Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 8A
In today’s culture, where personal choice is thought to have such importance, we don’t often think about how so many aspects of our lives are simply given. Now maybe one of you remembers differently, but I don’t remember ever being asked by my parents, or by God beforehand, whether I actually wanted to be brought into existence and given life. To my knowledge, I was not consulted as to which country I wanted to be born into, and if I had been given the choice, I definitely would not have chosen Iowa as the State of my birth, to be stuck with that on my U.S. Passport for the rest of my life. God did not ask for my permission to create me in the 20th century rather than any other age of the world. And I did not choose to have an almost entirely German ethnicity and temperament, or to be naturally shy, or to be given a very analytic mind, or even my stunning good looks. No, so much of what you see and hear from me is not anything that I can realistically take much credit for.
Each one of us is uniquely gifted by God. The providence of God that we hear about in today’s readings pertains to the basic necessities that are common to everyone, our need for food, clothing, and shelter, but God’s love for us extends also to every aspect of our existence and to those things that make each of us unique. So in those aspects of our lives that we did not choose or perhaps would not have chosen for ourselves, are we able now to accept them as a gift from God, to gift thanks, and to move forward in a healthy direction? Or do we choose to rebel against what God has provided for us, constantly wishing to be someone else, or something else? Or to live in another time of history or in another place?
I just saw on the news recently some renewed enthusiasm for eventually colonizing Mars, so now you can even choose to spend your time lamenting the fact that you were born too early in history to be a Martian like you really wanted. You were born on the wrong planet. Others spend a lot of time fantasizing about living in medieval times, the time of knights and chivalry and plagues. Every time in history has its opportunities and its problems, but living too much in the past or in the future can distract us from the real opportunity and unique mission that God is entrusting to us today.
Particularly challenging for us and for our faith and trust in God are what we might see as crosses in our lives, aspects of reality that we wish we could change but don’t have the power to do so. Our limitations. Our weaknesses. Disabilities. Forgetfulness. Illnesses. The effects of aging. Many of these aspects of our lives were not part of God’s original plan for us. They are evils that stem from living in a fallen world, inundated by the effects of sin. And our new creation in Christ continues to be experienced in mystery, but just as Christ freely accepted His Cross, though it wasn’t anything that He deserved, God can make use of the crosses in our lives to continue His work of redemption, when we freely choose to accept these crosses and to move forward with them.
One aspect of being human and being limited that many have begun to see as a burden is even our own sexuality and being born male or female. Like many other conditions of our lives, our gender is not something that we choose for ourselves before being born, and we need to ask ourselves whether it is very healthy to try to change our gender later on in life, or are there healthier ways of dealing with the anxiety or insecurity that might surround our gender identity, just as we might have insecurity about our age or ethnicity?
When it comes down to it, are we able to receive ourselves, and each aspect of our limited existence, are we able to receive who and what we are as a gift from God, or do we experience our life or identity or personality as more of a burden? Now I don’t think any of us experience life perfectly one way or the other, as a great gift or as an unbearable burden, but we need to bring this to God in prayer when we experience the anxieties of life and the tensions between the reality that confronts us and our own desires and aspirations. To ask God for the faith and the trust, to be able to sincerely thank Him for all that He has done for us, for all that He is doing in us, and for the plan that He has for our life, to take us beyond even our own limited desires, beyond the limits of this world, into the true life of heaven.