27th Sunday: The Peace that is Beyond All Understanding
Our choirs have resumed. The SATB choir normally rehearses two to three hours a week and warms up for forty five minutes or so before the 11:30 Mass. The youth choir joins the SATB for rehersals and then warms up a half hour before the 6:30 Mass. The members of our Life Teen band receive CD’s with music to prepare and then rehearse together for at least an hour before Mass. Even our little children’s choir, the St. Ignatius Angelic Choir, puts a substantial amount of time into preparing. So, why all the bother? Why all this work? Is it to provide a musical backdrop to liturgies? All this music is wonderful, but we can get better in concert halls, or on itunes.
Our religious education programs are going full force, including our confirmation program, which is led by 30 adults and Teens all guiding our 100 or so ninth graders who wish to be confirmed. There are over 50 volunteers in our religious education program for grades Pre-K through 8. There is a tremendous amount of time and money put into religious education. Why do we put so much effort in conveying our faith to children and Teens and adults, for that matter? Why not just give everyone a new catechism and tell them all to go home?
November 22nd will be the 30th anniversary of the dedication of our church. Why did we build this church? Why are there any churches at all? Do we have them simply so people can get together? Raymond James Stadium or the St. Petersburg Times Forum, or even Tropicana Field, can get more people together than any of our churches. Our grounds and facilities cost a lot of money to keep up.
The question I pose to you at the start of this homily is simply: Why bother? Why all this ecclesiastical bother? Why do we do all this?
St. Paul answers this in one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, our second reading from his Letter to the Philippians. The reason for the existence of our parish and all parishes is Jesus Christ. All we have, every aspect of our parish life from the liturgical ministries in the church to the charitable ministries throughout the world, all we have and do exists so we can call upon our God, be united with Him, seeking what we need through the living expression of our thanksgiving, the Eucharist.
In the beginning of the second reading St. Paul said, “Be anxious about nothing, but bring everything to God, through prayer and supplication united to thanksgiving. And then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hears and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
There certainly seems to be a lot about which we might be anxious. If you watch any of the cable news networks you would be convinced that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. The economy is tanking. The number of people who want to destroy us seems to be growing exponentially. Life has been devalued by a pornographic society that considers only immediate pleasures at the expense of debasing or even destroying others. Perhaps the saddest example of our pornographic society is that abortion is seen as a right, not as the destruction of life.
There is a lot to be anxious about if we think the purpose of life is self- gratification. Self-gratification results in self-destruction. The people who killed the landowner’s messengers and son in the parable of today’s Gospel wanted everything for themselves. They ended up destroying themselves by their own actions. The parable is really a parable of our society. This is what we do when we fall for the great lie that happiness can be found where God is absent. Isn’t that what we do when we think that getting drunk is getting happy? Isn’t that what we do when we think that getting high is getting happy? Isn’t that what we do when we think that happiness is found in having sex outside of the permanent commitment of marriage? If we get caught up in the big lie that happiness is found in places where God is absent, then we are condemning ourselves to self destruction, killing the Gift Giver’s ambassadors so we can hoard His Gifts for ourselves.
If we seek happiness where God is present, we do not need to be anxious. We possess Jesus Christ. He is all we will ever need. His is the song we sing with our lives. He is our everything. And the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding comes upon us, dwells in us, and is our treasure.
St. Peter says in 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast your cares upon the Lord, and He will care for you.” What is it that you fear? What is it that I fear? Do some of us fear that the direction of our lives will significantly differ from our ideals, be those ideals marriage, or career, or physical health, or a long life, or being able to live with a modicum of comfort. Cast your fears upon the Lord, and He will care for you.
When we are united to the Lord, we experience the peace of God. Nothing and no one can take that peace away from us. We might be poorer than our neighbors, but our financial condition cannot steal His Peace. We might be facing terminal illness, but death won’t take His Peace, His Life, away from us. We might be mocked by our friends, and classmates and workmates and neighbors and even members of our own families, all because we refuse to join them in self-destruction, but we are convinced that the approval of others is not worth sacrificing the Peace of God.
The focus of our lives needs to be all that is true, and honorable, and just, and pure, and lovely, and gracious, and worthy of praise. God is found there. The focus of our lives needs to be our union with God. When we have this, we have everything that we want or need.
So then, again, why all the bother? Why the ministries of the Church, the choirs, the teaching of the faith, the outreach to those needing help? Why the buildings and centers of worship? More than this, why the avoidance of sin and the living of the faith? Why? All so we can live in the Peace of God through Jesus Christ.
I am certain that St. Paul would say to all of us what he said to his beloved Philippians: Keep up the good work. St. Paul said, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” We are here because we love Jesus Christ. We live the Christian Life because His Life is means infinitely more to us than any of the self-destructive pleasures of godless society. We pray together today, support each other, and are united to Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament and in each other. His peace is the reason for our creation, the reason for our being. His is the one lasting happiness of our lives, our lives both now and our lives as they will continue after we complete physical life.