I haven't been able to post a Sunday homily for a couple of weeks. Two weeks ago we had fourteen of the sixteen new permanent deacons with us at Mass, and one of them preached; last Sunday I was so enthusiastic that I preached without notes.
But speaking of deacons... one of the newly-ordained preached last Saturday at the morning Mass, which the eight men now preparing for the permanent diaconate attended together with their wives. Deacon Henk Luyten, a high school principal, gave such a bracing homily that I asked if I could post it here.
The gospel for the day was this short and rather shocking passage in Mark:
Jesus and the disciples went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”
Here below is what Deacon Luyten shared with us. He began by thanking the parish for being so welcoming and supportive to the permanent deacons, candidates, and spouses.
Before reflecting on our readings this morning, I would briefly like to take the opportunity to thank you personally and on behalf of all the deacons for your support and prayers. I started my journey of discernment and formation in your community some four years ago and I am now happy to be back with you to help Monsignor Smith, your pastor, in continuing our program with these fine candidates. You have sacrificed much, especially with Monsignor’s absences while he was with us. We are grateful to you and the entire Archdiocese for your support during our formation. I would ask a further favour, that you please continue to extend your warm welcome and pray for both the deacons and the candidates and our families. Again, thank you.
In this morning’s Gospel we find Jesus so busy preaching, healing and casting out demons that he doesn’t even have enough time to eat. The well behaved young carpenter who had spent most of his life living quietly surrounded by his relatives in Nazareth had suddenly become the leader of a band of twelve itinerant preachers, vagabonds to some, attracting huge crowds wherever he went. Leaving relatives and neighbours, he made his new home in a stranger’s house in a strange town, Capernaum, with fisherman and tax collectors as his new friends. When his family finally discovered this, they concluded he had gone out of his mind and set out to restrain him and perhaps bring him home. They were scandalized and embarrassed by his actions, not able to understand the changes in their native son.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, whose memorial we celebrate on Thursday, had a very similar experience, he was born into nobility and his mother had great expectations for his success in the world. Yet Thomas resolved to leave his family and join the Dominicans against the wishes of his mother. His family also thought him “out of his mind” and his brothers “restrained” him by imprisoning him in the family’s castles. But Thomas did not give in and regardless of apparent scandal to his family, set about to following his passion to the glory of God and us all.
We might ask what motivated Jesus and later Thomas to make such radical decisions, to give up so much, even to tear their families apart in times when family was the most important thing in life.
Jesus himself gives us the answer a few verses later in Mark’s Gospel. When he is told his mother and brothers (and sisters) have arrived asking for him, he responds, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). Doing God’s will, carrying out one’s mission, is decisive in the Kingdom of God. And doing God’s will very often looks crazy to the world.
Jesus teaches us a valuable lesson here. We often encounter people in our communities and even families who appear to be doing crazy, even scandalous things in our eyes or those of others. How do we respond when a daughter whom we expected to enter a prominent career or provide us with grandchildren suddenly announces that she wishes to enter a religious order? Or when a good friend suddenly tells us that he is contemplating the priesthood? I myself was surprised by the few good friends who told me that I was “out of my mind” to become a deacon at this point in my life.
And many don’t just respond this way to religious vocations but also to other countercultural behaviours such as virginity, natural family planning or even marriage, where friends and family react with “you must be out of your mind” when we or our brothers and sisters are attempting to do the will of God.
We must not allow ourselves to fall into this trap of demanding that “our own will be done”. Let us commit ourselves today to follow Jesus and do at least one thing; offer a sacrifice, support a vocation, whatever it may be, in which we too might be called “crazy” in the service of God.