Good morning, everyone! Hope that you all had a really fine week, and that you are able to enjoy the blessings of another Sunday, of course, on the heels of some tragic news that we’ve heard of more shootings in our country – in Texas and Ohio – knowing that in this world that’s always filled with brokenness, and suffering, and pain. And when we hear news of that, it reminds us that we’re clearly not in heaven.
Yet, today’s Gospel gives us the hope for us to focus on what is really important: that which is of Heaven. That the challenge is how to be able to be focused on that, in the midst of a very, very broken world. How to focus on that in the midst of our own personal brokenness is, as I was looking at the Gospel for today – and really all the readings – I would, I could not help but think about the situation I am in my own life right now.
As you all know, I’m here in Berkeley because I’m going to school here at the university, and when you’re in graduate school, you share the classroom with lots of other people who were there for lots of different reasons. Some are there because they’ve been almost assigned to do it – their work is kind of paying for them to go to grad school, and this is the next step that they have to do in order to advance within their career. But for many people, a return to school usually indicates a type of wrestling with your own personal identity. What type of name am I trying to present? Who am I really? What’s of a mark or impact can I make in the world.
For many people, when you get to that early midlife, you start to see an uptick on people going and getting degrees – advanced degrees – trying to figure out how they could restart their career, try to figure out a way to somehow bring more satisfaction to their life. And clearly being with my cohort here at Berkeley, I see a lot of that going on. But yeah, it’s not just something I think graduate students wrestle with, trying to see your own personal identity, what you’re about, trying to figure out what is the meaning of life and your role in it.
We all fall into that all of us at some point start to question what is it all about. What is life all about? If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that, as the First Reading says, that you know all is really just vanity. Think about just this deal we’re given life, right? We didn’t choose to be born, yet here we are. And the way it ends is that we end up dying.
Naturally, all of us at some point have to ask yourself the question: what is this all about? And not only are we here not by choice, not only does the whole process end with us dying, there’s a considerable amount of pain between birth and death. So once again, what is it all about? What does it mean to go through this whole process? Why bother?
I think the reason why we continue to wake up every day is because we really understand that, in the midst of a world that we did not choose to be born in, that we do not choose to die in, and in which we participate with much suffering, we see so much goodness, we see so much goodness. What keeps us moving and clinging to the hope that tomorrow will be a better day is because around us, especially in moments of tragedy and suffering and brokenness, we see perhaps the greatest acts of kindness, charity, selflessness.
I often say that there’s nothing more unjust than going to a hospital for children and seeing children suffer so innocently. If there’s ever a moment to question God’s existence, it’s in that very moment to see a child suffer. Yet, the very same moment we see the heroic actions of doctors, nurses, parents, and other support, for people show that in this moment they bring their best selves to the table. We see God’s presence in the selfless actions of others.
And this is exactly what the Lord wants us to focus on in the Gospel today. There’s a conversation I had this week with a friend of mine – actually a member of the class here at Berkeley, and he considers himself to be an atheist – and he asked me, “Like John, how do you identify yourself?”
And of course I think he was expecting something lofty, in relationship to knowing that I am a priest, so maybe he thought I was going to identify myself as being a Catholic, a Christian, a priest. I said, you know, my identity is not wrapped up in the things that I essentially participate in this world. My identity exists in only one thing, and that is I am my beloved son of God, a beloved child of God. That is the identity that all of us have, because it’s the one thing we do not elect to be part of. We don’t actively choose to be part of.
Yes, it’s through God’s grace them have been called to be Christians, Catholics, called to our vocations, and we respond to that grace. But the one thing that does not even demand a response on our part is the fact that we are simply beloved by God for being. And Jesus gives us this parable showing how this rich farmer was trying his darnest to bring about things into his life that would give him security, comfort, knowledge that he is somehow taken care of. But what a burden it is to have to bring your own identity to you. What a burden it is to work to create an identity for yourself – trying to prove to yourself, trying to prove to us, trying to prove to God that you’re doing life right, which is why we work so hard at having a good job, having material things, being successful, because we’re all under this illusion that we have to form our own identity. And of course it extends to our participation and other things. How many of us identify with different groups we are part of, political parties, even religion?
When our identity is caught up in something other than the very fact that we are loved by God simply because we are, we are destined to be let down, because we seek something that is ultimately part of our own doing, that is not solely the doing of God.
Today, we come to Mass, and we participate once again in receiving the Eucharist. And what is this really do for us? It brings us in communion with Jesus, the son of God. Who are we? Sons and daughters of God. We share in the same relationship that God the Father has with Jesus the Son. When we’re in communion with the Son – Jesus – we are reaffirming our identity as sons and daughters of God.
And once we know who we really are, there’s nothing to fear. There’s no need to make sure that all of our ducks are in order, that we have enough money for retirement. There’s no need for us to make sure that we have the exact perfect job, and that we’re making an impact the way that we think we need to make an impact. There’s no need.
Yet, we have to ask ourselves why is it that we have to toil. Why is it that we work? Why is it that we need things and stuff? Why is it that we have to be careful and mindful of what we have so that tomorrow we had at least enough security to get by. And once again is the same Eucharist which brings it all back to the place of Thanksgiving for the job that we have, the material things that we have, the success that we may have, is all opportunity to give thanks to God for allowing us to participate in a very small way in his goodness. And it’s that goodness which makes us get up each day to face the day, face the world, and give us the hope that tomorrow will be a better day.
God bless you all.