Read the Homily

God tells Elijah, the prophet, to go to Mount Horeb. Mount Horeb is in the middle of the hottest, most brutal desert on the planet. It takes Elijah forty days to get there. Let’s do some math. It takes one day to walk about twenty-five miles in the ancient world. Multiply that by forty, that would be like walking from Boston to St. Louis without any mini marts, Holiday Inns, or twenty-four-hour stores along the way. This, of course, raises an important question. Why is God so difficult? Why meet on top of a mountain in the middle of a desert?  Why not meet in the Temple? That is where God met the prophet Isaiah. Why does God have to make things so hard? The reason is simple. Elijah needs to deliver a message to the Israelites. He must tell them that there is going to be a drought. But before Elijah delivers the message, he has to live the message. He needs to know what it is like to go without food and water for a long period.

A prophet is someone who has to experience the message before he delivers the message. Let me give you another example. God tells Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman. That does not sound like a reasonable request. No one wants an unfaithful spouse. Why would God allow his prophet to suffer from having an unfaithful wife? Because Hosea needs to know what God feels, who is in a relationship with an unfaithful people. Hosea has to live the message before he can deliver the message. God tells the prophet, Ezekiel, to tell the people of Judah, that they will be taken into captivity. I can imagine what Ezekiel’s is thinking. “No, not that message! Why can’t I give the massage God gave Isaiah, the one where he told the people to go to the mountain of the lord and eat rich choice foods and drink choice wines?  Why can’t I have that message?” Sure enough, Ezekiel was captured and deported to Babylon. There he was placed in a concentration camp. Anyway, the message was delivered.

We often ask, “Why is God so difficult?” Why is he so hard on us? Maybe it is because we are prophets. Maybe we have to deliver a message that will make a difference in someone’s life.

One of the seminarians was ordained in California. He asked me to give the homily at his first mass. Just before the mass, the pastor told me to keep it to five minutes. He said, “I have another mass after this one, and I need crowd control.” After I was five minutes into the talk, I said to the congregation, “I did not come all the way out here from Boston to talk for five minutes. I am taking seven.” I then wrapped it up and sat down. At the end of mass, the newly ordained priest wanted to thank his parents, and this is how he did it. He gave his father a priest-stole and said, “Dad, this is to remind you that the mercy I show in confession and kindness and generosity that I give in my work as a priest, I first learned from you. He then gave his mother a purificator that was used at his ordination. He told his mom, “When you finally leave this world and go to heaven, they may ask you why they should let you enter. This purificator will remind you to tell them that you lived your life is a way that inspired your son to be a priest.”  Needless to say, he didn’t need me for a good homily at the mass. Sometimes our lives are a message that can make a difference in someone else’s life.

My father grew up during the Depression. They didn’t have any money, and they lived day-to-day. One weekend he shoveled snow. When he was done he went into the living room and emptied out his pocket on the floor. When he was done counting his money and dreaming of one day buying a bicycle, he took the money, walked into the kitchen and gave it to his mother to buy food. Little did my father know that when he handed his mother his hard earned money, he was building character that would inspire his future son to be a priest, and another son to be a research chemist, and another to be an engineer.

We often wonder why God makes it hard for us. But maybe it is because we are prophets. We need to deliver a message that can make a difference in people’s lives. So remember, a prophet has to live the message before delivering the message.

Back to All Homilies