today’s culture. We sometimes associate joy with shallow comforts. Joy is not the comfort we receive from things that pass away, but from a deep rooted happiness that is based on a truth that grows in us and that cannot fade or be taken away.
We might be happy when we buy a new car or a new house, but we are living a very sad and empty life if material possessions satisfy our joy. True joy searches for something more meaningful, not just something that brings me happiness for a day. The irony is that joy can sometimes bring us suffering and persecution. Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Romans “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance” (5:3).
The joy of the Gospel and of an authentic Christian faith is not based on comfort in possessions but is rooted in a deep joy in Christ himself. When we rejoice in God, that kind of joy never wears out, but keeps growing.
We often forget that in addition to “joy” being found throughout the gospels, the word “Gospel” actually means the “good news.” Therefore, the greatest joy for us should be to hear the Gospel and to live it.
What does this mean in a practical way? Answering this question leads us to the second focus of this convocation that true Christian joy consists of noticing and helping the poor, those who are needy, and those who live on the peripheries of society.
Today’s Gospel gives us one of many examples of how Jesus lived that joy in his life. What did Jesus do when we wanted to be happy and when he wanted to spread joy? He didn’t go for an extra drink, He didn’t go shopping, and He certainly did not go to a casino to try to win the jackpot that would change his fortunes.
When Jesus wanted joy, he went to the peripheries of society to serve those who were in most need. In today’s Gospel Jesus goes to help those who are possessed and living in a tomb. He went to a place and to people that everyone avoided. We tend to avoid discomfort, but Jesus found joy in being with and serving those who were most abandoned and living an uncomfortable life. Real Christianity starts with knowing what brought Jesus joy, then going out and imitating the one whom we call our master.
One of the most touching stories we heard last week was of Pope Francis’s first trip outside the Vatican, after he was elected on March 13, 2013. The plight of refugees touched him profoundly. The thought of their suffering had come back to him repeatedly like “a thorn in the heart,” the Pope said.
In particular, he turned his eyes to the deadliest immigration route in the world which is from North Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa. When he heard the weekly news of hundreds of refugees dying while attempting to make this route he decided to visit the island. He met with the Vatican Secretary of state and told him his desire to visit this island, but he told Pope Francis to reconsider as he was just elected and this could be a dangerous trip. They met a week later and the Pope insisted that he wanted to go. The Secretary of State told him that there are many details that go into organizing a Papal visit, such as security, the press, transportation, and a variety of other matters. But he assured the Pope that they will start working on it and a visit could be organized within six months to a year.
The next day, the vice president of Alitalia called the Secretary of State and told him that Pope Francis had booked a private seat on a flight from Rome to the island of Lampedusa that was departing in a week.
That was the fastest papal visit the Vatican had ever organized. On July 8, 2013, Pope Francis went to Lampedusa island and celebrated Mass on an altar made from washed up boats that capsized and killed all those on board. During his trip he said: “We have become used to the suffering of others. It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t interest us. It’s not our business.” He challenged everyone to care because it does affect us, because for Christianity to be real, it has to be real in ways like this.
The third important aspect of the convocation is that despite everyone’s diverse background and everyone’s position in life the joy of the Gospel is everyone’s business. Whether you’re a bishop, a priest, or a lay person, it is the responsibility of all to pray, to learn more about our faith, to live our faith in very practical ways, and to spread the joy of our faith to others.
Temporal things bring us temporary happiness, but only Jesus brings us the deep joy of the Gospel, because He calls us to a long lasting and deep happiness that is rooted in all God did and is doing for us.
True joy is only possible when our eyes are opened to the needs of those around us. The joy of the gospel is not just happiness, it is a life that is rooted in what Jesus said and did. When we marvel at this and live this wonderful message we will discover the authentic and deep rooted joy of the Gospel.