Sunday, October 31, 2010

Homily for the Thirty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

The traffic was always intense. Car horns honked heatedly. Smog saturated my nostrils. The people penetrated my space smelling of odors not known to this Midwesterner. Yet, strolling down the streets of Manhattan this summer with rosary in hand, my heart pumping adrenaline and my eyes focused on skyscrapers, I might have been caught singing:

In New York,
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There’s nothing you can’t do,
Now you’re in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
The lights will inspire you.

And if you’re not inspired, be assured: I was inspired. While in this city I could feel the serotonin seep in my brain. It was glorious. Not even in Babel has the world seen such a place. Yet in all its glory, with all the inspirational lights, the dream filled jungle of concrete, the panoply of pedestrians and the ordered chaos of converging countries, I could not help but heed Jesus’ words from today’s gospel: All that you see here—there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” If Jesus’ words are true, then even this temple of the modern world will one day fade away.

If we don’t have empire states of mind, and would not shed a tear if Manhattan sank into the sea, we are hardly free from Jesus’ apparent Good News in the Gospel. Like an Alvis research paper we thought we saved that is never to be seen again. Or a cell phone dropped into the ice fishing hole, the worlds we have been creating for ourselves will one day be gone:

The mounted deer masquerading a once living day.
The diploma that caused our hair to turn gray.
The friends that have walked with us on the way.
The family that taught us how to pray.
Sports teams we have followed come what may.
And even the church that we know of today.

All these things are fading away.

Christ’s warning of the ephemerality of life—the transitory nature of all that we see around us—can be down right depressing. Like a college graduate moving back in with his parents, or a middle aged man buying that red sports car, we can attempt to ignore these eschatological words of Christ. Yet this passing away has been with us since that baby was born in a manger and shepherds heard angels’ hosannas ring on high. It continues to be with us now. And we, too, should sing hosanna on high that all these things are passing away.

It was my novitiate year in Glenmary. Our director handed us novices the list of expectations for the program. If you only could have read the mind of this post modern 24 year old millennial as I scanned the list:

--A limit of two emails, two phone calls, and two letters a week.
--No visitations of friends or family for one year—which meant that I would miss my best friend’s wedding.
--Grand silence and seclusion in our rooms by 8 pm every night.
--Limited to no internet use.

I died a thousand deaths that year. I tried to escape in any way possible. But the excitement of everything I tried faded away. One night I broke the rules and wandered down to the chapel. There, in front of the glow of the candle and in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament I fell to my knees. I was bankrupt. Almost everything that meant something to me was gone. And yet the candlelight was still glowing. He was near.

In a fascinating book on spirituality, the Holy Longing, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser speaks of the necessity for allowing less important aspects of our lives as Christians fade away. He presents to his readers two people: Janis Joplin and Mother Theresa. He makes the claim that these two women were actually similar in many respects. Both were full of energy, passionate, intense lovers, and highly spiritual. The difference between the two being only the manner in which they directed their generative energy. Janis Joplin directed her energy in a multiplicity of places: creativity, drugs, booze, sex and music. Mother Theresa directed her energy in a singular fashion towards loving God. The former led to disintegration and ultimately death, the latter lead to sanctity of life. Citing Soren Kierkegaard, Rolheiser states that a saint is ultimately a person who can will the one. That is, where everything in life fades away and one is only left with the singular focus of the will on God.

Spending much time in Appalachia, I have come accustom to hearing Protestant ministers ask me if I am saved, and letting me know that the end is very near, and so I must repent. It might be easy to ignore them. It might even be easy to laugh at them under my breath. Yet, they might not be far from the truth. Jesus’ words in the scripture today indicate that before the end comes, there must be a fading away of material things, a shake up of nations, and even death. Coming in contact with Christ can be nothing less than this: a fading away of those things that divide our heart, a shake up of our lives to redirect us to what is truly important, and a death to those things that threaten to disintegrate our souls. This process will certainly take perseverance. But if we persevere in grace, it will leave us staring face to face with the true jewel, the pearl of great price, that which is greater than anything we can experience in this life, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Homily for Seminarians--27th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Hab.1-2)

In the Series the Band of Brothers, Easy Company, a US division of paratroopers during WWII, has been fighting in Europe for many months. They have just received a new commanding officer: Lieutenant Dyke. Dyke is well trained. He is well dressed. He received quick promotion. But he has not seen any combat. Even worse, he doesn’t get to know his men, and they sure don’t know him. From the protection of the forest and many yards away from the front line, he can play the part of Lieutenant. But the question still remains for Easy Company: what kind of leader do they really have?

