In his homily for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly tells two stories about the theme of today’s Mass: that Jesus, in grief, confronts life’s pain and life’s suffering. It’s all about the mystery of suffering.
Readings for Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
- First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-9
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
- Second Reading: Romans 12:1-2
- Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27
If I sound a bit different today, it’s because my voice is hoarse.
“Why?” you might ask. And the answer is simple: I talk too much. (Congregation laughs.) And I’ve been warned to use it rather sparingly or I might lose all of it. So I shall now obey and limit my homily to a short one.
It’s really two stories, two simple stories. The first is a story from a book and the other is a story from my life.
The story from my life you’ve probably heard a hundred times and that’s because I use it so often. And I’m going to use it again and again, because I like it. No other reason. I like it.
The first story is from a book and it’s about the theme of today’s Mass: that Jesus, in grief, confronts life’s pain and life’s suffering. It’s all about the mystery of suffering. And this is the way the story goes, according to the book, so pay attention!
There was once a woman whose happiness was shattered by the loss of her brother.
He was a good man, dearly loved, and she was torn by anguish. And she kept asking God why: “Why him, why me, why?” But hearing only silence, she set out in search of an answer.
She had not gone far when she came upon an old man sitting all alone on a bench and he was weeping. And she said to him, “Why are you weeping, old man?”
“Because,” he said, “I have suffered a great loss. You see, all my life I’ve been a painter, a painter of lovely pictures, and now, I know not why, I’ve lost my sight.”
He, too, was looking for an answer to the question “Why?” The woman invited him to join her, and taking him by the arm, they trudged down the road together.
Soon they were overtaken by a young man walking about aimlessly. He had lost his wife, the source of all his joy. And, even more unfortunately, he did not lose her to death but to another man.
He, too, joined in the search of an answer to “Why me? Why?”
Shortly, they came upon a young woman sitting on her front doorstep and she was sobbing into her hands because she had lost her child, her only child.
She, too, joined this little company, and nowhere could they find an answer to the question “Why?”
Suddenly, however, they came upon Jesus and each confronted him with their questions.
But Jesus was silent and he gave no answer.
Instead, he began to weep and through his tears he said, “I bear the burden of a woman who has lost her brother, the burden of a young girl whose baby has died, a painter who has lost his sight, a young man who has lost a love in which he delighted.”
And as Jesus spoke, the four moved closer. And then they embraced each other. And they grasped Jesus’ hands and held him to them.
And Jesus spoke again. Jesus said, “My dominion is the dominion over the heart. I cannot prevent pain but only heal it.”
“How, then, do you do that?” said the woman.
And he answered, “Only by sharing it with you.”
And, suddenly, he was gone from their sight.
And what of the other four?
Out of pain can come compassion, sharing and selflessness. Learn to love by loving, learn how to heal by healing, and, in the end, in the end, the only thing left is love.
The second story I don’t have written down, because I know it by heart.
Many years ago, when I was a parish priest in Chinatown, New York, I got a phone call all the way from India, where my sister and brother-in-law were working for the government. And it was him.
And he told me that my sister had fallen down a mountainside and was seriously hurt, so much so that they flew her right back on a plane all the way from India to Washington, DC, and the military hospital there.
And since Chinatown is not too far, I jumped on the next plane (they go every hour) and landed in Washington, jumped in a taxi, went to the hospital, climbed the stairs and went into her room.
And there she was, in the dark, in the corner, bandages all over her head, and only her eyes and nose and mouth you could see.
And I rushed over to the bed and I began to say to her, “Ann, don’t worry. Everything’s going to be okay. You’re going to be fine. You’re in the best hospital in the world. They’re going to take good care of you. You’ll be back in no time.” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And then she opens one eye and she looks at me and she says, “Denis, will you shut up and hold my hand.”
And I did. And that’s the first time the self-centred priest found out what it means to be a disciple.
Just be there. Just hold hands. Just let them know you care and they themselves will heal themselves, which is what God wants all of us to do: heal yourself.
But you cannot do it alone, only in the presence of Jesus.
I thought and thought of what would be a final word to add to this and I came up with only a very, very little bit and it is this: the two stories, the two stories are all about confronting suffering with human compassion and with divine love, and we will all, as God promised us, be healed.