June 27, 2015

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 28, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Raising of Jairus' Daughter, James Tissot,
c.1871
(Click here for today's readings)

In today’s Responsorial Psalm we have the splendid verse: “At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing.” This reminds me of a book I encountered as a high school seminarian. The title was But with the Dawn Rejoicing. It was the autobiography of a woman named Mary Ellen Kelly. In her teens she had begun to develop rheumatoid arthritis. By the age of 20 she was almost totally immobile. On a train she couldn’t use the sleeper car, but had to travel in the baggage car, strapped to a board. She had the use of only two fingers on one hand; it once took her over two hours to write a note just twenty-five words long.

She had plenty of reason to feel sorry for herself, and indeed she did. In due time, however, she met Fr. Joseph Higgins, a Missionary of Our Lady of La Salette. One day he “read her the riot act,” so to speak, and shocked her into the realization that, especially as a woman of faith, her handicap gave her no excuse to do nothing. She began writing a monthly newsletter called “Seconds Sanctified,” specifically for shut-ins like herself. She had always been a devout Catholic, and now had discovered her place in the Church, encouraging others never to lose faith. In 1959 she wrote But with the Dawn Rejoicing.

Like the woman in today’s Gospel, she had seen many doctors but only got worse. Like the woman in the Gospel, she had deep faith. Unlike that woman, she was not cured. But like that woman, her faith saved her. She came to understand that being saved was more important than being cured.

“Just have faith,” Jesus said when people came to tell Jairus it was too late, that his daughter was already dead. That was a lot to ask!

There are actually two other references to faith in today’s Scriptures. The first is in the Responsorial Psalm, where the Lord’s faithful are invited to praise him. The other is in St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, in which he includes faith among the things in which the Corinthians excel. We could say theirs is an “excellent” faith.

All of these references to faith imply clearly that faith has consequences. When St. Paul invites the Corinthians to “excel in this act also,” the “act” that he is referring to is... a special collection! He is asking all the Christian communities founded by him to donate to a fund to help the Christian community in Jerusalem, most of whom are very poor. He relies on his communities to understand that their faith calls them to solidarity with persons they had never met.

The woman’s faith did not remain abstract. She didn’t say to herself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he touched me!” but she acted on her faith, saying, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” We can be confident that her faith didn’t end there, but affected everything in her life thereafter.

In the Psalm, the “faithful” are being encouraged never to give in to despair. It isn’t simply a question of a silver lining in every cloud. It goes far beyond mere optimism.

So, too, for Jesus’ words, “Just have faith.” In ordinary English, “just” often has a minimizing implication. “Just do the best you can,” we say to someone who is nervous. “Just sit back and enjoy,” implies something requiring no effort at all. But in the case of Jairus, “just” having faith implies consequences, as though Jesus were saying, “Your faith brought you to me; hold on to it now more than ever.”

Mary Ellen Kelly died in her thirties. Her story reminds me of another person, a man I know, in his forties (I think), severely handicapped after an accident, who has been in a nursing home since before I first met him seven years ago. He, too, has struggled with discouragement. He, too, is a devout Catholic, who has come to terms with his situation. Now he has a Catholic blog through which he is able to share his faith. He draws no attention to himself, though I hope that one day he might share his own faith journey, to help others understand that the consequences of faith, demanding as they may be, bring peace.

I found a list of no less than thirty-five adverbs that can go with “faithful”, ranging from “affectionately,” to “scrupulously,” to “earnestly,” etc. I suppose our faith does undergo certain variations according to time and circumstance. The adverb that jumped out at me as I read the list was “joyfully.”

Which reminds me. The subtitle of Mary Ellen Kelly’s autobiography is: The Joyful Answer to the Why of Suffering. What kind of faith must have she have had!

You, by the way are the faithful. In liturgical books, the people present at a liturgy are not properly referred to as “the audience,” but as “the faithful,” which means those who have faith, those who are present here today because of their faith.

Faith is no guarantee of an easy existence. But the entrance antiphon for today’s Liturgy invites us to “Cry to God with shouts of joy!”

Faith and joy. What a great combination!

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