The day of his first battle has come. Dyke leads Easy Company over a field towards a small village inhabited by German troops. As soon as they step out of the cover of the woods artillery rings out. Bullets whiz past them. Mortars explode. Men from Easy Company drop left and right. But, their leader is no where to be found. Hidden behind the safety of a bail of hay, with tears running down his face, sits Lt. Dyke. He is frozen with fear. Unable to act, he forgot his obligation to his men, to his country, to the world. Under great adversity, the true content of Dyke’s heart shines forth.

Lieutenant Dyke, write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily.

I don’t want to be too tough on Lt. Dyke. We can never know how we would respond in his situation. But our chance, our own similar opportunity is soon coming. As future leaders in the church, we are going to face our own battles. If we are not convinced of this, we need only to look to today’s first reading to find an example.

Habakkuk is a prophet. He has been chosen by God. He has been anointed. He’s to have a deeper understanding of things relating to God. He’s to communicate that to the people of his time. Yet violence breaks out. People begin to die. His nation is about to be crushed. And so he wavers. As bullets of false gods take his people and idol worship explodes like artillery, he forgets who God is. He hides behind the hay bail of doubt, despair and fear. He is frozen, unable to proclaim the action of God. Under adversity, the true content of his heart shines forth.

Habakkuk: write down the vision clearly upon the tablets so that one can read it readily.

As future priests who will share in the prophetic ministry of Christ, the reading from Habakkuk might bring a little fear into our hearts. I know it does for me. Devastation and hardship will most likely be a part of our lives. None of us can truly know how we will respond in those situations. In humbling way, we can look back on formation to see how we don’t want to respond.

As adversity become a part of our lives---

A holy hour becomes a holy half hour becomes an unholy “I’ll wait until tomorrow”…

Honesty with our spiritual director is postponed yet another month…

Smalls successes build our ego and we think we are gods…

Too many failures turn our heart cold, unable to reach out to those in need…

When the mortars of laziness explode, when the fire of failure burns, when the bullets of pride come around us, the true content of our hearts begins to show.

Brothers, Aaron, write down the vision clearly upon the tablets so that one can read it readily.

Perhaps focusing on our potential for failure under adversity is not completely helpful. Perhaps it misses the whole picture. We worship the God of the entire Universe. So surely God will respond to our need.

When Habakkuk’s world is crumbling around him, God response is rather simple. There is no fire from Heaven, no plague to kill the Babylonian, no miraculous response. God’s only action comes to Habakkuk in a command, a reminder:

Write down the vision: the vision of who I am as God and who you are because of me. The vision of my never dying love for you and for all people. The vision of what I accomplished through your ancestors.

Write it clearly Upon the Tablets: Clearly, don’t let your chisel shake from fear, doubt and sin. Cast away the voice that whispers lies in your ears. And place that vision on the tablet.

Let it be readily: As you read it readily, let it brand itself deep within your own heart. Thus, every breath you take will be a reliving of the vision I have given you. And let others share in your vision. Let them read it readily so that should you forget, they can remind you. Habakkuk, do this and you will live.

My brothers, our experience today is very similar to Habakkuk’s. Under adversity, God response to us is simple. It comes to us in a command, a reminder:

Write down the vision: It is of God’s ever enduring action in our lives. It is a vision of the grace that has allowed us to overcome so many weaknesses during formation. It is a vision of the friends who have walked with us; the formation staff that has challenged us; our family who has supported us.

Write it clearly upon the tablets: Allow the grace of Christ to walk us through to the depths of our heart. Past the sin. Past the fear. Past the self doubt. Past the weakness. To the purity of our heart prepared like good soil ready to receive the vision.

Let it be read readily: Let this vision not be just our own, but share it with others. Be accountable. In the time remaining open up ever more to counselors, spiritual directors, friends and family. For if we should forget, they will reminds us.

Then and only then, will we live.

Liutenant Dyke could never have known what actual combat would have been like. He could never fully know how he would respond. But perhaps he could have prepared his heart a little better.

We, too, do not know what the future of our ministry will entail. But we do know, that with the time still remaining, God is inviting us to write the vision clearly upon the tablets so that one can read it readily.