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Holy Apostle ARChive
Deacon Gary Harmeyer's Homily 2/11/2018
Some time ago, I was told, by a reliable source, of a pastor who wrote a book, that he was very proud of. And so what he did when he arrived at his Virginia Beach parish, was each Sunday, for his homily, he read them a chapter from his book.
That same reliable source told me, sitting through those homilies was excruciatingly boring and she was so happy when he got to the end of the book.
I tell you that in advance, because I’m going to rely heavily on a book for my homily today, but fortunately for you, I didn’t write it!
It’s a short book, only about 150 pages; with a short title: You’re Worth It.
Its longer title is: “Change the Way You Feel About Yourself by Discovering How Jesus Feels About You.” It’s written by Danielle Bean and is published by Dynamic Catholic, © 2016.
Danielle is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest; she hosts a women’s television talk show; and she’s a popular speaker on marriage, motherhood and family life.
I’m referencing the book not so much in the hope that you buy it – but rather in the hope that you will try and get your hands on a copy and read it (more on that in a moment).
I also don’t want my homily to be seen as political – because it is not, I want to especially address this homily to anyone who falls under the category of #MeToo.
If you aren’t familiar with the term #MeToo, it started last year. It’s mainly used by women, but some men identify with it too. It’s an attempt to de-stigmatize those who have been sexually harassed and assaulted, but for whatever reason – perhaps intimidation by the perpetrator or shame on the part of the victim – the issue was never reported, or if it was reported it was never investigated or resolved. Often the reason for the victim not reporting the incident is because the perpetrator threatened retaliation if she did. If the incident was reported, often no one listened, or authorities would not pursue it because the perpetrator – usually a male – was either a powerful and respected member of the local establishment, or was a bully that others didn’t want to take on.
As I mentioned, I’m not so interested in you buying the book – because you can go to the Dynamic Catholic website and get it for free – you just pay for shipping and handling. But what I’m hoping is that you read it.
I was so impressed with the book, that I purchased three copies (if you buy them in bulk they aren’t free, but you save on shipping). And I put 3 on the bookshelf in the double classroom. I wrote Holy Apostles on the top, in hopes that after you read it, you will return it and give someone else a chance to read it.
The author, Danielle Bean, focuses on the discrimination and degradation that has been the plight of women, probably from the earliest periods and in most cultures, including our own today.There are many scripture passage references – most related to women – like the Woman at the Well, the Woman Caught in Adultery, the Woman with a Hemorrhage, and others. Then there’s an “In Person” section where she tells a contemporary story, followed by some insightful reflections.
Here is an edited example of an “In Person” section and the reflection that followed:
For many years, pain was all that Peggy knew. She didn’t know the meaning of human dignity, and she surely didn’t know the depths of Jesus' love. As a child, Peggy suffered horrific abuse at the hands of her biological father, then again in the foster care system, and even in the custody of a (quote) "Christian" adoptive family. The suffering she endured as a child left scars on her body, but even more so, in her heart. Peggy said, "I didn't know anything but pain and people who would abandon me. I didn't trust anyone, and from early on, I learned to rely on myself for things." In the midst of her tumultuous childhood, Peggy first learned about Jesus during a brief time spent in the custody of a loving grandmother in KS. Her grandmother encouraged her to accept Jesus as her Savior, and she did. Peggy said, “"She was one person who showed me just a little bit of kindness. The things she told me seemed almost too wonderful to believe. That Jesus could love me. That I was made for something good? I wanted to believe that so much."
Peggy had a gift for taking care of animals, and it was through her interactions with them over the years that she came to understand her longing for the healing touch of Jesus. "I could look into an animal's eyes and see what it needed. I could get it to trust me because it sensed I wanted to help it," she says. "I loved animals of all kinds, and they loved me. We understood each other."
