Sunday, October 23, 2011

Homily 30th Sunday in OT given at St. Mary Parish, Evansville, IN

It began with a simple taste of fruit from the tree. It seemed innocent. And so one and then the other feasted on what was forbidden. In a few bites all humanity became involved. Now enticed by the knowledge of the fruit, our first parents shifted their gaze from their creator. Adam and Eve saw their nakedness, they saw the outside of paradise; they saw the toil of the soil, they saw the pains of childbirth. They saw death. But they couldn’t see God.

And so time passed. And there was the ark and the rainbow, the father of nations, the near sacrifice of a son, the freedom from Pharaoh, and the journey into a new land. And still the peoples’ gaze was averted. They saw flooding waters, they saw idols of gold, they saw false gods aplenty. But they couldn’t see God. In the midst of it all God implored his people, he begged his people, saying SHEMA, HEAR: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Turn your gaze to me, just a little. But it was so tough to hear. So tough to see. So tough to turn.

And so time passed. And rather than just give them words, God sent his Word, his son, in the fullness of time. Like a crack of lightening in the darkest night he began to turn their gaze. They saw that the blind could see, they saw that the deaf could hear, they saw that the lame could walk. Heads turned. But tempers also burned. Therefore, this son, this Jesus, knew he would not be with the people for long. So he gave them the greatest commandment: SHEMA, HEAR: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. A few simple words to guide their lives. But it was so tough to hear. So tough to see. So they averted their gaze and he hung on a tree.

And so time passed and here we are today. Some few centuries later, but still our gaze is drawn in so many directions. We see material goods that keep catching our eye. We see endless hours on the internet tweeting and poking and friending and searching; We see there’s work, and work and more work; We see our kids need to be brought to their activities and everyone wants their time. We see that there’s a party to go to this weekend and a football game to see. We see that the leaves still need to be raked and the oil needs to be changed and the trash taken out. We see so many things…The time ticks away and we are already at the end of the day. And we’ve barely had time to gaze upon God.

But the reality for most of us is this: we desire to be better spouses, and better parents, and better sons and daughters and better friends. And so the weekend comes along. With our last bit of effort we load up the mini-van and shuffle the clan to Church. We’re looking for something, for anything. Anything to help us through this modern day exile from paradise. We pray to God silently that Father or the deacon has something to say to us today. If there is nothing from them we hope at least the coffee will be good. And then the Gospel is read, and the words hit us:

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

The words are so simple. But the statement leaves us feeling stretched, exhausted, more tired. God is not asking for just some of our being—he is asking for all of our being. Our time, our energy, our life, our love--everything. But we are not sure we have any more to give.

And so all we can do is turn our gaze just a little more to God.

And from this slight turn of our gaze and a whole lot of God’s grace we see a food pantry filled with workers and nourishment for those in need. We see a high school girl struggling with depression finding shelter and hope in her youth group. We see groups reaching out to those who are marginalized and shunned. We see the widow finding comfort. The pews beginning to fill up. People beginning to sing. Healing taking place. And marriages strengthened. We don’t see the dishes and meals and chores and work and struggle go away, but they take on a new meaning of love.

And the Paradise of Eden becomes not something lost in the annals of time, buried deep in the first book of the Bible, or some mythological place. Rather, Eden appears here, around this altar, with us all gathered together simply trying to live the life we are called to live.

And so time passes. We are called to go to our eternal home. And we join the angels’ choirs saying: we love the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might. Our gaze is fixed on God and that is where it will always be!

Friday, October 21, 2011

From Glenmary's Founder's Day

The peak of the mountain broke through the clouds that hid it from our view. We were at the beginning of our ascent of some five miles, seemingly straight up, where we would end by scaling a glacier. There were 50 of us, with five adults and the rest teenagers. Throughout the ascent I felt many times we were not going to make it. We were tied in together because the slopes were so steep. We had to hide out beneath rocks because the winds were so strong. The adults had to almost yell at kids to keep them moving—for once we started there was no turning back. And then came the scaling of the glacier. We encountered not just one, but two avalanches. Kids were knocked down the mountain. Had they not been tied in they would have kept tumbling. Yet amidst the terrible struggle, we made it to the top. The view was our prize. It took my breath away and brought tears to many peoples’ eyes. It was nothing less than Heaven. Many would say we were nuts for going through what we did. But we knew that the outcome was worth the struggle.

