This summer, when I was moved to a new set of assignments, I began ministry as chaplain of my high school alma mater in Steubenville. Every year at Homecoming, a Mass is celebrated at the school before the football game. As chaplain, I get to celebrate that Mass.
There's something truly beautiful about how the Church picks readings for each Sunday Mass. The priest has nothing to do with which readings we hear at most Masses - they are assigned through a three-year-long cycle - and I think that's a really good thing because God often speaks in powerful ways through unexpected readings.
About three months ago, I began my new assignments here at Catholic Central as well as at the parishes in Wintersville. I grew up in Steubenville and I never imagined that I would end up here, especially so early in my priesthood. But being a priest for people you know - and who knew you as a kid - can be interesting, so it was fitting when the Gospel for that first weekend had Jesus saying, "A prophet is not without honor except in his native place ..."
I would have never picked these readings for this Mass if it was up to me. They don't seem to tie directly into what we are celebrating tonight - Homecoming, the CCHS family, young and old, gathering together; but, as the Scriptures always do, they speak to what is most important - our relationship with God - and that is the heart of what Catholic Central High School is about.
Our first reading and Gospel today both speak about God working in an unexpected way.
In the reading from Numbers, Joshua asks Moses to stop two men who are prophesying in the camp. These two, Eldad and Medad, weren't present with the other elders and Moses when the spirit of God came down on them - but they still received the spirit and were showing it. Rather than then making them stop, Moses says, "Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"
We see a similar situation in the Gospel. John comes and complains to Jesus that someone is casting out demons in Jesus' name - but he doesn't belong to the group of the disciples. Again, Jesus doesn't stop the man, but says that, "There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us."
In both of these readings, God works in unexpected ways - through unexpected people. God works - He still does today; and we should all be very aware that He wants to and can work through us.
The purpose of Catholic Central and all Catholic schools - before success in athletics or even academics - is to help students to grow in their relationship with God so that they can be saints. That's the bottom line.
Being a saint is not only for certain special people - the John Paul IIs and Mother Teresas of the world. It is the calling, the destiny of every human being - to live for eternity in union with God.
Jesus makes that point in a pretty serious way in the second half of this Gospel. All that talk about cutting off your hand or plucking out your eye if the cause you to sin - he is telling us that, while we are on earth, we have our one chance to choose God. That choice takes place over the many years of our lives, but it is the only time we are given. We have to make our choice for God and then live according to that choice. As the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis said, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'" How we spend eternity is completely up to us.
Like many of you probably have, I've been enjoying watching Pope Francis' visit to the United States. He's made some great speeches and homilies, and something he said at Mass today in Philadelphia jumped out at me.
He wa speaking about St. Katharine Drexel, who was born in Philadelphia and who inherited hundreds of millions of dollars at the death of her father. She had an audience with Pope Leo XIII where she spoke to him about the needs of missions in the United States. Rather than telling her that he would look into what he could do, Pope Leo asked her, "What about you? What are you going to do?"
We should all ask ourselves that question: "What about me? What am I going to do?"
What am I going to do to grow in my relationship with God?
What am I going to do to say no to my sins?
What am I going to do to share God's message of love and mercy with the people in my life?
As sons and daughters of this school, we've all heard the Word of God. Let's hear it again with open hearts. Let's live the faith we proclaim by being Crusaders with everything we are.