The BC Lions had a great day in Montreal on Friday: they beat the Alouettes 38 to 17. And they needed the win, since their season has been, to put it nicely, less than spectacular.
I'm no armchair quarterback, but there's one thing I know about the Lions' lack of success: it's not for lack of coaching. You can be sure the coaches have come up with all kinds of new plays and countless ideas for getting out of the slump.
But imagine for a moment that I am wrong. Imagine a football coach giving a chalk talk along the lines of the average Sunday homily.
"Okay, boys, listen up. Play better football!"
Or what if he said "All right team. What you need to do is not lose games!"
Isn't that how some homilies come across? We listen to the Sunday readings, and then the priest says "Great stuff. Now let's do it!"
But of course we never do, because much of what the Bible teaches is broad and universal; it applies in every age and in every culture. So it's not always easy to translate that teaching into action in daily life. In fact, we're often happy enough to let the Sunday message sail over our heads; it can be uncomfortable to realize that Jesus is talking to me on Sunday morning.
And so both priests and parishioners interpret the Sunday scriptures in the broadest possible way. The problem is that "Be a better person" or even "Try harder to love" help us to grow about as much as "Be a better player" helps a linebacker or an offensive guard.
I'd like to take this homily in the opposite direction this morning/afternoon. I'm going to show how we can put to work part of the wisdom that's found in today's liturgy of the Word.
The Book of Wisdom asks a question, and then answers it. The question is "who can learn the counsel of the Lord?" Who can know what the Lord wants. Just when you think there's no answer, the writer answers himself with another question: "Who has learned your counsel, unless you have given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?"
In other words, we can know what God wants, but only if He tells us.
Today's Gospel also asks a couple of questions. Which one of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost? Forget about towers: on the North Shore in 2010, we're talking about doing a reno. And we know what kind of person does a major home renovation without an idea of the cost: a billionaire or an idiot.
The Gospel then reaches a startling conclusion. Whoever does not give up all their possessions cannot be my disciple.
What am I supposed to say about that in a homily? My new car isn't yet three weeks old and the Lord wants me to give it up? (Actually, it's six years old, but it's new to me.)
I know what to say: Friends, ask God for the wisdom to understand what Jesus meant, and go home happy. And my car can stay in the garage.
But you know what that is, don't you: it's a prime example of more bad coaching. Because there's no specific challenge—nothing we can do or not do this week, this afternoon. In a word, nothing measurable.
So let me suggest something you can measure. Seeking the counsel of the Lord is more than an attitude; it calls for action. We'll have trouble knowing what Jesus meant by telling us to give up all our possessions if we don't study the Gospels more deeply than we can in a Sunday sermon.
Are you ready for a game plan that takes these things seriously? Because the parish is offering two programs that pretty well guarantee a spiritual touchdown.
The first program is a small group faith study called the Discipleship Series. We hope to run groups at church and in homes, some weekly, some monthly. But first we need people to understand how it works, and the best way to do that is to meet Christopher Ruff, the author of the books the program is based on.
Mr. Ruff is giving a workshop this coming Saturday that will explain how his program combines prayer, reflection, and service of others. It will be held at St. Patrick's parish in Vancouver; all the details are on a sheet at the back.
A second way to receive the wisdom God wants us to have for our daily living is to attend our new adult faith formation course called Evangelium. You've never seen anything like it—it's a 25-week course based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church that uses masterpieces of art in every lesson. The beauty of the program helps us see the beauty of the Faith.
It's really not enough to want to be a better Catholic; we need to know more about the whys and hows of Christian living, and Evangelium offers this in an enjoyable series of evenings.
The Tuesday evening course will be presented by various speakers, including myself and Kyle Neilson, our new RCIA coordinator. We're very fortunate to have Kyle working with us; his "day job" is with the Office of Religious Education downtown, which allows him to assist us in the evening.
The new course allows some of you to fulfill two major commitments at the same time: you can grow in your own faith while sharing it with someone else, since Evangelium—which is the Latin word for Gospel, by the way—will have a team to assist inquirers who may later enter the formal RCIA process with a view to joining the Church. So bring a non-Catholic friend or a non-practicing family member.
Consider marking your calendar for next Tuesday, the 14th of September. You don't need to commit, and a second round of Evangelium will run on Monday nights, beginning in the middle of October. The Monday evening course will be directed to parishioners rather than inquirers, and will be offered by a single presenter, Dr. Margherita Oberti.
There you have it: two practical ways to respond to God's Word this morning/afternoon. Two strategies for learning God's ways and receiving his counsel for daily living, things we can actually do, right now, to tackle some of the problems we face in our complicated world.