19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August, 9, 2015 – Year B
Readings: 1 Kgs 19:4-8 / Psalm 34 / Eph 4:30-5:2 / Jn 6:41-51
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
I want you to think for a minute and see if you can remember where you were and what you were doing on March 13, 2013. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. I was at work, sitting at my computer, working on a design for a new machine, when all of a sudden something caught my attention on my Twitter feed. White smoke had been seen over the Vatican, indicating that we had a new Pope.
So I opened up the Livestream on my computer and I watched as events unfolded. I listened to the commentators as they tried to guess who the new Holy Father was going to be. And much to everyone’s surprise, it turned out to be a Cardinal from South America. Few people saw this coming. I will never forget when he walked out on the balcony. He was dressed very simply, just in white, and he waved. I remember the very first thing he did. Instead of offering the blessing to everyone throughout the world, he asked for us to pray for him. I was floored by the humility of this man, and I have to confess that I might have had to fight back a man tear.
I don’t think I was alone because throughout the world, Pope Francis became extremely popular. Time Magazine picked him as their person of the year for 2013. By February of 2014, his favorability rating in the US had swelled to 75%. That is absolutely unheard of.
However, a few weeks ago, the Pope came out with his latest encyclical, and they did new polls. Lo and behold, his popularity in the United States in particular, but also in the rest of the developed world, had plummeted. This particular poll has his current favorability rating at 59%.
I think about our first reading today. It’s about the prophet Elijah, and it’s from one of my favorite parts of the Old Testament. I really love this story that unfolds in this particular part of 1st Kings. Just a little background: Elijah and Moses were the two greatest prophets in the Old Testament. Elijah was so powerful with the Spirit that when he tapped his successor, he prayed for just a little fraction of Elijah’s spirit and received it. He did amazing things. Elijah was so full of the Spirit that he didn’t die. He was carried on a fiery chariot into Heaven.
But our story in the Old Testament picks up right after he has just had a resounding victory against the prophets of Baal. He put them to utter shame, and he drew the Israelite people, the Northern Kingdom, back to God. But not everyone was impressed. In our story, Elijah is running for his life because he earned the wrath of Queen Jezebel.
I also think about Saint Edith Stein, who until this past week, I knew nothing about her. She was born to a good Jewish family, but by the time she was a teenager, she was an atheist. But through her academic studies and in her research, she was drawn to Christ through the Catholic Church, and was eventually baptized. She continued to teach and train young people, but when the Nazis came to power, she lost her teaching position. So she entered a Carmelite order. Long story short, on this day in 1942, she died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz because she was ethnically a Jew, but also because she had converted to Christianity.
So what do all these people have in common? Each one of these people followed the will of God in their lives and they suffered for it. That can happen to us, too. Now granted, probably no one of us will ever be killed for our faith. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t suffer for it. You see, the teachings of the Gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church as a whole are not very popular. If you hold onto to a piece of the teachings, just a part, you can find a group that will welcome you with open arms. But if you try to embrace everything – everything – you’ll probably find yourself as an outcast. As long as you stick to the peace and love part, everybody is OK with that.
But what about the pro-life part? The whole pro-life part – that life is sacred from natural conception to natural death? That’s not every popular. What about the Church’s teaching on marriage and morality? How about the Church’s teaching that we should accept and help the poor – all of the poor, not just the ones that we like? What about immigrants? The Church has a very specific stance on how immigrants are to be treated. What about care for the natural world – care for God’s creation?
Some of these last few topics are what got Pope Francis in trouble because they struck a nerve in a lot of the developed world. But the Church teaching is clear. We are supposed to embrace the whole package, and when we do, the world is not very kind to the messenger.
The same thing is happening in our Gospel today. For the past few weeks, we have been in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. This chapter opens up with Jesus preaching to thousands of people and none of them thought to bring lunch. But Jesus fed them. Just a few loaves and a few fish, and they were so impressed by this that they started following him all over the place.
But today Jesus is starting to ask them to dig deeper. Like Father Mooney put it last week, he is calling on them to believe “into” him – to embrace his teaching and to make it a part of them – and they’re not sure they like that. Lots of times we don’t either, but we have to remember that Jesus, that God, wants to feed us. He wants to share with us the table at the banquet – the whole banquet – and He calls on us to help Him bring everyone throughout the world to this Heavenly feast.