When at last Peggy became an independent adult and was able to separate herself, at least in part, from her abusive past, she married a wonderful Catholic man and became a Catholic. They were blessed with a biological daughter, but also she and her husband became foster parents, and over the years have fostered loved and helped to heal the wounds of hundreds of foster children. “I love every one of them,” Peggy says. And she makes sure they know Jesus loves them, too. She says, “When you look into the eyes of a frightened child, and they need you, that’s where Jesus is. He is human, and he is real.”
At Holy Apostles this Lent for Soup & Study, the topic is Meeting Jesus. We see in Peggy’s case she meets Jesus in a number of ways but especially in the eyes of a frightened child.
Following Peggy’s story, a reflection followed and it’s entitled “Where Do We Seek Our Worth?” After listing some biblical examples – the woman at the well, the woman cured on the Sabbath, the raising of Jairus’ daughter – the author points out that Peggy's life-changing encounter with Jesus defied what others had told her about her own dignity and worth. Even in times of terrible suffering, sorrow, and abuse, Jesus' steadfast presence and unfailing love remains unchanged. Time and time again, Jesus breaks through cultural and social barriers in his affirmation of others, their unique gifts, and their dignity as human beings.
So, why bring up this book, this example, this reflection today? Because whether we accept it or not, we all need healing. In today’ gospel, the leper comes to Jesus with the request, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”
I don’t think we can imagine, in our 21st century, in our 1st world culture – with its medical advances and with the many religious and cultural norms that have been broken down; what it must have been like for that leper to even have the courage to approach Jesus for healing. He would have been told from the first moment there was a suspicion of leprosy that he was uncleaned, as we heard in our first reading and had to immediately separate himself from mainstream society, making his abode outside the camp.
He certainly would have had to endure the accusatory response of others, who at the time would have said his leprosy was caused by his own sinfulness. He lived in a culture that – if you were successful and rich, it was because God was blessing you for the good life you were living; but the reverse was also thought – if you had a disease, it was because of your sinfulness.
What shame this man coming before Jesus must have been saddled with. His dignity had been stripped away – he would have felt unworthy one that his society would had viewed as expendable. And yet somehow this man found the courage to approach Jesus, in the hope Jesus had the power to heal. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, the leper put all his faith in Jesus’ saving power.
And for Jesus’ part, when the man approached him, Jesus did not recoil, pull back as would have been the reaction of everyone else. Instead Jesus reaches out and touches the leper an act that would have automatically resulted in Jesus himself becoming unclean, not to mention leprosy is a communicable disease and Jesus intentionally exposed himself to it.
But as we see time and time again throughout the gospels, Jesus shuns the religious taboos and did what was spiritually right despite going against religious, societal, and cultural norms that lacked compassion were hurtful and discriminating.
The leprosy immediately leaves the man and Jesus tells him simply to report to the priest and cleanse as Moses prescribes. It would have been necessary for a priest to certify that the man’s leprosy was gone or that he was now clean so he could once again re-enter mainstream society. But it would have also alerted the religious leaders of the miracle Jesus performed. Although the miraculous healing was good news for the leper, Jesus would have known his act would instill jealousy and resentment in the hearts of the priests and Pharisees who would have to admit this unorthodox rabbi had miraculous powers and the religious authorities could neither predict his actions or control them.
For most of us, when we hear these healing stories, we think they sound nice, but we often don’t see how they relate to us in a personal way. But to respond to that, I want to go back to the book, “You’re Worth It” – to a reflection the author, Danielle Bean, wrote entitled “Everyone Needs Healing.”
She says, “We might read stories of dramatic healings and miraculous cures and think they don't apply to us. After all, we are not dead (like Jarius’ daughter), we don't have a hemorrhage, we don’t have leprosy, so what do we need healing from?”
She continues, “Well, I can't tell you exactly what you need healing from, but I can tell you that we all do need healing. Even if we have no significant health issues, we all suffer the consequences of sin and human weakness, and you don't have to look far to find imperfection in this world.”
