I celebrated Mass at 8 AM today, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, with the Discalced Carmelite Sisters in Flemington, NJ and the small community that gathers on Sunday to pray with them. Here is my homily:
I want to begin with a question: when did God think of you? Was it nine months and a day before you were born? Or ten months before your birth? In the first reading (Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19) we hear God say, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you...." So God had us in mind before we were conceived and began to develop in our mothers' wombs. But when did God first think of you?
In a homily he gave shortly after being elected to lead the Church, Pope Benedict XVI said that "each of us is the result of a thought of God." The thoughts of God are eternal. God had you in mind from all eternity, not just at some moment in time preceding your conception and birth. The Holy Father went on to say, "Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary."
Me?! Necessary?! Yes!
We have a tendency to think along the lines of the people of Nazareth whom we see in today's Gospel (Luke 4:21-30). They had an agenda and expectations about what the Messiah would be like. They thought he would be a great religious leader, a great military leader. Jesus, the hometown boy and son of a carpenter, didn't meet those expectations. They saw Him as insignificant.
We too have expectations. We too judge according to worldly standards of greatness.
Paul confronts that in our second reading (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13). He writes that what's important is not prophecy or speaking in all sorts of human or heavenly tongues. What's important is not the miraculous moving of a mountain or being able to "comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge." What's important is not giving up everything and living a life of poverty like that of St. Francis of Assisi. What's important is not even undergoing great sufferings for the faith or undergoing martyrdom. All of these can become the source of pride, that which first separated the devil and the first humans from God. What matters is love. We and what we do are nothing without love.
Why? Because God is love and we're made in the image and likeness of love. We are here on earth for one reason--to learn to love. We exist to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. Loving God totally, we will love what God loves--our neighbor, those others whom God also had in mind from all eternity.
What matters--what makes us necessary to God and for God's plan--is not doing great things, but the love with which we do everything. This is what Blessed Teresa of Calcutta taught when she said: "It is not how much we do, but how much love we put into what we do." This was the "Little Way" of the Doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux. This was the way of St. Teresa of Avila who, at the end of The Interior Castle, wrote:
"In sum, my Sisters, what I conclude with is that we shouldn't build castles in the air. The Lord doesn't look so much at the greatness of our works as the love with which they are done. And if we do what we can, His Majesty will enable us each day to do more and more, provided that we do not quickly tire. But during the little while this life lasts--and perhaps it will last a shorter time than each one thinks--let us offer the Lord interiorly and exteriorly the sacrifice we can. His Majesty will join it with that which He offered on the cross to the Father for us. Thus even though our works are small they will have the value our love for Him would have merited had they been great."
This is the way of the Apostleship of Prayer. We offer to God every day with its thoughts, words, and deeds, its prayers, works, joys, and sufferings, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In that way, every moment can be an act of love. United to the perfect offering of Jesus on the cross and at Mass, every moment becomes significant, eternally significant. And in that way, a necessary part of God's plan for you and the world. You and every act of love are necessary.