This homily was written as a class exercise for the Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 22, 2013) Readings for the Sunday can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/092213.cfm
When Mother Teresa first entered the slums of Calcutta, she didn’t come with great plans or large amounts of funding. According to the accounts of the Sisters who had lived in community with her, she didn’t even possess great leadership abilities. Instead, she responded to what God called her to, a call to go out the poorest of the poor. She listened to the Holy Spirit. In the beginning, her ministry was rather simple. She taught the children how to wash their hands because they lacked common knowledge about hygiene. Her ministry then extended to those who were dying in the street. She had no medical knowledge and no funding, so all she could do was provide them with a simple shelter in which to die with dignity. In time, this simple nun from Eastern Europe would become a model that would set the world on fire with the love of Christ. The order she would establish would extend throughout the world.
Brothers, one of the dangers we face is that we can get so caught up in grand plans and intricate schemes that we fail to do the simple things that truly transform hearts. Our first reading and the responsorial psalm focus on the poor, and how the Lord has a special care for them. Perhaps we hear these words, and we like the idea of serving the poor. We talk about simplicity and the Evangelical counsel of poverty, but in reality these teachings don’t penetrate the heart. Often our complex solutions fail to address what a preferential option for the poor is all about. It is not about solving abstract problems, but encountering real people.
I will give you a concrete example of the difference. We are all aware of the significant difference between government forms of social service and those same kinds of outreaches that are run by faith organizations. Often in government services, the job gets done. Money and goods are distributed and people are served, but we must admit that helping humans is more than just serving their physical needs. I am going to go out on a limb and say that most people don’t experience love when seeking social services. But this is exactly what the heart craves. Brothers, our ministries can sometimes resemble social programs done by the government. They get the job done, but they lack the encounter of love.
The solution can be found in the kind of mentality that Jesus is trying to teach in today’s Gospel. Jesus is using parables to describe a kind of supernatural prudence. The tradition associates this gift of supernatural prudence with the gift of counsel. Both Jesus and the tradition are expressing a deep truth. Doing God’s will is not about following a cookie-cutter spiritual path, but rather discovering God’s will through discernment. We have to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit, and this takes skill. To truly reach out to people, we have to make “friends with dishonest wealth.” We have to have the kind of ingenuity of the dishonest steward. I would like to say that every seminarian should do x, y, and z, but that is not how it works. Each of us must enter into the heart, and in that deep gaze of love with our Lord, we must listen to how our Beloved is calling us to serve the poor, the forgotten, the outcasts of society.
Brothers, we can be saints like Mother Teresa. We may not ever become famous, we may not have great documentaries made about our lives, but we can be known as friends of the poor, people who reach out to those in need. Brothers, I want you to imagine how much people will be drawn to you, and through you to Christ, when they see how much your life is like Mother Teresa’s. Like her, I want you to imagine that your words need not be eloquent or complex because people are drawn to your witness. Imagine that your preaching touches hearts because in you people see Christ like they saw Christ in Mother Teresa.
So brothers, I propose that each of us do a kind of examination of conscience. I propose that we ask ourselves how are we going to reach out to the margins of society? No one can answer this question for you because brothers you must discover it in prayer. You must discover it in that deep communication of heart speaking to heart.