Ed Foley’s Homily for the Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Old St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago

 

My sermon preparation this past week

Took an abrupt turn on Friday afternoon
When the first news of the terrorist attacks in Paris
Began cascading across western media.

By now you know the specifics

6 coordinated attacks by 8 terrorists
Kalashnikov machine guns … identical suicide bombs
At least 129 dead
352 wounded

And the city of light – my home for two years

plunged into darkness

not from a hurricane or earthquake
Tsunami or other natural disaster

But from a partial eclipse of humanity

Rising from an abyss of cruel and vile hatred

some tragic irony that these appalling atrocities

Occurred in the shadow of today’s texts
that portend of an end time
a moment of unspeakable tribulation

marked by the darkening of the sun and moon
the obliteration of every celestial body
and the disruption of heavenly powers.

The conjunction of Paris and the gospel of Mark

Isis and the 33rd Sunday in ordinary time
makes me wonder … and maybe you as well
Whether that time has come and the end is near …
At least the end of humanity and civility as I imagine it

The text from Mark at the center of today’s readings

sometimes called the “little apocalypse”

might sound quite oxymoronic …
At least incongruous if not contradictory

This passage in Mark, with parallels in Matthew and Luke

Is called the little apocalypse
In contrast with the great apocalypse narrated

In the book of Revelation
With its often impenetrable images
Of crisis, judgment and salvation

this designation “little apocalypse” is a reminder,

as one commentator mused,
that apocalypses do not come in only one size

Over the decades … over the centuries

Human kind has witnessed many apocalyptic sieges
In past 100 years alone

sometimes described as the most violent in human history

we witnessed the annihilation of 6 million Jews in holocaust

And 66 million other victims of World War II

Then there were genocides in Armenia, Cambodia and Rwanda

Juxtaposed with these towering narrations

of inhumanity to humanity

Are the “quote unquote”

little apocalypses that make us gasp in horror
A German airbus whose descent into hell

found its resolution on a French mountainside

The attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo

That snuffed out the lives
Of 12 beloved artists and social commentators

The execution of journalists displayed for the world to see

In the most brutal of ways

And on our own streets, in our own city

Too much repugnance to enumerate

Especially the slaying of the lambs
The killing of the innocent

Including the recent revenge execution

of a 9 year old boy … a 9 year old boy!

Maybe the state of the world today

Is that we do and always will live in apocalypse now …

Not only with man’s inhumanity to man on a global scale
But in those micro-apocalypses of our lives

When love evaporates, the diagnosis returns

And especially when the beloved, the spouse, the child dies

And our universe collapses

Aren’t the faces that radiate back to us

from our own shrine of remembrance
Our own altar of the dead

Isn’t each a testimony to such micro-apocalypses

The upended of life as we knew it
as the stars fell from the skies
and our universe, as we knew it, came to an end.

So maybe it is not just the state of devolving humanity

In the present age …

But the very nature of human existence itself

That always and forever
Embroils us in an apocalypse now.

And what do we do in the face of such carnage

Such inhumanity, such insanity, such brokenness, loss and grief?

Do we only have recourse childhood prayers

Evoked by the first reading from Daniel
and pray as I did in the 1950’s

ironically for the conversion of Russia:

St. Michael the archangel, defend us in battle …

defend us in battle
defend us in battle

I recount this macro and micro apocalyptic litany

Not to scare or depress
Not to alarm or demoralize …

But to stir the ashes of loss
To fan embers that fade
In order to incite the promised phoenix of hope

That we name God’s Holiest of Spirits

that resides in us individually and collectively
Personally and ecclesially

To stir that phoenix to take wing

not despite our gloom but within it

So that God’s holy hope might surge

Not only in solace
But also in mission

Passages like the one we hear today from Mark’s gospel

convince many scripture scholars
That Jesus, like John the Baptist before him

was a kind of apocalyptic prophet

that does not mean that they were predicting the end of time

prophets of global cataclysm …
which would be a misguided interpretation of today’s text

Rather, Jesus, like the Baptist was an apocalyptic prophets

In the sense that he was expecting
An abrupt and decisive change in the world
What the gospels characterize
As the inbreaking of God’s reign in the world

That is evidenced in Jesus’ first words in the gospel of Mark
Chapter 1, verse 14:

The time has come
The kingdom of god has come near
Repeat and believe the good news.

Mark twain once remarked that what he called

The “human race experiment”
Is either unfinished or hopeless.

The Jesus data does not, in my opinion, opt for hopelessness
Rather … the Jesus agenda was all about
Engaging humanity in the unfinished business of creation

Fred Craddock was a celebrated professor

Of preaching and New Testament at Emory University

When pondering apocalyptic literature

And coaching preachers how to approach
Texts such as today’s

This prudent and savvy believer wisely noted:

“maybe people are obsessed with the second coming
Because, deep down,
They were really disappointed in the first one.”

