Weekly Homilies

The Gift of Free Will (Mark 1: 29-39)

February 04, 2024 Fr. Mark Suslenko Season 7 Episode 7
The Gift of Free Will (Mark 1: 29-39)
Weekly Homilies

Hi everyone, and welcome to Weekly Homilies with Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. We are part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. I'm Carol Vassar, parish director of communications, and this is Episode 7 of Season 7 for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 4, 2024. Our Gospel reading is from Mark, Chapter 1, verses 29-39.

On leaving the synagogue, Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon's mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her, and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, "Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, "Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

The Gospel of the Lord

“The Gift of Free Will,” by Father Mark S. Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut

One of the gifts we have been given as human beings is the gift of free will. The gift of free will. It is something that we value very dearly: the ability to make independent decisions, to chart the course of events in our lives, to choose this over that,  to freely express ourselves, to be creative, and to find our own unique place in the world.  The ability to choose freely without any encumbrance or any kind of compulsion is something that every human being truly values.  But there are two decisions in our life that defy our ability to control and occur without any consultation on our behalf,  and they are perhaps the two most significant decisions.  The first is whether to be born.  The second is whether to die.  

When it comes to the creation of ourselves, nobody consults us, and nobody asks our opinion.  Nobody asks us who we want to be, how we want to look when we want to be born,  or indeed if we want to be born.  Similarly, when it comes to our death,  we are not consulted, either.  We have no choice but to, at some point, unknown to us,  we must close our eyes in death,  and at that point, our earthly life is no more.  To be born and to die:  the two most major decisions of our being defy our control.  

What we do then with the middle of our lives is of pivotable importance. What we believe about our beginning and our end is equally important. 

You see, we live in a world that wants to easily convince us that we are purely secular beings. That is because we had no choice in the matter, and we simply find ourselves living this human experience that it's really just all "just because."  There is no rhyme or reason to any of it. We are here just because,  and it's our goal to make the best of it for as long as we can ride it out, to do so with the least amount of aggravation, pain, and suffering,  and to do the best with what we find we have. And this journey of "just because," when it does one day come to an end, it all just simply ends, and it is no more. We fade into history and into time and are soon forgotten. 

The journey of "just because"  depends on ourselves to give it meaning.  It depends on ourselves to give it purpose.  Otherwise, it is just an empty experience.  But I would suspect that we're all gathered here today because in one form or another, on one level or another, we don't believe that our human journey is "just because,"  but we believe that it is by intent and on purpose and designed by a God who loved us into existence and created every fabric of our being. A God who knit us together so carefully and lovingly in our mother's wombs and blessed us with the gift of a unique soul:  the essence of who I am.  And it is this soul that gives me purpose, that gives me my identity.  It is this loving God who has placed me here in this time and in this place to do particular things, however great or small, to leave my thumbprint on life, a thumbprint that is uniquely mine and belonging to no other and to, when death comes, and I do breathe my last, to offer me the gift and the hope of salvation and of life eternal.  

I suspect that all of us here today believe this,  or at least want to believe it as a way of giving our lives greater vision, true hope,  and a purpose well beyond ourselves.  But what happens is that,  in many times and in many ways, we don't really nurture that faith in our beginning or in our end,  and we kind of just give it lip service and try to rely upon it when we need,  but it never really gets strong enough to fully carry us because there's another thing we do know about life,  and it is that it can be at times very hard.  The road can become very rocky.  It can become very uncertain,  unpredictable, disappointing, disillusioning.  It's very easy to find ourselves falling into despair and hopelessness.  It is very easy to find ourselves hurt by what life brings us.  And as we look to our faith in what we believe to be our beginning and to what we believe to be our end, we wonder then, where is this God in the middle?  This God of love who fashioned me and created me, who offers the gift of eternal life to me, why is all this drudgery and all this misery occurring?  And we limp along, sometimes losing that little faith we had.  

In order for faith to become real and to become lived, it has to truly be owned. It has to be something we really wrestle with, something we nurture, something we cultivate, something that truly is something special for us to maintain and to acquire.  It is only faith that can give us what we need to deal with these paradoxes of life, these things that are seemingly opposites that happen at the same time:  the God of love as that God meets suffering.  The God of love,  who then meets life's incompleteness.  The God of love, who is one, but also three.  The God of love,  who is as Eucharist, both bread and Jesus Christ. 

These paradoxes cannot be understood simply with the human mind, but can only be contemplated and appreciated through the gift of faith, a strong faith.  A faith that perseveres consistently and always seeking God, even in the midst of all those things that  can destroy him, that can defile him, that can disguise him.  In those places where it seems as if he is not.  Only the eyes of faith can find him there, embrace him, and realize the power of his presence.  

This comes as the real test of faith, and real faith occurs when it triumphs over anything that could destroy it and gives us a resilience that cannot possibly be found in the secular world. A resilience that allows us to move on and through even the most difficult of challenges, persevering and forging ahead with confidence and hope.  Such a gift is not given on its own or through our own simple merit. It comes by the grace of God through the depth and the habit of prayer.  Which is why Jesus instructed us to go into our rooms, close the door, and pray to Our Father in silence, because it is only there that we can wrestle with ourselves, our doubts and anxieties, our fears and discouragement, and call ourselves back to an affirmation of our true beginning and our true end and utter four words that are sometimes easy to say, but very difficult to believe: thy will be done.  

Because the gift of faith tells us that even in life's hopelessness and in life's misery, God's will still lives, that God is in every fabric of our existence, everything that is revealed to us, everything that we encounter, even though it is difficult to recognize and see that presence.  And maybe the miracle that occurs through that gift of faith doesn't change the furniture of our lives,  but it gives us the grace and the ability to deal with what we have when we have it and to the extent possible to go about the business of our lives,  never losing confidence, never losing conviction,  never losing faith, always having hope, and persevering in love. 

Love is the goal. It is what needs to be brought to the art of endurance.  Faith is the means by which we achieve it;  how we find our grounding, our focus.  Faith is what gives us the beginning and reminds us of our end,  and provides the resilience we need to stand firm with our conviction. And hope is the willingness to live with life's tensions, with its incompleteness,  with its firm resolution, and with its lack of clarity,  knowing and trusting that one day God will bring us where we need to be and all will be one in Christ. God's will is in every moment of our lives, in every event that we encounter,  in whatever station we find ourselves in, whatever place we may be. It is a will that always brings us safely home, a will that never allows us to cease into being and always keeps us close to his heart. 

Father Mark Suslenko is the pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Learn more about our parish community at www.isidoreandmaria.org. And follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our music comes free of charge from Blue Dot Sessions in Fall River, Massachusetts. I’m Carol Vassar. Thanks for joining us.