Homily: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Josemaría Escrivá once wrote a three-line dedication on the title page of a book he gave as a gift to a young architect named Ricardo Fernández Vallespín in 1933. The dedication reads: “May you seek Christ. May you find Christ. May you love Christ”. I would like us to reflect on these three distinctive steps in our relationship with Jesus – our Christian life.
May you seek Christ. Do you think it was only mere curiosity that moved Zaccheus to climb the sycamore tree to see Jesus? Perhaps, yes. But even God had to make use of Zaccheus’ curiosity to teach us a lesson today: that our desire to seek the face of God, to seek Christ, is first of all, God’s grace – His initiative to meet us.
Our decision to attend Mass today, for instance, is actually a manifestation of God’s grace working in our hearts. We let ourselves be drawn by God’s promptings. We let the Holy Spirit work in us. The First Reading attests to this. The Book of Wisdom notes: “How could anything endure if you did not will it? And how could anything last that you had not willed? You have compassion on all because all is yours, O Lord, lover of life”.
Does this mean we are not free anymore to make our own decisions? Does it mean God has predestined everything, even our going to Mass? Of course not! St. Augustine, in his book Grace and Human Freedom, explains that God, in His providence, inclines or attracts the human will by showing it what is good. The human will, upon perceiving the good, tends towards it. Here, we find God’s grace and human freedom harmoniously working together.
When we seek Christ, this is proof that God has already attracted our hearts towards Him. Despite his many possessions, Zaccheus still did not find the happiness he was searching for. If you could relate with Zaccheus, why don’t you try to seek Christ by striving to establish a personal encounter and an intimate relationship with Him in prayer and the sacraments?
May you find Christ. “When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, ‘Zaccheus, come down quickly for I mean to stay at your house today’”. What a pleasant surprise it must have been for Zaccheus! He only wanted to see Jesus. Now, Jesus rewarded him not only by granting his desire but even more than that: by staying in his house. Those who think that God does not give importance to our petitions may find in this Gospel passage the truth: that God hears all our prayers and listens to all our petitions. If He had not granted yet what we are asking Him, it is because He is preparing something better – in fact, the best for us!
Jesus knows our needs even before we ask Him. We may ask: “Then, why the need to pray?” According to St. Augustine, though God already knows our needs, we ought to pray to increase our desire for God and our capacity to receive the gift God is preparing to give us. St. Augustine said: “The deeper our faith, the stronger our hope, the greater our desire, the larger will be our capacity to receive the gift, which is very great indeed. .... The more fervent the desire, the more worthy will be its fruits. When the Apostle tells us: Pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:16), he means this: Desire unceasingly that life of happiness which is nothing if not eternal, and ask it of him alone who is able to give it” (Letter 130).
St. Paul, in the Second Reading, assures the Thessalonians: “This is why we constantly pray for you; may our God make you worthy of His calling. May He, by His power, fulfill your good purposes and your work prompted by faith”. St. Paul is praying for us today too: “May God fulfill your heart’s desire. If you seek Christ, may you find Him”. Jesus is easy to find for those who seek Him. “If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me” (Deut 4: 29). Whenever you want to find His presence, just come and visit Him anytime at the Blessed Sacrament, in the Tabernacle of any church. There, Jesus waits for you! There, you will find Jesus because, first of all, there, Jesus will find you!
May you love Christ. When Zaccheus heard of the people’s grumbling that Jesus had gone to a sinner’s house, was he upset having been insulted? Did he complain to Jesus saying “You see, Lord, how difficult it is for us sinners to come to you? Once we decide to be near you, people around us become so critical and judgmental. So what’s the point of going back to the Church if even the people inside it cannot welcome us with open arms?”
No. Zaccheus did not think or say these things. Instead, he said, “Half of my goods, Lord, I give to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much”. Kindness begets kindness. Jesus’ kindness begets Zaccheus’ act of love. Love begets love. When we seek and encounter Christ, we will discover that He loves us unconditionally. Our experience of God’s love begets in us the love for God, the love for Christ and His Church. This love becomes manifest in our love for our neighbors and for the people in need.
After his encounter with Christ, Zaccheus was willing to examine his conscience and to make amends for his past failures and sins. What about us? Are we willing to change our ways, to put aside our vices, and to avoid sins after we experience the love of Jesus?
Brothers and sisters, may we learn to establish an intimate relationship with Christ. May we find Christ in the most ordinary events of our lives. May we grow in our love for Christ by avoiding sins and doing only what pleases Him. May the Blessed Mother help us to seek Christ, to find Christ and to love Christ. Amen.