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Of dead horses, grace... and guts!

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

May 6, 2015

Bishop LaValley’s homily for Youth Rally Mass, April 25 at St. Peter’s Church, Plattsburgh

The story is told of nine young soldiers who had received over-night liberty passes from the base where they were stationed.  When morning came, not one of the nine was present at roll call.  An hour after their absence was noted, the first soldier straggled back onto base.  He was immediately taken before his Company Commander. 

“I’m sorry to be late, sir,” the soldier said, “but I had a date, lost track of time and missed the last bus to base.  I wanted to make it back on time so I took a taxi.  About halfway back to base, the cab broke down, so I went to the nearest farm and bought a horse.  As I was riding along on the horse, the animal suddenly stumbled to the ground and died.  So, I did the last five miles on foot, and here I am.”

Although he was pretty skeptical about the chain of weird excuses, the Company Commander let the young man off with a mild lecture on the virtues of being on time.  Well, wouldn’t you know, seven more stragglers reported in, one-by-one, each with the same story: had a date, lost track of time, missed the last bus, took a cab, cab broke down, bought a horse, horse fell dead.

Finally, the ninth and last soldier arrived.  Now totally exasperated, the Commanding Officer growled, “What happened to you?”  The ninth man replied, “Sir, I had a date, lost track of the time, missed the last bus, hired a taxi…” 

“Wait!” said the officer.  “Are you going to tell me that the cab broke down?”  “No, Sir,” the soldier replied, “The taxi was fine.  The problem was there were about eight or so dead horses on the road so we couldn’t get through.”

My sisters and brothers, our God is calling us to life, new life.  God is offering us the power to live as complete, joy-filled persons.  But, often He can’t get through to us and we cannot hear or follow Him because we clog up the channels of grace with dead horses that prevent us from getting where we need to be:  following Jesus.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, tells us in today’s Gospel that His followers will hear His voice - but, boy - there are so many dead horses out there - and in here - that make it so difficult to listen to His voice and then to follow the Good Shepherd.

You know what those dead horses are in your life: Jealousy, greed, pornography, selfishness, pride, etc.  It takes God’s grace and our guts to remove them—GRACE AND GUTS!

The best remedy for the dead horse syndrome is our being aware of Jesus’ Presence and friendship every day.  Learn to see how God is working in your lives and discover Him hidden within the events of daily life.  Believe that He is always faithful.  He will never abandon you!  He gave His life to you on the Cross because of His unconditional love for you.

Because of original sin, we have obstacles on the road of life that deaden our ability to listen to Jesus and follow His way of joy, peace and hope.

But, we have two major resources to meet the obstacles head on:  first, the teaching of the Church - learning to recognize the path - the enlightening of our minds.  Jesus made a solemn promise that “when the Spirit of truth comes He will lead you to the complete truth.”

From the very beginning of the Church, it has belonged to the Pope and the bishops who are in communion with Him to teach with authority.  It is the reason why Catholics today believe the same doctrines that Catholics believed five hundred years and a thousand years ago.  Our faith has not been corrupted or lost, even though the Church and the world have suffered so much turmoil through the ups and downs of history.

Now, of course, we have to remember that this teaching authority does not apply to everything.  The Holy Spirit will not guide the Pope and the bishops when they express their personal opinions about certain issues or when they make predictions about which teams will get into the playoffs.  If that were the case, I would have named the New York Giants the official Diocesan football team five years ago after I was installed as our bishop.  The bishops don’t even teach authoritatively when they discuss the best way to assure just immigration laws. 

The teaching authority of the Church is guaranteed to be trustworthy only when dealing with the doctrines of our faith:  the truths we profess in our Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the implications these have for our lives in today’s world. 

Only when we keep in touch with Church teaching through personal study, Catholic web sites, our North Country Catholic, or our parish activities give us occasion to learn our faith and to live it more deeply, hauling away the dead horses.  Knowing the path of following Jesus is vital so we don’t get lost.

Knowing the path is one thing.  A second resource gives us the strength we need to follow that path, even when it is so very difficult.  They are the sacraments.  Every one of the sacraments is meant to increase God’s grace in our souls. 

This is especially true of those sacraments that we are encouraged to receive frequently - the Eucharist and confession.   Christ’s Body and Blood is nourishment for our souls.  Confession strengthens us by healing the wounds of sin and reinforcing our efforts to follow Christ (that’s the guts part!)  We need these supernatural helps to confront the dead horses on our life’s journey.  

You see, Christianity is not self-help; it’s Christ’s help.  Christ gives us His help through His sacraments—that’s why He gave them to His Church.  But if we don’t make use of them, or if we live them only superficially (which happens when we don’t try to develop a personal prayer life), then we don’t receive the power He wants to give us through them. 

I’m  so happy that you have all joined us here at our Youth Rally.  I hope that this has truly been an occasion for you to sharpen up your listening skills so as to hear the Good Shepherd speaking to you.  Again, it takes grace and guts.  God will provide the grace, will you supply the guts?       

Remember real joy is the fruit of faith lived.  Let’s help each other listen to and follow the Good Shepherd.

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Photo by Father Bryan Stitt
At the 2015 diocesan Youth Rally, held April 24-25, Bishop LaValley spoke with several Franciscan Sisters of Renewal from the Bronx before the closing Mass at St. Peter’s Church in Plattsburgh. The sisters - including Peru native Sister Rachel Daly,  shown left of the bishop - took part in a panel discussion on vocations during the rally.

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