Since Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations countless people have heeded this call. Yet the journey has been far from easy for them. St. Paul talks of the activity as being nothing less than a repeated death. The martyrs we celebrate today had limbs cut off and fingers chewed off and fingers chewed by native people of this country. They were burned, beaten and starved. Even the founder of Glenmary had to undergo serious rejection, ridicule and suffering in his missionary activity. Yet there is no doubt in my mind, that they all would be able to say: the outcome was worth the struggle.

We find ourselves right in the midst of the epic struggle. For some of us we have traveled thousands of miles, leaving family, friends, and food— nothing less than all familiarity and comfort. We rode on planes that never seemed to land. We missed the death of loved ones so far away. For others here there has been rejection, isolation and nay saying from those who don't respect our role in the Church. And yet in the midst of our turmoil and suffering there are moments of grace where we can say just like Paul, that we are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

We will walk out of this chapel tonight and find ourselves right in the midst of this very struggle. But there is a consistent witness of the missionary activity of the Church. And that witness says that despite the struggles we have faced or will face, despite whatever in life attempts to shatter our earthen vessels, that God assures us: those who sow in tears, will reap rejoicing!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Priceless Gift

She kept moving towards me. Each step as she drew closer revealed the depths of her deep, dark eyes that seemed to pierce further into my soul. Her skin matched her eyes, and both genes and endless hours working in the sun and wind had produced a color like that of night. The wrinkles on her face matched the tears in her clothing. They were random, deep, jagged and the result of living in impoverished conditions. Her hair had never experienced the touch of Pantene or Tresemme. It was in knots, lined with silver, and split. She was hunched over, limping as she moved, yet staring straight at me. Being downwind I caught her smell and felt queasy. She continued on, staring at me. Her smile revealed a few brown, pointy teeth. Yet this was a smile that I will never forget.

There I was, just ordained a deacon in Kenya, Africa. It was the part of the service where people bring the newly ordained gifts. I was dressed in beautiful, clean and brightly colored vestments. My hair was done well, all placed perfectly with gel. My shoes had been polished the day before. They reflected the hot, African sun with a glair. My teeth were white and straight—and they were all there. I had showered the night before and that morning, applying the usual nice smelling deodorants and colognes afterwards. I faked a smile, but was anxious at the sight of the woman in front of me.

Then she reached out her hand—hands that had held and buried babies, milked cows, scraped soil, formed and cooked bread, and prepared endless meals to less-than-grateful kids. I reached with my two-college-degree holding, silky smooth, and perfectly groomed hands to hold hers. The touch was like sandpaper on glass. She left something in my hand and walked away. When I opened my hand I found a few red-dirt covered paper shillings. It was probably more money than she ever would spend. And yet it was such a small amount that I would probably not bother to pick it up had I seen it on the sidewalk of a city. She had so little. I had so much. Yet she gave me all she had. I was without words.

I am still haunted by this experience. I have prayed over it and reflected on it many times since. Surprisingly, it is not a feeling of guilt I experience. There are certainly discrepancies with how some people are given so much in life and some suffer with so little. I know that I have received many, many blessings and so few of them, if any, have been because of anything I could have done. Yet, it was the person with so little that gave to me, and continues to give to me this day. In her forlorn state, when she with so little gave me so much, her eyes did not condemn me. Her eyes simply said: freely receive, and remember how much you have freely been given.

There is a place in the Christian tradition for us to try to eradicate poverty, to struggle for justice, and to constantly give rather than receive. And yet, sometimes the place that God ultimately wants us to be in our hearts is grateful: grateful for our lives, our families, for Him, and even for the struggles and sufferings that we endure.

This wonderful Kenyan woman may only have handed me a few shillings, but it was the reminder to be grateful for all I have been freely given that is the gift without price.