Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily July 12.
This week in Catholic Charities Summer Institute you have encountered people with big problems, and you gave some thought to how you might be able to help them.
When we encounter such situations, it is very important to remember what I told you at dinner Monday night: that it could just as well be us — “but for the grace of God, there go I.” There are a lot of people in our world who are facing problems that they find to be simply overwhelming.
Hopefully this experience has served to put you in their shoes, even if only for a couple of days. So if you are in their shoes, what are the ways that you can draw on your faith to deal effectively with problems that seem overwhelming and look like they’re only going to get worse?
In today’s Gospel Jesus says to do three things:
• keep your eyes open,
• be courageous and
And he promises to help us through these troubles. Here Jesus is speaking about the persecution of believers by the government and betrayal by their own family members, but what he says applies to other troubles as well. He says, “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as shrewd as serpents and simple as doves ... and do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
But then as now, believers who keep their eyes open, act courageously and persevere will prevail. Jesus says elsewhere: “By your perseverance you will save your lives.”
And what is true on the cosmic level about persevering despite all the adversities we might face in the larger world as the price of faithfulness to the Lord is true also on the personal level about us persevering despite all the personal adversities we must face while still in this life. And this applies just as much to the everyday problems that you and I face as it does to the overwhelming adversities that sometimes lead to homelessness and the other social problems you have been learning about this week.
• Keep your eyes open to see what’s really going on. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived by outside appearances.
Our Gospel says we should be as “shrewd as serpents and as simple as doves.” In other words, don’t turn a blind eye to problems that if you don’t deal with them now are only going to get worse.
• Be courageous about how you confront these problems. When Jesus says to be “shrewd as serpents” he is drawing on peoples’ belief that snakes will let you cut off their tail, so long as they can keep their head intact and thereby survive.
I don’t think it works that way, but that was the image: be courageous enough to be willing to suffer quite a bit if that is what it’s going to take to deal with the problems effectively.
• Persevere and, thereby, share in Jesus’ victory. In our Gospel, that means prevailing over persecutors.
In our own lives, that means not giving up when the struggle becomes hard, but rather simply doing our best and then placing our trust in the Lord who will do the rest.
Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are as much for you and me as they were for the disciples 2,000 years ago: “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as shrewd as serpents and simple as doves ... and do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say … For it will not be you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
And “by your perseverance you will save your lives” — and I might add, the lives of others as well.
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