Bam!

In the face of the Parisian apocalypse

And those micro-apocalypses that punctuate our lives
The liturgy goads us into remembering
That Jesus’ very birth … his incarnation
Was an apocalypse as well … and for Christians

The decisive one.

While in the popular imagination apocalypse denotes

widespread destruction or disaster
that is not its original meaning.

In Greek, which I recognize 2 out of 3 times,

Apocalupsis means an uncovering, a divulging
Pulling back the veil on a larger, cosmic framework
In order to impart wisdom, meaning and especially hope
To a people who are currently suffering or oppressed

Jesus was a gifted and determined veil puller

Curtain raiser – Scene changer – And situational critic

His own birth, the first apocalypse, symbolizes that gift
For in assuming flesh, Jesus with the Godhead proclaimed

Things are changing
There is a shockingly new divine divulgence here
And that is that people matter …
Ever person matters …
Black lives, white lives, brown lives, yellow lives matter

choose your color:
all lives matter, whether on the streets of Paris
or in the alleys of Chicago

Furthermore, this 1st apocalypse was wed to an apocalyptic mission

For the followers of Jesus to continue to pull the veil

Raise the curtain – Change the scene

And shine the spotlight

On every inhumanity to humanity
Every act that diminishes human dignity
Not only attacks with Kalashnikov and AK 47’s butt

But on every slur – no matter how prominent the speaker

that characterizes Muslims or immigrants
Mexicans or Iowans
Pediatric neurosurgeons
or Asians who speak English as a second language

As stupid, stupid, stupid

To me that is the language of an apocalyptic false prophet

Who wants the world to collapse so he can fill the void

And does not take the first apocalypse of incarnation seriously

To say that we live in tough times is an understatement

St. Michael the archangel, defend us in battle

Defend us in battle … Defend us in battle

Mark our gospel writer also lived in tough times

Which is why he portrays Jesus as such an apocalyptic prophet

Mark wrote in the midst of the 1st Jewish rebellion against Rome
That culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem
And the Jewish temple
Decidedly apocalyptic for Mark the Jew and his Jewish readers

But this larger apocalypse for Mark
Does not erase the first one … the incarnation … the mission
With its glimpses of hope in the final coming of the son of Man.

They say it’s a true story, those are always the best

A man and his young teenage boy checked in to a hotel and were shown to their room. The two receptionists noted the quiet manner of the guests, and the pale appearance of the boy. Later the man and boy ate dinner in the hotel restaurant. The staff again noticed that the two guests were very quiet, and that the boy seemed disinterested in his food. After eating, the boy went to his room and the man went to reception and asked to see the manager. The receptionist initially asked if there was a problem with the service or the room, and offered to fix things, but the man said that there was no problem of that sort, and repeated his request. The manager was called and duly appeared.

The man explained that he was spending the night in the hotel with his fourteen-year-old son, who was seriously ill. The boy was very soon to undergo chemotherapy, which would cause him to lose his hair. They had come to the hotel to have a break together, and also because the boy planned to shave his head, that night, rather than feel that the illness was beating him. The father said that he would be shaving his own head too, in support of his son. He asked that staff be respectful when the two of them came to breakfast with their shaved heads. The manager assured the father that he would inform all staff and that they would behave appropriately.

The following morning the father and son entered the restaurant for breakfast.  There they saw the four male restaurant staff attending to their duties, perfectly normally, all with shaved heads.

In her fertile imagine, Emily Dickinson envisioned hope as

The thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.

For Christians that thing with feathers is God’s sanctified Spirit

But not a spirit that flutters overhead
But wells up within us, out of the ashes
Of every micro and macro apocalypse that touches our lives

A spirit that unites rather than divides
Heals rather than berates
Honors rather than excises
And loves in the face of every difference
Urging us never to fear to hope, fear to hope, fear to hope

Through Christ our Lord.

(Rory Cooney’s “Do not fear to home” then performed by choir.)

 

© 2015, Edward Foley. Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin, is the Duns Scotus Professor of Spirituality and ordinary professor of liturgy and music at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

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14 comments

  1. I think there is an inappropriate moral equivalence being drawn here by likening the barbarity of these attacks with “human nature” and a constant “little apocalypse” including just about everything from thoughtless statements of prejudice to tragic results of mental illness to murdering hundreds (or millions) of innocent people out of ideology. Everything that is bad is not equally so. Right now, I think we are asked to pay attention to the event before us.

    1. @Rita Ferrone:
      To suggest that there is any kind of “inappropriate moral equivalence” here seems to misread seriously this wonderful text. There is emotional resonance, not moral equivalency here. Loved the image of the “little apocalypses” … the micro apocalypses … that recognizes the ways our universe can collapse when a loved one dies. Very moving homily. Bravo Fr. Foley!

