Homily Notes: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
At the beginning of the new millennium, Pope John Paul wrote an Apostolic Letter aptly entitled, At The Beginning of the New Millennium
, Novo Millenio Ineunte
. The Holy Father took as a theme for that Apostolic Letter, a line from today’s Gospel “Put out into the deep” (Luke
5:4b). It sounds better, with fewer words and syllables, in Latin, Duc in Altum
“Put out into the deep.”
In these words, the Pope discerns an invitation from our Lord Jesus Christ to leave mediocrity behind by entering profoundly into the depths of His love. Many Catholics, myself included, say to ourselves at this invitation, “Frankly, I’d much prefer to splash on the shoreline. Besides, every now and then I see a minnow!” Nevertheless, the “high adventure,” romance, inspiration, treasure and excitement are only found out in the deep water.
Most fundamentally “going deep” with Our Lord Jesus Christ is about our relationship with Him. This love relationship ought to be the point of everything we are and do as Christians. All the sacraments, all our worship, all our educational initiatives, everything, ought to have as its ultimate goal the fostering of a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
So the question becomes: How? How do we do this? We properly seek a technology, a middle term, a means to this end of relationship. How do we do this? Prayer. Prayer. Prayer.
I could get rich if I devoted myself to writing books about prayer. Barnes and Nobles, Borders, Schulers, all the big booksellers make a bundle each year selling books on prayer. People are curious and hungry to learn more about it. Yet prayer is so simple. Prayer is a surge of the heart towards heaven, a close sharing between friends, conversation with God.
The only wrinkle when it comes to prayer is that it is tremendously personal. The love relationship between Jesus and each of us, grown in the soil of prayer, must be personally appropriated. Prayer is a personal art which each of us must, to a certain degree, learn for ourselves. But how do we learn? By doing. “Just do it” is the perfect advice on how to pray. For we best learn to pray by praying. Like anything else, practice makes perfect.
Although prayer is tremendously personal, and each of us must to some degree find our own way, there are certain well-traveled routes which others through the centuries have found helpful. We do not need to reinvent the wheel as we approach prayer. One example is Lectio Divina
, divine reading, Scripture reading. Essentially Lectio Divina
is time spent praying over a passage of Scripture. However, unlike reading a book or newspaper, with Lectio Divina
we must take our time. The goal is not to read a huge passage, but to slowly savor each word, as though we were relishing each bite of a fine meal. And when something from our reading moves us, or strikes us deeply, we stop, for that is the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts through His Word. So the goal is to have a profound encounter with God through His Word where He speaks and we listen and respond. For one who is new to Lectio Divina
I would suggest beginning with the New Testament, preferably the Gospels, and if really pushed, The Gospel of Mark
since it is the shortest and simplest.
Another great means of going deep with Jesus is the Rosary. Now I usually find two opposite reactions when I bring up the Rosary. Some who sincerely appreciate it ask, “Is there any other prayer?” Others, who do not understand the Rosary react with the exclamation, “Boring!” Yet prayed properly, the Rosary is anything but dull. At its heart the Rosary is a prayer of meditation on the mysteries of the life of Jesus and Mary. Essentially, the Rosary is meditative prayer on the central events described in the New Testament. The Rosary can be a profound means of communion with Jesus in the depths of His Sacred Heart.
Eucharistic adoration enables us to come into the very presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament is available to us in informal adoration, before the tabernacle, and in formal adoration, when He is exposed in the monstrance. Come and give your soul a tan! We can literally be close to His Heart and pour out our troubles in His presence. Through His Eucharistic Heart He draws us into the infinite depths of His love.
Spiritual reading is an excellent way to encounter Jesus Christ. Although there are many outstanding contemporary authors, I’m partial to the spiritual classics, those works that Christians have found helpful throughout the ages, all over the world. And I must admit that in this matter, as in others, I’m partial to the ladies. The women doctors of the Church have superlative expressions of the faith that have literally changed my life, and the lives of countless others. I have also found that often the women do not get as caught up in technical vocabulary as some of the boys do. I think here of St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Theresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux. Of course there are many other spiritual classics, Introduction to the Devout Life
by St. Francis de Sales, St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises
, The Imitation of Christ
, and so many others.
Experiencing some sort of Christian community is foundational to a balanced relationship with Jesus and His Body, the Church. We cannot do this alone. Some sort of small faith community is requisite, be it a Bible study group, the Knights of Columbus, a Charismatic prayer group, or just a good group of Christian friends who talk seriously from time to time. To live a life of faith in Jesus Christ takes the support of Christian peers.
The sacraments are the superlative means of going deep with Jesus Christ, because the sacraments are the very touch of Jesus. Sacraments do not depend on us; they depend on Him. The holiness of the priest is tertiary at best. The disposition of the Christian is secondary at best. Jesus is primary in the sacraments. Through the sacraments God acts, and we react. God’s perfect power and mercy and grace cover our weakness and sin. So they are ideal for encountering Jesus.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession, is indispensable. Through Confession we receive the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. There we find freedom from all the wickedness, silliness and garbage that we bring on ourselves. Catholics are often accused of being guilt-mongers. In fact the opposite is true. Confession is the great “anti-guilt.” One of its primary effects is the removal, the destruction of guilt. Psychologists have told me time and time again how much they admire this sacrament. Liberation from sin and darkness with no case notes, no insurance to pay, no cost at all. Just freedom, forgiveness and union with Christ. It can’t be beat.
Of course the sacrament-par-excellence, the source and summit of our faith is the Holy Eucharist. When we receive the Eucharist we literally have communion, union-with, Jesus Christ. This is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb where the two are made one. When we receive the Eucharist we are transformed into His Body. The Bread of Life puts death to death in us. There can be no closer union this side of heaven. We have a tangible, corporeal, edible union with Jesus in this Great Sacrament. How much more can be said. We have this great sacrament available to us every day, if we wish.
Jesus Christ calls us, “Duc in Altum!”
He says, “Pull out into the deep! Leave the shallows behind!” In doing so we contemplate the One we love and we are immersed in the depths of His love for us. As St. Augustine said, “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; to seek Him, the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement.”