blessing | pray | homily

I receive a forwarded email attached with Father Mike’s homily every week. Although I don’t know who Fr. Mike is, I can imagine that he preaches well enough that people would like to share his homily every week. The readings of yesterday, the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 5, 2012), are Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23, Mk. 1:29-39. They can be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Fr. Mike’s homily for yesterday is as follows:

The Lunar New Year is over and we have returned to school or to work. For many people, the vacation did not last long enough and drudgery has resumed. How many years until retirement?

Three years ago, the last time we heard these particular readings, the global economy had recently taken a hit, yet people were hoping for a brief recession, a V recession. Today, we still have serious problems in an L recession. Many people who were hoping to get rich and retire early now realize they will have to work and work until they are much older. That’s great if you love your job, but not every job, and not every employer, is lovable. Also during the past three years, many people who had been healthy unexpectedly became seriously ill. What does the Bible have to say about these unpleasant surprises in life?

Let’s look at the Book of Job. Job had money, children and good health. Then one disaster after another hit, and he was left with nothing. The first reading today omits v. 5, where Job mentions he had a bad skin rash on top of all his other problems. His life had turned from sunshine, happiness and confidence to darkness, misery and confusion. Eventually God was good to him again and Job got back on his feet. Even so, he suffered more than most people ever suffer in a lifetime. The Book of Job is not recommended reading during Chinese New Year; however Lent will begin on Feb. 22. The sorrows of Job are worth pondering after Ash Wednesday.

A number of churches never mention Job. Some denominations preach the Gospel of Prosperity. Those preachers say, “If you have faith, God will bless you. Believe, and you will prosper.” Sometimes they wear expensive suit jackets and put gold rings on their fingers, saying, “God gave this to me, and he will give it to you also. All you have to do is you demonstrate your faith by giving to the church.” Preachers like that can drive people away from any church. A minister in New York City [Rev. Ike] a generation ago taught his congregation to pray in these words: “Oh God, I know you have money. Please give me some money.” His theology was wrong. God does not have money. God does not have cash, or a bank account, or a credit card, or silver, gold and platinum. If we keep the Ten Commandments, we will not waste money on gambling, drinking excess shopping. If we take good care of our health, we will spend less money on doctors and medicine. Then we will be able to save some money. Even so, the Catholic Church does not promise anyone an easy life on earth and prosperity in this world. I hope all of you will be healthy and become richer in 2012, but I cannot guarantee you those blessings.

Neither Job nor his friends had a clear idea of life after death. That revelation came later, especially in the New Testament. Today some people say, “Life is miserable, then we die.” Others say, “Life is miserable, then we die and go to heaven.” People in the second group are less likely to add to their troubles by becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs.

In the Gospel, Jesus had an extremely busy day, and the next morning he got up early to pray. Praying is raising the mind and heart to God; and it takes some time effort. Jesus had a full schedule during his public ministry. He needed daily prayer time to avoid burnout. Do we need to pray? Do we have more energy, more stamina, than Jesus did? Someone said, ‘When you are too busy to pray, you are too busy.” Here’s a sentence that is specific to the English language: “Seven days without prayer makes one week (weak).”

More than a century ago, one of the richest men in the USA said more, “I am not on Wall Street for my health.” He was a serious student of the stock market. He devoted long hours to his business, not to improve his health but to get even richer. Jesus did not visit the synagogues in Galilee, or the temple in Jerusalem, for the sake of his health. Rather, he pushed himself for the sake of our health, to cure our afflictions and diseases, and to cleanse us from our sins.

Parents tell me they put in long hours raising children, and it’s no secret that the arrival of a baby means the departure of a good night’s sleep for at least several months. People who get up in the middle of the night to care for a baby tell me that long hours of sleep are not the most important thing in life. Making sacrifices for those we love is more important than our personal comfort.

Yet not everyone agrees. Today there are young, healthy, financially secure people who want love, but who do not want children. Even one baby would be too much for them, would interfere with their lifestyle. All the couples who have come to me so far to discuss a church wedding said they want to have children. By the way, if you know someone who is planning to get married, tell them to contact the church several months in advance, not just 6 months but 7 or 8 months in advance, to start the instructions and the paperwork. One day, if a couple were to inform me, “Yes, we want a church wedding, but no, we do not want any children, not even one,” then I would have the obligation to tell them, “Go to City Hall and get married civilly. If you change your mind about kids in a couple of years, then come back and see me about getting your marriage blessed in church. According to Catholic teaching, marriage is not only for exclusive love between husband and wife, but also for bringing children into the world, children who hopefully will make a contribution in this life and then enjoy eternal life in heaven. When you see it this way, then I’ll be happy to witness your exchange of vows and ask for God’s blessing on your life together.”

Students, be aware that your parents and the domestic employee make sacrifices for you, and thank them. Adults, we have a lot of work to do before we can retire, and maybe a major illness before we can enter heaven. St. Benedict told his monks 1500 years ago “work and pray.” That advice is still good today: work and pray, also study and pray.

I pray every day, especially before I start my work. I don’t just ask for God’s blessing for myself. I also ask for blessings for my friends. I guess it’s also a habit of me to pray before I start the day. I was in Catholic schools all my life before I went to the university. Every day during the assembly, all the students gathered together for announcements from the principal, and most of all, pray before we got to our classes.

Have you prayed today?

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