August 9, 2013 A.D.
"I come from New York, and my first concern is always that this New York accent doesn’t get in the way of your being able to hear what God wants you to hear. Or maybe better yet that my word doesn’t get in the way of God’s word – what God wants to speak to your heart today. I’ve had the privilege of coming to Medjugorje here for a number of years, perhaps as many as 12 or 13 years now. Each time I come here, I hear about the 5 stones that Our Lady invites us to take up in the fight against Goliath. I hear this over, and over, and over again. Those of you who were here yesterday heard it at mass; you heard it in yesterday’s homily. Father closed his homily talking about these 5 stones against our battle with Goliath, our fight against evil – that Mary invites us to pray with the heart, to go to Eucharist, reading of the Bible, frequent or monthly confession, and fasting.
Now I have a confession to make to you at the very beginning of this homily. Often times I take those 5 stones that are written there on those nice little prayer cards you see all over town, and I use it as kind of a report card. I say, “Ok, pray with the heart – yes I do that, check. Eucharist – oh yeah, I do that for a living, check. Daily reading of the Bible – oh, I do that when I say mass, check. Frequent confession, monthly confession – check. Fasting…Oh. Well, four out of five isn’t bad. I mean that’s, when I was a kid growing up that was 80%! 80% is a solid ‘B.’ There’s nothing wrong with being a ‘B’ student, right? You’re not flunking Medjugorje. You got a ‘B!’”
So year after year, after year, after year about hearing about the five stones, I say, “Ok, check, check, check.” Then I get to that 5th one, “Ok, 80%. I’m in! Solid ‘B.’”
But then today’s Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me…must deny himself.” Must…deny himself. Must. You see, all along I played around with the messages of Medjugorje and said, “Well, the fasting it doesn’t really apply to me. After all, I do enough for God.” And maybe that was just Mary giving a little bit of an exaggeration or a hyperbole. She was maybe just speaking to the visionaries. Maybe She wasn’t speaking to the whole world. Maybe She wasn’t speaking to all of us, just the children – yes, you should fast. Maybe that doesn’t apply to me. Then I hear, “Bread and water. Wednesday and Friday.” Oh! Mary’s definitely exaggerated. I’m content. Four out of five. That’s good. I’m in. I got the solid ‘B.’ I’m good to go…
Jesus is clear. Don’t settle. I’m asking, I’m commanding, I’m obligating you to this self-denial. Now some of you might be sitting there thinking to yourself, “Now Father, if you’re struggling with this fasting thing, who are you to get up here and start talking to us? I mean, it’s like the doctor who is a compulsive chain smoker giving the lecture on the terrible problems of cigarette addiction. Who are you? You’re a hypocrite.”
No, not a hypocrite. Just a sinner. Someone who really sometimes struggles in taking the messages seriously. But let me at least share with you this morning, how I’m hearing the invitation of Our Blessed Mother today. How I’m hearing this command of Jesus in the Gospel of self-denial. Let me just share with you how I hear this, and maybe that might help those of you here present who might also, like me, be struggling with fasting. You see, what is the problem here? Why don’t I want to fast on bread and water? Well, quite honestly, I believe I’m not going to be satisfied. I believe in my heart bread and water is not going to satisfy me. Yes, it’s obviously not going to satisfy me. But neither is a steak, or a hamburger, or fried chicken or potatoes, or anything. Any created thing is not going to satisfy the heart because the heart has been made for God. What could possibly satisfy the heart that longs and yearns for God? We have a thirst for God, the living God. Bread and water are not going to satisfy that, but neither is anything I choose and grab and take to stuff my hungers and quench my thirsts. So let’s get off that false thinking. Of course this bread and water is not going to satisfy. And nothing else will.
So what is this all about, this self-denial? I’m afraid that self-denial is depriving myself, and that’s not true. Denial is not deprivation. Let me explain. God is not calling us to deprivation. He’s calling us to denial. And those two words are a world apart. You see, deprivation is feeling hungry, dissatisfied. Feeling perhaps, not fulfilled. Deprivation is feeling empty, is feeling the void. God wants to fill us. He doesn’t want us to be deprived, but He invites us to denial. What is denial? Denial is acting on the belief that I am not the architect of my own happiness. Denial is acting on the belief that I am not the architect of my own happiness. God is the Lord and giver of life. That’s what we say in the Creed. Holy Spirit you are the Lord and giver of life. I’m not the Lord and giver of life. I’m not the architect of my own happiness. I can’t wake up today and say, “Ok, first thing on the agenda, how can I make me happy?” Denial calls me to say, “Come, God.” Filled. Fulfilled. Complete. Whole.
Because God does not disappoint. Do we believe that? God will not disappoint if He’s the architect of your happiness, if He’s the Lord and giver of life? Do you believe that He’s not going to disappoint you? But Jesus said come pick up your cross and follow Me because we’re going to be deprived! Well, what are you Jesus, a masochist? No. Jesus says come, pick up your cross and follow Me because God will win the victory. God will fill your heart. God will satisfy your longing soul. God will give you what you need today. God will be the architect of your happiness. Come follow Me. Act upon that belief in your body. The thing that I must learn and I have learned in Medjugorje is this: God has answered so many prayers in my life. I’ve come to realize that each time I come here God has answered so many prayers in my life. “I remember the days of the Lord,” as we sang in the psalm. Of course He’s not going to disappoint.
So I close with asking you to do this for me. I’m struggling…with fasting. And maybe that’s all you will remember of this homily – I remember that American priest who said he couldn’t fast. Ok, now I’m asking you to do something – pray. Pray for me, please. I’m asking you to pray for me. And maybe if that’s all you remember that would be fine – You’ll say, “Remember that priest who asked us to pray for him that he could fast. I wonder how that priest is doing.” That would be the opportunity to pray for me. And if any of you here want me to pray with you as you see me over the next couple of days. Stop me and I will pray with you as well. And together in that mutual prayer, may we come to feel and experience the God Who does not disappoint.
- Fr. Tony Stanganelli
Fr. Tony Stanganelli has been the pastor of Saints Philip & James Church in St. James, New York since 2008. Fr. Tony’s homily today in Medjugorje on fasting was well received by pilgrims because it contained the honey of humility as he spoke of his struggles with fasting.
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