Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 29, 2018 – Year B
Readings: 2 Kgs 4:42-44 / Ps 145 / Eph 4:1-6 / Jn 6:1-15
by Rev. Paul O’Donnell Duggan, Guest Celebrant
It’s hard to believe that it was almost sixty years ago. I was working in London then, and, in the premiere of probably one of the most famous musicals ever, appeared a very young Julie Andrews and a very young Christopher Plummer. The musical was Sound of Music.
I guess if you ask twenty people, you might get twenty different favorite songs. I love all the songs. In this beautiful time of year, hopefully a restful, peaceful time for most, it’s a time I look to nature. Coming up on Friday on Route 220N, coming up through the mountains, the forests, I wish I could have stopped the car and just absorbed the beauty of God’s creation. My favorite song is Climb Every Mountain. Usually the Mother Superior sings that song, and I’ve never heard it sung badly.
The background to that song is that Maria has been dancing with Captain von Trapp. She is suddenly experiencing feelings that she’s never had before and so she runs back to the convent. Remember the ‘gold nugget’ of wisdom that Mother Superior gave her? You must face your problems. She actually offered two gold nuggets of wisdom at that time, and the second one is the one I want to speak about today. She tells Maria that she must return to the von Trapp household and face her problems, because, as she says to Maria: You have a great capacity for love.
Dear friends, those words of wisdom apply to you this morning; they apply to me this morning. What a wonderful compliment. What a wonderful word of affirmation to give to the young nun about to leave the convent to enter into married life and become an already-mother of seven children: You have a great capacity for love.
“What’s that got to do with the gospel?” you’re asking. The wee boy with the five barley loaves and the two fish came to listen to Jesus, not knowing that Jesus was going to ask for those five barley loaves and two fish. Our great capacity to love – that’s our five barley loaves and our two fish. Jesus says, “No, no, don’t give me four barley loaves and one fish. Give me all of them. And when you give me your five barley loaves and your two fish, I’m going to multiply them for you in your life.” Jesus would never take anything from us unless He’s going to give it back to us in abundance.
Suppose somebody gave you $1,000, and you put it under your mattress. Every day you check under your mattress and look at it and say, “Oh, that’s lovely!” Does it do you any good under your mattress? No! Our capacity to love is no good to us unless we use it. We have to use it.
I can give you some examples from my life. Sometimes we do things without realizing we’re using our capacity for love. A wee while after I arrived in St. Augustine in Florida, I was walking up a sandy road that leads to a police shooting range. I walk up there almost every day. The first month, there weren’t that many cars coming up the road. When they did come, I just sort of waved. Nobody waved back. The second month I waved and smiled a little, and nobody waved back. Suddenly, the third month, because I was doing it consistently, people started to wave back; people started to smile.
One day this man stopped his car. He said, “I see you walking up here almost every day. Are you new to the area?
I replied, “Yes, I’m a retired priest and I just moved here.”
“You’re a priest?” he asked.
“Do you still hear confessions?”
“Oh, give me your phone number!”
So a week later he called to go to confession. If I hadn’t been waving, if I hadn’t been smiling, it never would have happened.
My brother, Father Frank, lives next door to me. We were driving to our sister’s home in Orlando. It’s one of those gated communities and you have to scroll to get the name. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with my thumb or what, but I can never do it correctly. It takes forever to get the name. There was a day last week when there was a man there painting a pool. It was a yellow pool, very beautiful. I said to him, “Oh, sir, you’re doing a lovely job there. That’s beautiful.” A wee compliment, right? Well, he was doing a good job, and I acknowledged him.
He saw the difficulty I was having in trying to get in. He said, “I’ve got a clicker.” He clicked it, and suddenly the gate opened. He would never have opened the gate if I hadn’t acknowledged his presence and said to him, “Well done! You’re doing a good job.” That’s using our great capacity to love.
And the final one: A wee boy, a teenager, riding his bicycle where I was walking in a different area. I had seen him before, maybe once or twice. When I see him, I always say, “Hello, how are you? How’re you doing?” On this day I called out to him, and he kind of passed us. I called, “Oh, are you enjoying your summer holidays?”
He turned his bike around and comes back and, for the next ten minutes, unburdens the heaviness of his heart because he’s got so much trouble at home from parents, others as well. So, I’m just listening to him, and I said, “You know, if you pray to God…”
He said, “Oh, I pray all the time!”
“Good! Be strong in the Lord! Son, be strong in the Lord.” I said. You’d think I’d given him $1,000! He was so happy!
Before he went away, a thousand times he said, “Thank you.” He went away happy.
So those are just ordinary things. But, hold on. That’s what life is made up of: small, tiny things, day after day after day. Small things. Nothing big.
The biggest challenge, possibly, to “You have a great capacity to love” would be a quotation that I wrote down recently from Pope Benedict. He said, “You are indulgent with my shortcomings.” Wow. You are indulgent with my shortcomings. That’s a wonderful model; to be indulgent with somebody else’s shortcomings.
The compliment that the Reverend Mother gives to Maria – You have a great capacity for love – stems from when Jesus was given a wonderful compliment by His Father. When he came up out of the waters of the Jordan following His Baptism, He said, “You are My Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Not just ‘pleased’, but ‘well pleased.’ What a wonderful God, giving his “five barley loaves and two fish” to His Son with that beautiful compliment.
Would that every spouse could say, “You are my beloved wife, with whom this day I am well pleased.” “You are my beloved husband, with whom this day I am well pleased.” “You are my beloved parents with whom this day I am well pleased.” You are my beloved brother, …my beloved sister, with whom this day I am well pleased. Each of us has this great, great capacity for love.
So today, as we come to the table and receive the Eucharist, go back to your seat and just bow your heads and say, “Lord Jesus, I thank you for giving me this great capacity for love. Let me not be like the man who puts his $1,000 under the mattress. Lord, give me the grace to use the great capacity for love that you’ve given me; to use it, Lord, this day to offer somebody a word of encouragement, a word of compliment. Let me begin today, Lord. With You, Lord, I can do it. Without You, impossible. Amen.”