13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 30, 2013)
1 Kings 19:16b,19-21
(I gave the following homily at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, Ohio when I was visiting for a family reunion)
Good morning. My name is Deacon Brian Wentz and I am from the Diocese of Lexington, KY. I want to thank Fr. John White for allowing me to be here today to participate in this Eucharistic celebration with you. I actually have attended Mass here at St. Mary’s probably 15 or so times over the past 18 years because I am married to one of Ruth Twaits’ granddaughters. I’ve been here for happy times like family reunions and birthday parties and also for a few sad occasions like the funeral Masses of Laura Clum and Red Twaits. St. Mary’s holds a special place in my heart.
So that you know who I am, I wanted to share with you a little of my background story. First of all, I am not a cradle Catholic. I was baptized as a baby in the Lutheran church. Later, when I was still very young, my parents switched over to the Presbyterian church. I stayed there until sometime in high school when my church attendance started dropping off significantly. While still in high school and working in Columbus, Ohio I met a Catholic girl. We became close friends and I started attending Mass with her family because I enjoyed her company and thought she was pretty cute. As our relationship developed, I realized I went to Mass not to impress her anymore, but because it was becoming a part of me. I went through RCIA and came into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1999, just a few months before I married that cute Catholic girl. After college, we moved to Kentucky where I started a Chiropractic office. My wife and I got involved with the local parish, St. Andrew’s, and kept volunteering for more and more activities. There aren’t a lot of Catholics where we live and I was frequently challenged about my faith from well-meaning Protestants. This forced me to really study and learn the “why behind the what” of our rich faith.
One thing lead to another and before I knew it, I spent 5 years taking classes to become a Catholic Deacon. On June 2, 2012 I was ordained a Deacon at the age of 35, which is the youngest age allowed for permanent Deacons. So know hopefully you will understand me better when I say that it’s an honor to stand here before you today…and a little weird. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that becoming a Catholic Deacon would have been the path God had planned for me when I first attended Mass here 18 years ago as a protestant teenage boy who was just trying to spend some more time with a cute Catholic girl!
I share my story with you because I personally love hearing how God calls people to do things in their lives they never thought possible or probable. I came across one such story during my time preparing for this homily.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Theologian and a protestant pastor in Germany during the Nazi regime. During those days, the Nazi ideology was taking over many of the evangelical churches in Germany. They started advocating the removal of the Old Testament, forbidding “Non-Aryans” from civil service and proposed a ban on any “Non-Aryans” from becoming ministers or religious teachers. Some even went so far as to say that Jews could never become a Christian through baptism, which directly contradicts the New Testament. Bonhoeffer opposed these ideas and, along with a few other ministers, started up a new church called the “Confessing Church” that would resist the Nazi influence. Obviously anyone who opposed Hitler or his Nazi party was putting his or her life in serious jeopardy. But to quote Bonhoeffer himself, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
These are some tough words to swallow! But isn’t that the same message we hear from Jesus in today’s Gospel from Luke? Jesus knew without a doubt that his preaching would have certain consequences because he was challenging “the establishment.” He knew that trying to renew the society and cleanse it from evils would provoke resistance and violence on Him and His followers. Therefore he wanted to see how dedicated some of His disciples were and to also see if they understood the path He was calling them to follow. So Jesus says two simple words to one of them…“Follow me.” The response we hear is an excuse. “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” I used to think Jesus was being unfair when he rebukes the disciple by saying, “Let the dead bury the dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” However, it is believed by many Scripture scholars that the disciple’s father was nowhere near the point of death. So in a sense, the disciple was really saying, “I believe in you Jesus and will follow you. But I can’t do it for quite awhile so go ahead and I’ll catch up. First I have to mow the lawn, then there’s the church picnic next month, oh yea, plus I can’t forget that big vacation I’ve been saving for that is in two years.” Christ is not asking us to take the easy way out. He’s not calling us to be a lazy Christian. He’s calling us to follow Him right now, no matter the cost. He’s calling us to be ready to lay down our lives for Him if necessary right now.
But let’s face it…having a strong faith in our modern society is not something that is encouraged by the majority of people. If you have a strong faith, and worse yet stick up for your beliefs, you are often labeled as a “fanatic,” “old-fashioned” or “intolerant.” I’ve personally been told once that I drank too much of the “church Kool-Aid” after explaining the beautiful teaching from Blessed John Paul II concerning married love and how it relates to Natural Family Planning. Our Catholic faith is mis-understood by millions and, unfortunately, only half-heartedly practiced by many of our own. A friend of mine was with the Bishop of Lexington when he was addressing a RCIA class. He told them that if they stayed with the classes and ended up officially joining the Catholic Church to NOT be luke-warm Catholics because “we already have enough of them.” OUCH!
Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins and give us a chance at heaven. His teachings are often challenging but following them will lead us to the ultimate reward that is far better than anything here on earth. Therefore, He is asking us to get off the fence and be on fire for our faith. We are to LIVE OUT the Gospel, not just sit back and read it in the comfort of our homes. This can at times take great sacrifice and effort on our part. Please don’t be afraid to bravely and lovingly stand up for your faith even if this leads you down a path that appears scary.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was brave and stood up for his beliefs against an evil Nazi regime. He wasn’t afraid to stand up and say NO to the injustices happening around him. He decided to get off the fence and put his faith into action! In the end, because of his beliefs, he literally lived out his famous quote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer was arrested and put in the Flossenburg concentration camp. On April 9, 1945, at the age of 39, he was executed by hanging by Nazi soldiers. This happened just two weeks before the 90th and 97th Infantry Divisions from the United States liberated the camp.
Remember, Christ doesn’t want us to take the easy way out. He wants us to trust in Him. Obviously not all of us will die a martyrs’ death or have to give up everything to follow Jesus. But we all have to die to our old selves, our old egos and our sinful ways. Dying is not an easy or painless process, but we are all required to do it if we are to be a new creation in Christ! So when Christ calls you, will you give Him excuses or will you follow Him no matter the cost? In the words of Pope Francis, “Ask Jesus what he wants from you and be brave!”