“Perhaps you're grieving a loss, perhaps your marriage is struggling, perhaps your children cause you anxiety, or perhaps your work makes you miserable and sad. Perhaps even though everything on the outside looks great, you feel an emptiness inside that you don't know how to fill.
Every one of us is made for a relationship with Jesus. It is through communion with him that we find meaning purpose, and fulfillment in our lives, and yet so many of us run away. We deny our need, we doubt our worth, we hide in shame, and we fear approaching God.
Think for a moment now about a place in your life where you lack wholeness. Though our details may vary, we are all the same in our need for Jesus. We are the weeping widow or the father of a child we think has died. Unaware of Jesus’ presence.
As we read the Gospel stories and imagine the lives of the people long ago, we see what Jesus says is life-giving soul-feeding words that strikes to the depths of our hearts.
- His words are never complicated. When we are filled with grief and sorrow, he says, “Do not weep.”
- When we are gripped with anxiety, he reminds us, “Do not fear.”
- When we doubt the goodness of God, he says, “Have faith.”
- And when we fall down at his feet, he says “Arise,” and tells us, “to sin no more.”
The author concludes with the questions, “When you find yourself flung helplessly at Jesus’ feet, will you take the hand he reaches towards you? Will you admit your need for wholeness? Will you make yourself vulnerable in his loving presence, and let him touch and heal you?”
In our gospel today we see the leper flinging himself helplessly at Jesus’ feet. We see the leper asking Jesus for wholeness. We see the leper opening himself up to Jesus’ loving touch and healing.
What about us? What holds us back and doesn’t let us recognize our own helplessness and therefore we don’t see Jesus’ hand reaching out to us? What gives us a false sense of wholeness, and doesn’t allow us to admit we are empty without Jesus? What holds us back and doesn’t allow us to become vulnerable to the touch of Jesus?
Lent begins this Wednesday. What are we (because I certainly include myself here), but what are we willing to do to change your life? So we can make it easier for Christ to enter it in a new, deeper and more meaningful way?
Our last letter from Father Mike Ferguson:
Dear Friends in Christ,
A good clergy friend of mine, also a retired Naval Officer, now deceased, loved the prayer below. As both a seaman and a Parish priest, he believed the words, part of a prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake in 1577, spoke volumes for all who sail in God’s service.
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
This prayer describes both where people who are troubled with the hopes and dreams of the founders of this community (and those who have followed them), and the brave bishops, priests and laypeople who have sailed out anyway, trusting in God’s love, have been, and are still bravely getting underway. We harbor great hopes that we will be allowed to sail freely someday, guided by many stars, including the one that shown over a bleak manger centuries ago. However, in the meantime, we are called to be cautious about venturing into water that is too shallow for our ship and end up on the rocks. Peter, James and John knew this as fishermen. Paul learned it when he was a prisoner in a ship that foundered on some rocks (Acts 27:27-44). But Paul was allowed to continue serving God in myriad ways, as hope and believe that we shall be.
Many others have learned the truth of these words over the centuries. A smart navigator, following the stars that God puts in the sky for good reason, will sail as close to rocks and shoals as safety allows, but not so close as to go aground and never sail again. Christians are called to sail very boldly, while always remembering that reaching their destination intact, even if a bit weather-beaten and battle-scarred, is what God’s desires, rather than being lost at sea, with all hands lost.
In Christ’s love,
Contact Food Bank for a location
We have been doing this ministry for several years now. We currently feed an average of 150 families through the Food Bank of Hampton Roads. It has been a real blessing to know our neighbors better, and we have so appreciated the families who need the food, but who have committed to work beside us each month.
Homeless Shelter Summer/Winter
Because of the size of our membership and building, we are unable to accomodate the needs for the winter shelter, so we have joined with other groups to provide meals and supplies. The Virginia Beach area is a summer tourist area which means it is often difficult to find places for families in need during the summer months. We have housed 3 families and children here at our church. Our ministry did not end there. We helped them move and find furniture and supplies for their permanent homes. Summer 2016- June 29 to July 5.