Douglas P. McManaman
Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 27, 2019
Reproduced with Permission

Two themes emerge from these readings today, and these are warfare, and persistence in prayer. Persistence is very relevant today, because anyone who is a teacher or who works with young people, knows that fewer and fewer students there are today who are able to persist at a difficult task unless there is some kind of reward that is almost immediate and that accompanies the task. Certainly not all young students, but fewer and fewer students read the great classics of literature or study history. I've always thought that it must be very difficult to be an English or history teacher. It can even be difficult to show great films at school. I remember early on in my teaching career, after a time, I just couldn't show the classic film A Man for All Seasons, the story of St. Thomas More. Even the best kids were just too bored and couldn't maintain a sustained and thoughtful attention on the meaning of the story. The only part that woke some of them up was at the end when Thomas was getting his head cut off, but they were quickly disappointed that they didn't show his head rolling into a basket. That is why films today are highly sensational, almost from the very beginning, and the really thoughtful films do not do nearly as well at the box office.

But all of us have been affected by this on a cultural level. Everything is fast, and we don't have as much patience and persistence as we once did as a culture. The root of this problem is that as a culture, we love pleasure too much, and when that pleasure is delayed, we lose patience. We see this even on the roads, on beautiful days. When the sun is out and the weather is beautiful, you would think people would drive more slowly to enjoy the view; but that's when people drive more recklessly. They are so much in a hurry to get to where they wish to go that they are willing to put their lives and others' lives at a somewhat greater risk just to get where they want to go more quickly.

But this is a frightening prospect in many ways, because the really important things in life demand persistence, patience, self-denial, the ability to endure sorrowful situations for a long period, for the sake of goods that last. Obvious examples include parenting, and even marriage itself. It seems to me that many adults today just do not have the moral and psychological conditions to be married for the long haul, to endure when things get difficult, when things "gets old", when the person you married does not look as good as they did when they were young. One reason for this is that so many people are addicted to excitement, and they do not tolerate setbacks very well, or slight inconveniences, and they get bored quickly, and many think idealistically, not realistically, and many still they believe love is a romantic feeling, rather than an act of the will that endures and wills the good of the other especially when it is difficult to do so. This is important because the road by which we have to travel for the sake of the important things in life are filled with setbacks, inconveniences, serious challenges, trials, and boredom, and require long periods of endurance and persistence.

The most important goal of all, the goal of all goals, is of course getting into heaven. And this life is about shaping one's character in such a way that heaven will be experienced as heaven, and not as hell. Friendship is based on common character. We are attracted to people of similar character. That's why as a teacher, I always allowed students to sit where they wanted, and I'd move them later if I had to. I wanted to get a sense of their character (who are their friends?). The saints of the class always find one another, the brainers find one another, the criminals find one another. This life is about cultivating friendship with God, which is what the virtue of charity is; this life is about shaping a character that will be comfortable among the communion of saints. Cowards do not want to be in the presence of the courageous, the corrupt man or woman, the fraud and the liar, are uncomfortable in the presence of the just and the honest and upright; those who are indifferent to the sufferings of others are not comfortable around those whose lives are ordered towards alleviating the sufferings of others. Those who love the darkness hate the light.

And the spiritual life really is a battle. It's fundamentally a battle against the self, because in many ways we are our own worst enemies. St. Paul compares the spiritual life to a marathon. Running a marathon takes work. Long and grueling hours of training are required before one can actually run a 26 mile marathon; if we don't train, we're not going to get very far. We'll collapse after a mile, perhaps. And spiritual growth is very much like physical growth, it's just not as visible. But it is as real, and those who have neglected prayer for years, who have neglected the Eucharist for years, and Confession, and have capitulated to the morality of the sexual revolution and have unwittingly embraced the moral relativism of this postmodern culture, have really allowed themselves to become spiritually dilapidated, profoundly out of shape, and the result is spiritual blindness and a profound lack of wisdom and good sense. The result is also a life that lacks that supernatural joy. They might be living a life of pleasure and excitement, but joy is something else entirely.

In the first reading, Israel is in battle, and they are winning that battle as long as Moses has his arms outstretched. As his arms collapse out of fatigue, Israel's enemies gain the upper hand. Moses' outstretched arms is of course is a foreshadowing of the cross, that our battle against ourselves and against the temptations of the world and the evil one will only be won through the power of the cross, the power of Christ. The Eucharist is the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. In the Eucharist, we consume the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ in the act of sacrificing himself to the eternal Father. We are consuming the mystery of Good Friday every time we receive the Eucharist, and that alone is our power in battle. And we have a long battle ahead of us: "It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14 22).

And so the best thing we can do for ourselves and others around us is to grow in an ever deeper love and devotion to the Eucharist and a devotion to scripture, to the reading of the word of God. These together constitute our bread, our food. Then we will pay more attention to the kind of character we are establishing and shaping by the moral choices we make every day. What will matter above all at that point is the heart, the heart that God wants to shape within us through his grace.