  2. The “apocalyptic” scene in this past Sunday’s gospel is a prelude to something good and wonderful– the coming of the King, the “new heaven and new earth”. Not the destruction of the universe and created matter –and also people– but their transformation and renewal. Quite unlike the horrible experience Paris (and other places) have had to suffer. Certainly, Scriptural apocalypse and the violent actions of madmen share the commonality of “surprise”, “unknown hour”, etc,, but the moral equivalence of the two could not be further apart.

  3. Quite a moving homily, synthesizing the concept of apocalypse with “mini-apocalypse”, a conceopt I had not considered before. I often preach on the obvious effects of original sin in the barbarity of humanity to humanity. It makes me long for Christ’s return all the more. I preach that He is coming SOON, as I have for the past 27 years. Jesus still is coming SOON, but not as my impatient boomer personality regards soon. Soon is teaching me to think in a Semetic way, not trying to make all of the loose ends tie together, as I was earlier taught. I am learning to live with contradiction, paradox (Lutherans LOVE paradox), and striving to be more patient and let Christ be Christ, and not me.

    Thanks for the stimulating take on the texts from yesterday…our 25th Sunday after Pentecost. Some day we will be together, most likely in heaven!

  4. A beautiful and timely reflection. It’s too bad that all parishes didn’t hear such a reflection on events of this past week. Many places carried on as if nothing had happened at all, or maybe a brief mention in the prayers of the faithful.

  5. Luckily, our deacon in his sermon pointed out that the Second Coming was not doom but the Lord Jesus.

    Because we met Michael in the first reading (Daniel), I recommend “The Great and Holy War,” by Philip Jenkins. He situates the cult of Archangel Michael, Defender and Fighter, in the prayers and accounts of each of the conflicting nations in World War I.

  6. The question of whether and how to preach in the face of an event like the Paris terrorist attacks is an important one, and I’d welcome the thoughts of others on it. Perhaps the choosing of hymn texts would be a similar topic.

    Even crafting the Universal Prayers / Prayers of the Faithful can be a little murky. On Saturday afternoon, I was driving back from an event when I got a phone call from our liturgist, who was on his way out of town. He knew I was scheduled for our Saturday evening mass, and asked me to add an intercession for the Paris victims. I asked him how he thought it should be worded. After thinking about it for a moment, he asked that it be kept simple: “For the victims of the tragic events in Paris, we pray …”. After reaching home I talked it over with my wife, and she suggested adding , “… and their families …”. And so that is how I hand-wrote it into the already-printed-up script for the weekend: “For the victims of the tragic events in Paris, and for the victims’ families …”. Thinking about it a bit more, I wasn’t sure that “tragic events” was saying all that could or should be said about it – wasn’t sure it was telling the truth fully enough – so on the two occasions I led the prayers this weekend, I said, “For the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris, and for the victims’ families, we pray …”.
    Still not sure I had it right. And not sure that praying for the victims is all we should be praying for. It’s not easy to see things clearly.

  7. I surely do not want to seem to lessen the value/importance of the Mass nor the fact that the Mass is THE prayer, but at the same time we need to remember it is not the only prayer.
    Sadly, Scripture services and communal Rosary devotions are no longer universally popular Catholic liturgies. But they are prayer forms that allow for much flexibility in structure and content and can (and should) be adapted to particular circumstances. Choice of readings (both Scriptural and non-Scriptural), preachers (both ordained and lay), hymns, greater opportunity for silent reflection, spontaneous intercession, the welcome attendance and participation of non-Catholics, can all come together to show how the Word of God addresses a particular event/situation.
    More sadly, how many Catholics would be willing to come back to church for a second time on Sunday for such a prayer service?

  8. Our bishop announced that he would be praying for the victims, the wounded, and their families, as well as for the police and army working for the protection of the population, the medical personnel, and the political leaders working for unity and democracy.

    The bishop of Paris announced in addition that he would also pray for France, and for the grace of a measured response to violence.

    I also heard a homily discussing praying for the terrorists who died on Friday: it is hard, but it is a commandment.

  9. Was I the only one who raised his eyebrows at the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel being described as a “childhood prayer”? I pray it at the end of every rosary…and with all the evil going on in the world, I think it’d be a good idea to start praying it again at the end of every Mass. Sadly, probably many of Catholics have never heard it. Definitely needs to be an adult prayer in our spiritual arsenal.

    1. @Jay Edward:

      The fact that you would use the term “spiritual arsenal” speaks volumes. I do not care for the militaristic/warfare analogy one bit, and I know many others feel the same way.

  10. Sean Whelan : @Jay Edward: The fact that you would use the term “spiritual arsenal” speaks volumes. I do not care for the militaristic/warfare analogy one bit, and I know many others feel the same way.

    Well, the Scriptures contain this kind of imagery. For example:

    “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” -Ephesians 6:10-13

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