A heartfelt lesson from King Josiah that speaks to our present mess: A homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Mahqdefault.jpgny of you are aware of the recent news with Fr. Maung. Some have asked for me to comment on the situation.  I do not know anything beyond the contents of the statement made by the diocese.  A claim against Fr. Maung was made in recent days of a situation that the claimant says happened decades ago. The diocese immediately suspended Fr. Maung’s faculties and the civil and ecclesial investigations commenced.  Fr. Maung denies the claim. Because I don’t know anything about this, I withhold my judgment until the process is complete and truth is found. I think we all must do the same.

In our first reading today, Moses tells the people that if they follow the commandments and decrees of the Lord, they shall live — and live well. Jesus in our gospel adds a twist: he says we must follow the commandments and decrees of the Lord with our hearts. External observance is not enough; Jesus wants the heart.

If we give Jesus the heart, the external actions take care of themselves. Sometimes people try to stop this or that sinful habit, and they fail. Because they’re focusing on the bad habit and not on the heart.  “Love and do what you will” says Augustine.  On Tuesday last week we heard from Jesus in Matthew 23: “You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.”

Clean the inside says Jesus, and what flows from the inside will also be clean. Fix the heart and the actions will be follow.  We need to give Jesus the heart. It isn’t just about saying the right things; it’s about meaning what we say as our second reading from James insists.  It isn’t about just “doing the right thing”; we must want to do it, not reluctantly or begrudgingly. It’s not about just believing the right teachings; we must love the teachings, even if we struggle with them. It isn’t about saying prayers; we must mean the prayers, with all our hearts. It isn’t just about tolerating people; we must love them — in concrete ways.

This is what is needed in our church today — local and wide.  The problems facing the church are real. They must be addressed and changes need to happen. But no amount of new procedures or protocols, no amount of increased transparency or lists — I’m not against those things and they probably are necessary—but none of that can fix what is ultimately a heart problem.  The problem is, people in all ranks fall out of love with Jesus, and in their wretchedness pick something else instead. (This is why we strike our hearts at the confiteor.)

Sometimes what people pick instead of Jesus is horrific, repulsive, and even criminal.

I was praying about the state of things the other day. At a loss, I said, “Lord please help” and turned my bible to a random page. He answered my prayer! I turned to 2 Kings 22, the story of Josiah. Josiah became the king of Judah in 640 BC. His father was Amon and his grandfather was Manasseh. Both his father and his grandfather made more mistakes than you can count. They reigned a combined 57 years, and each year was filled with idolatry and infidelity, and scandal of every kind.

Josiah was 8 years old when his dad was killed by his own servants. Josiah became king as a little boy….and it was a very dark hour in judah’s history indeed.

Josiah’s ancestors had destroyed more than you could possibly imagine by their sins. Everything was in ruins. Trust in leadership had been broken. Josiah took the throne and everyone wondered if he would be the same. Most probably suspected he was the same kind of monster. He proved them wrong.

And it was Josiah’s heart that fixed everything. 2 Kings mentions Josiah’s heart many times — the love he had for God and his people.  The long abandoned temple was falling in on itself, and Josiah commissioned the forces to rebuild it. As they were doing so, Hilkiah found the scroll, from which our first reading comes. They found the rules of the Lord. It had a lot of dust on it.  Josiah famously brought everyone together and had the scroll read out loud by Shaphan, the scribe. Everyone listened and came back to the Lord—though it took some time.

After all was said and done, 2 Kings 23:25 shares this about Josiah: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.”

I just want you to know that I’m trying to be like Josiah.  And not just me–loads of other good priests and seminarians. We’ve inherited a mess from a few rotten priests and bishops and cardinals who made horrible mistakes, unthinkable ones. These men have inflicted so much pain, brought so much grief. Now we’re not perfect–far from it–but, like Josiah, we’re standing in the ruins some corrupt ancestors have left behind for the rest of us to deal with. May we never forget just how deadly, how destructive the deadly sins are.

And we all must be like Josiah. The devil goes around destroying things, leaving a disaster behind him, and our job is to heroically clean it up. Josiah didn’t throw up his hands in defeat, he didn’t walk away, he didn’t give anger the final word. He did cry. And he worked to fix things and put the kingdom back together again. What he did most of all—was to give God his heart: “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might.”  The fruits of Josiah’s decision to put give his heart to the Lord?  Thousands upon thousands came back, virtue took hold of the kingdom, and the depravity went away.  No wonder Jesus wants the heart!

When we were batpized, the priest anointed our hearts.  Consecrated, set aside — for the purpose of love!  If our hearts are right, so will our actions be.  What would it be like if we….

Really prayed with the heart
Confession with the heart
Receive communion with the heart
Service with the heart
Treat everyone we meet with the heart
Prepared dinner with the heart

Ours would be a story like Josiah’s, that’s what would happen

May God give us strength and hope…and strong, faithful, soft hearts