Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, July 15, 2012, 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Fr. Dick Clifford, SJ


Not so long ago the Occupy movement was in the headlines, and even in Boston. Occupy is an international protest movement against social and economic inequality, its primary goal being to make the economic structure and power relations in society fairer. Different local groups have different emphases, but among the prime concerns is the worry that large corporations and the global financial system control the world in a way that benefits a minority and disenfranchises and cheats the majority. The first Occupy protest to receive wide media coverage was the Occupy Wall Street in New York, which began on September 17, 2011. The protests spread throughout the United States and many countries. At first received with widespread sympathy, they nonetheless failed to gain grassroots support. Today, the movement has lost momentum, even though the public is generally sympathetic to its aims.

Thinking about the Occupy movement is perhaps a good first step in understanding today's readings. Why? Because it failed to do two crucial things that the eighth-century prophet Amos and the prophet Jesus did successfully–establish their authority (why people should listen to them) and communicate clearly to people what they should do.

How does Amos differ from Occupy? At first glance, Amos does not seem different at all. He's on government property, that is, a shrine operated by the king, who was considered God's lieutenant with the responsibility of keeping up the God's shrines. That fact makes it similar to Occupy, which “occupied” land belonging to the city and its leaders, like Amos, “spoke truth to power.” But Amos had authority to speak because he was sent by God, and he had a clear message. When he tells the priest Amaziah (who was an official of the king) that “I was no prophet,” he is saying that he is not a typical professional prophet who made his living from prophesying and got got involved in politics. Rather, God called him away from his farm duties, “took him from following the flock,” and gave him the words to speak. The second difference from Occupy is that his message is crystal clear and simple: God is about to chastise Israel for its sins against its own poor. If Israel responds, God will also respond and draw near.

Jesus too avoids vagueness. When he summons the Twelve, he makes it clear that he is re-founding Israel and announcing the Kingdom, the reign, of God. He sends forth his hearers with very clear instructions. They are to trust in the local people they meet, and share the life of the communities they visit. They are to wish “peace” on the houses in which they find hospitality. Essentially, they preach that God is doing a new thing, a positive thing, and the people should open their hearts and minds to it.

Both Amos and Jesus had authority that was, or should have been, recognized by the people they addressed. Both of them announced an intervention of God that, like all such nterventions, required a full-hearted human response.

In Jesus’ case, he sent the Twelve, who represent the church, to convey his message. And that fact gives us our takeaway for today. Jesus speaks to us today through others. Moreover, he does not always “speak” by giving others words to say, but by enabling them to be good examples. As St. Francis of Assisi famously said to one of his Franciscan brothers, “Let us go, brother, and preach in that town and, if necessary, use words.”

Our takeaway today, then is to examine who are those who speak God’s word to us today, and who are those who are examples of God’s message to us? Are they our parents and grandparents, our aunts and uncles, our children? Are they outside our family? Friends, coworkers, fellow parishioners, government officials, even sports heroes? We perhaps can hear God speaking to us, or connecting with us in a book, a movie, work of art. The important thing is to be receptive and appreciative. What do we notice? What sticks in our mind and comes back in a day or two? Don’t take their good words and their good example for granted. It can be God speaking through them.

To show you how terrible the opposite of hearing the word, listen to our prophet Amos: “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.” Such a terrible prospect should make us appreciate who lucky we are to have people to preach or exemplify the word of God.

It leads us to a prayer: God of the prophets, in every age you send the word of truth, familiar yet new, a sign of contradiction. Let us not be counted among those who lack faith, but give us the vision to Christ in our midst and to welcome your saving word.

[Acknowledgments: Wikipedia on Occupy, and Opening Prayers: Collects in Contemporary

Language (Norwich; Canterbury Press, 1999)].

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