How does a preacher best connect with college students? “I think the challenge for me is just being authentic, right?” says Brian Ching, C.S.C. “They know that your experiences and their experiences are not the same. And when we try to make our experiences relatable to their experiences it can often come off as gimmicky or trite. So just acknowledge the fact that, look, this didn’t hit me the same way it hits you.”
A native of New York City, Rev. Brian Ching, C.S.C., now serves as Rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
Listen to Brian’s homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time on this week’s episode of “Preach.” After the homily, he shares with host Ricardo da Silva, S.J., how knowledge of the Scripture, the life of faith and knowledge of the people in the pews is central to a good harmony.
Scripture Readings for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
First Reading: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Second Reading: Rom 9:1-5
Gospel: Mt 14:22-33
You can find the full text of the readings here.
Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, by Brian Ching, C.S.C.
I had the blessing of being director of our college seminary program for six years, which meant that I was in charge of helping college-aged men discern and prepare for life as a possible Holy Cross religious and priest. It was really a fun task and one in which our first reading from the Book of Kings today was used a lot. It’s, in fact, used so much that many of our Holy Cross religious have chose that first reading for reading in their own first vows or final vows masses. It’s a reading that we speak about and refer to all the time. And the reason why is that it really is one of the best examples in all of scripture of helping us think about how the Lord is making His voice and His presence known to us in our world. The truth of the matter is I think all of us fall into this trap of expecting God to work for us in our own ways– that we want to see God in the grandiose and kind of intense actions of our life. And we place these expectations upon God of how He should act, or is supposed to act, in our life:
God, if you hear me, you’ll make this happen. This person will be cured. This event will be prevented. This desire of mine will come to fruition.
And when those things don’t happen, it’s easy for us to think that God is perhaps not hearing us, not listening to us, or just frankly wants nothing to do with us. And the reading from the Book of Kings this morning reminds us that God speaks to us in ways much broader than we expect. That the life of faith really does require on us, for us, of us, an attentiveness to God’s presence, certainly here in the sacraments, in the scriptures, but also in those more subtle ways – to think about how we see the Lord in a good conversation with a friend, in the beauty of creation, when we’re out for a walk and see a beautiful sunset, to think about how the Lord might be speaking to us in those chance encounters in the supermarket, or on the street, or where the Lord might be present to us in our own studies, our own life of faith, or our own recreational life.
And these are really important because when we place our expectations on how God should act and is supposed to act in our world, we become real myopic in the life of faith, right? We force God to work on our terms. We force God to work the way that we expect Him to work, and we want Him to work. But one of the primary truths of faith is that God is much bigger than we are. He’s much bigger than our expectations. He’s much bigger than our limitations. He’s much bigger than the way we think the world ought to work.
And so humility calls us as Christians, friends, to be attentive to how the Lord is speaking to us in the ways that are perhaps unexpected, that aren’t as grand, that aren’t as grandiose, to not see God only in the moments of earthquake and fire, but to really listen for that small whispering sound, Or as a previous translation calls it “the still small voice of God,” because these, too, have the power to convey God’s presence. Now, the trick is they’re also really easily overlooked. It’s easy for us to become so wrapped up in our own lives, our own drama, our own worries and cares and concerns that we miss how God might be speaking to us in those still small ways. When we’re so consumed by what we need to do and what we need to get done, and how busy we are, and what tests we need to study for, and what paper we need to write. When all of those things occupy our life it’s really hard for us to make space to listen to God, to make space in our life for God to speak to us.
And so our readings invite us this morning to consider how we’re making space for God’s voice in our life, to ask ourselves, where are we giving God the opportunity to speak to us? Yes, we’re all busy. Yes, all of us have a lot to do, but the reality is we do have some time each day, even if it’s just a few minutes, even if it’s just stopping in the chapel on your way out the door, even if it’s just arriving to mass a few extra minutes early. We all have some opportunity to quiet ourselves, to be open and attentive, to be thoughtful about who we are and what’s going on in our life, and to intentionally look for how God might be working in us.
You know in the moment that conversation with that friend may have seemed completely inconsequential but when we returned to it later in the day we might realize that our friend was really trying to tell us something, or more importantly, that God was really trying to tell us something through that friend, through that moment of uncomfortability. In that time a professor challenged us or pushed us to go a little bit deeper in our line of thought or line of argumentation. But one of the primary things that allows us, or gives us license to run from God’s voice or to hide from God’s voice, as we hear in today’s gospel, is fear.
Now what’s astonishing about today’s gospel is that we always focus on the fact that Peter’s faith waned, that Peter was afraid and he began to sink. But really, friends, we should be thinking about the fact that Peter walked on the water at all, that Peter’s faith was so great that he took that first step out of the boat and began to run to the Lord in the first place. Walking on water, even for just a few small steps is no small feat. It’s only when Peter loses his focus and begins to recognize the danger that’s around him, that his attention is drawn away from the Lord. That fear kicks in and he begins to sink.
So what the readings might invite us to consider is how fear might be inhibiting us from seeing and hearing God’s still small voice in our life. Fear of the unknown, fear of what lies ahead, fear of how we’ll do, fear if we’ll be successful or not. All of those anxieties, all of those concerns, all of those worries, all of those things can push their way into our life and crowd out the space that we should be making for God. To crowd out that space and that time when God desires to speak to us.
But friends, I’ll be honest, there’s always much to fear. There’s always gonna be moments of uncertainty in our life. There’s always gonna be a test that we’re not know how we’re gonna do. There’s always gonna be a moment where we’re not sure of how well we’ll perform. There’ll always be times when we’re unsure of how we’re gonna fit in to a new office environment, to a new group of friends, to a new set of classmates.
But the way we encounter those moments of fear is to rely on our ability to hear God’s voice, to trust in the fact that whether we hear Him or not, or want to hear Him or not, that God is always speaking to us, that God is always present in our life, and that God is always trying to convey to us His love, His mercy, His compassion. We’re reminded today that the question isn’t whether or not God speaks to us or not. He does. He always speaks, rather, the question is, do we have the trust to listen? Does our faith allow us to spend some time each day seeing how God might be speaking to us in our life? Do we have the openness, the willingness, to make room in our life, to see where God might be present in those moments that aren’t particularly pious, that aren’t particularly holy? Not necessarily those moments we spend in adoration or praying the rosary, but those less obvious moments when we’re just hanging out with friends or in class or doing our homework. Even then, even there, God speaks to us. God seeks to tell us something about Himself and help us learn something about ourself. And it’s that trust in God’s ability to speak to us, even when we don’t want to hear from Him, even when we would rather not see Him, even when we’re unsure if we’re hearing Him. It’s that trust that allows us to live courageously in the life of faith, to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, to run to Him, even in the midst of fear, even in the midst of danger, even in the midst of uncertainty.
And so as we prepare to receive Eucharist this morning, as we prepare to receive the ultimate sign of God’s love, the ultimate sign of God’s promise in His body and blood, soul and divinity, let’s simply ask God for the grace, the grace to listen well, the grace to humbly place ourselves in front of him and open our hearts, our ears and our minds to the way He is making himself known in our world. And when we do that, when we place ourselves at His feet and open ourselves to His word, then we know that He can’t but help draw us into His loving embrace all the days of our life.