Homily for Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012
We are honouring our dead today. ‘Our’ dead. And we recognize that we, too, will one day be the ancestors being remembered by those who come after us. “Memento Mori” – remember death. Death teaches us wisdom like nothing else does, because it has the power to utterly separate out for us what matters and what doesn’t, what is superficial and what is real, what is lasting and what isn’t.
What matters is Love – in all its dimensions. You can’t put love in a box. We can’t define it, but we know what love is when we see it, hear it, feel it. Love, the gospel message today tells us, means giving everything, like the widow did. It is giving all for a greater good. But it’s more than that, too. Love is also recognizing that the widow has nothing, and not letting that continue. Love is seeing her need, and supporting her, sharing our riches, letting no one go hungry or poor. I think our world, as yet, hardly glimpses what that really means, at the systems level.
The most important question we can put to ourselves is the one we brought to mind last month at mass: “How then shall we live, knowing that we will die?” Let death, the finest teacher, walk with you each day, and you will surely remember how to live – in solidarity with others, risking the known for the unknown, and investing in the beauty and work of this world with holy abandon and faith so much deeper than any fear.
An Irish writer, scholar and modern mystic, the late John O’Donohue, saw DEATH AS AN INVITATION TO FREEDOM. He wrote, poetically: “. . .If you really live your life to the full, death will never have power over you. It will never seem like a destructive, negative event. It can become, for you, the moment of release into the deepest treasures of your own nature; it can be your full entry into the temple of your soul. If you are able let go of things, you learn to die spiritually in little ways during your life. When you learn to let go of things, a greater generosity, openness, and breath comes into your life. Imagine this letting go multiplied a thousand times at the moment of your death. That release can bring you a completely new divine belonging.” So may that be. Amen!
Homily for Sunday, Dec. 9/12 “Prepare the way of the Lord”
Picture a family – loving parents, good values, trying to be, and teach their children to be, a healthy and positive presence in the world. One day – or so it seems – the kids become teenagers. Lots of power struggles. The tussle is on! Here is a classic scenario — one weekend, the parents are away, and the teens have a party. A big party. And the people they invite don’t care about the house or the home or its values and valuables. They don’t care either, in the moment. Party! Freedom! And yet they forget that they themselves don’t own the house. Picture the chaos after this teen party – pretend you are the teenager, looking around — the house is torn apart – things happened that you knew shouldn’t – and you know your parents are coming home the next day. What are you going to do? Go on a cleaning binge of course! Put things to right. But – are you going to do that because of a good and holy prick of conscience? Because you know you’ve been up to no good and it hasn’t made you happy, even though in the moment you thought it might? Or are you going to clean up by just shoving things in a few cupboards, hoping your parents won’t notice, then scooting out of the house as soon as they get home, so you aren’t around when they notice the signs of the last night’s activities? If so, you’ll only have to deal with that later. So you set to and do your best to straighten up the mess, and while you’re doing that, you have a good look inside yourself: this is, if you are being ‘real’ in this experience, is the desert experience described in this reading. You ask yourself: Is this the way you want to live? Is what you did and allowed to happen the way you want the rest of your life to be? Are you really happy? What would make you really joyful? What do you want to leave behind you when your time on earth is done? Or even when the day is done? Are the choices you make today ones that you can live with tomorrow?
This is something of what is meant in the Gospel reading today – the voice in the wilderness which cries out: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The passage refers to what was (in Biblical times), and is now, expected of people when they hear that the one to whom they are accountable and want to please is about to make an appearance – whether that be parents, the owner of the company, the queen, the prime minister, or anyone in authority.
But this analogy only goes so far. Because the call of today is more than seeing God as an authority figure, even a parent, even a loving parent – God calls us to an adult faith, calls us into the fullness of our being, and we can perhaps see God more as a trusted, wise friend, as a co-worker, as someone who wants us to be more than we think we can be, and as a force of love. Shame at what one has done is also not the point. Or punishment. It’s about respect, and life for all.
“Prepare the way of the Lord’ is also not just about ourselves, but about all the world. Not just about our own heart and home, but the hearts sand homes of everyone in the world. It’s about the earth itself: We can imagine that we are the teenagers and the house is our world, our natural world, our environment. We have become used to doing anything we want with it. It’s hard to change. It’s easier to keep being blind and deaf and numb.
Maybe there are other scenarios in life, big and small, that you can relate this story to. Whatever the specifics, the truth does come out. And we do have to face what’s real, and what is required of us. Human agency and human effort are required to save – that means, heal – the world. And how does that movement in our lives start? With an inner conversation, an inner conversion — “metanoia” is the Greek term for this – responding to God’s call within us, demonstrating sincerity and honesty in one’s dealings with God and other humans; taking upon ourselves real world concerns. (For the people of the Bible, real life was what it was all about, not philosophy or conceptualizations.)
Today, we are probably not going to head out into the desert to be baptized in a river as a sign of our conversion to God’s law of love. But John the baptizer can symbolize to us the call of the Holy Spirit within us to go to a place where we can hear God in our hearts and let that call reach into our minds and spirits and bodies – so we will take action, in the way that is right for us, and become prophets and friends of God ourselves.
In creative work (and God’s work IS creative, imaginative work!), the first thing is: Clear a space – so we can See! Hear! Respond! Dream! Then — let God love you. Believe you are worthy and strong, and you are! And next, as Mother Teresa says, “Be faithful in small things – that is where your strength lies.”
Think of a situation that is part of your life right now – and ask: “How am I not listening to God?” Or, “How can I start listening to God more?” And ask this through the power of love, not shame or regret or anything else that would keep you stuck. St. Augustine says “As love grows in you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul.” What beauty of your soul would like to bloom in the desert? What bloom of beauty could you plant in the desert which someone else is experiencing? So — Love! in all the ways you can think of! Be realistic! Be idealistic! Love with the force of nature – don’t stand in its way! Love yourself. Be kind. Let your life be a blessing.