Homily by Fr. Michael Szyjan on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

July 9, 2023

“Christianity is a very demanding religion… Every challenge is very difficult, not to mention all together” — in today’s sermon Fr. Michael Szyjan explains what difficulties may await us on the path of imitating Christ and how we can cope with them.

Homily by Fr. Michael Szyjan on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, last week we heard the story of the centurion — a non-Jew — accepting Jesus in such a way that even Jesus was amazed. Today we hear a story about the total opposite — those that rejected Jesus, first the possessed then the local townspeople.

Christianity is a very challenging religion — it calls for love of neighbour as much as you love yourself, to love God with all your heart and mind, die to yourself if you want to find yourself, forgive 77 times seven, go the extra mile if someone needs your help. Each challenge is very demanding let alone all together.

Therefore it is no surprise that Jesus was also rejected by many. His teachings irritated and upset many. He made people angry and many despised him. Those that rejected him came up with reasons why he should be rejected — he came from a simple family (Luke 2:22), he lived in Galilee which had no history of religious greatness (John 1:46), he interpret the Law of Moses differently to the ruling Jewish elite (Pharisees and Sadducees) and he didn’t oppose the oppressing Romans.

Today Jesus meets two possessed persons and the townspeople who owned the destroyed pigs and both had reasons to reject Jesus. The possessed were angry and violent and wanted to remain so, they didn’t want to be judged and stopped “before their time”. They felt their anger was justified and they could take it out on anyone who passed by. The townspeople rejected Jesus because he was an economic cost — they lost many pigs that Jesus permitted to be drowned.

Today’s Gospel challenges us to reflect on the difficulties we may encounter as we seek to follow Christ and how we deal with them. We may respond to these difficulties on a continuum from passive to aggressive. A passive response may be characterised by just doing the mechanical basics to remain a Christian — attending church several times a year, separating my religious values and behaviours form my everyday values, being too busy to spend time reading religious material or attending a retreat. An aggressive response may involve rejecting many aspects of our faith because it is too difficult or costly to follow or many who practice it are hypocrites and I don’t want to be associated with hypocrites. We want to stay angry like the possessed because it gives us power to reject. To some degree all these responses are natural at some time or another. To cling to them can lead to a weakening of our faith. To examine why I feel overwhelmed provides me with the freedom to choose a stronger spiritual path to strengthen my faith. Seeking spiritual direction (from a priest or religious) or reading a book about spiritual direction or attending a spiritual retreat can provide some understanding and direction. Speaking to a trusted friend can be supportive. Praying for guidance and comfort can relive tension. Doing acts of charity for those in need can help put our lives into perspective. During this post- Pentecost season to reflect on these gifts the Holy Spirit offers me can reassure me that I am not alone in my faith struggles.

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