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

by Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

 

To suggest that I am unenthusiastic

About being in the pulpit this morning

After such a shocking and chaotic week

Is an understatement

 

While I do love the spirit of this community

And the embrace of kinship that enfolds our Sunday gatherings

I feel stymied, perplexed and indeed a bit weary

Of attempting to reflect on what appears to be

Genuine chaos in our country and in the world

Especially as refracted through such foreboding readings

 

Quite frankly, I toyed with the idea of scheduling

An elective root canal this morning

Which I perceived would be more pleasant

Than slogging through apocalyptic texts

After this apocalyptic week.

 

On the other hand, like you,

I need make sense for myself what is happening in this country

And need to discover,

for my own sanity and salvation

what this faith we hold so dear

calls us to be in this present moment and in the days ahead

 

A few weeks ago, I finished a dark and brooding novel

The buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (NY: Alfred Knopf, 2015)

Described by some reviewers as a “quest narrative”

Set in mythical Post-Arthurian England

Central to the narrative are an elderly couple

Axl and Beatrice

Long married and quite beloved of each other

But who seem to be suffering from some form of amnesia

An amnesia that has enveloped the British countryside

And all its inhabitants

Both Saxons and Britons

Who, like Axl and Beatrice

Live in a foggy peace with each other

 

Besides this elderly couple this is another paradoxical twosome

Wistan, a young Saxon warrior

And the Briton Gawain, an aging knight and nephew

Of the long dead Arthur

 

To explain these two requires a spoiler alert

So if you want to read this melancholy novel on your own

You might exercise your Catholic option

And tune out of the homily and into the bulletin now …

 

It seems that at the center of a ménage-a-trois

that reveals Wistan and Gawain as respectful yet mortal enemies

Is not a beautiful woman but the aging dragon Querig

Whom Merlin enchanted years ago

After Arthur’s bloody conquest of the Saxons

 

Querig’s breath is the fog that induces this societal amnesia

dampening the memories of hatred and slaughter

Rivalry and division

that grew out of Arthur’s bloody conquest of the Saxons

 

And so there was a Camelot of sorts

But more a camelotic mask

A camelotic ruse

And once the dragon is slain

Memory returns …

A memory that will once again feed a smoldering anger

Between Britons and Saxons

And a memory that will feed smoldering doubts

Between Axl and his beloved Beatrice

 

Memory is the buried giant here

And when it raises its fiendish head

Personal division and societal chaos ensue.

 

While significant sections of the U.S. population this past week

And apparently most representatives of the media

Misjudged the degree of unrest and anger

That pervades a large part of the electorate

The election did not create the unrest or division

 

Rather, like the slaying of Querig

The election erased some amnesiatic fog

a false camelotic veneer that

seemed to have settled over significant swaths of the country

And exposed us in stark but unmistaken ways

as anything but the “United States of America”

 

And what do believers do in the midst of such conflict and division

What direction do we get from this Sunday ritual

And the readings that punctuate it?

On the one hand, today’s readings

Could be interpreted to predict dark and gloomy days ahead

 

The Prophet Malachi predicts days blazing like an oven

A divine fire and people reduced to stubble

 

Luke is even cheerier, with Jesus announcing

That nations will rise against nation

Kingdom against king

Earthquakes, famines and plagues

 

On an individual level, there is the promise of persecution

Familial division

Hatred and even death …

Though at the end of the gospel there is that perplexing line

“not a hair on your head will be destroyed”

 

Which prompted one blogger to suggest that

Although you’ll be persecuted, imprisoned and put to death

To borrow a phrase from Billie Crystal

Your hair is going to look “marvelous”

 

Maybe, however, there is another way to look at these texts.

 

First Luke is not talking about the end of the world

Or the “last things”

But narrating a particular moment in Jesus’ life

 

It’s chapter 21 and Jesus has been traveling toward Jerusalem

since chapter 9, that we read on June 26th

the 13th Sunday in Ordinary time

 

today he seems to foretell the destruction of the Temple

which might suggest that Luke is including this pericope

to prove that Jesus was a prophet who could

see into the future

 

Yet Luke is writing 10 years after the temple’s destruction

So this is no prediction … but ancient history for Luke

And therefore something more is going on here

 

in this sequence of Jesus in the temple precincts

Luke reminds us that Jesus is not only predicting a new temple

But a different kind of temple

A vision of God’s reign built on mutuality, kinship and respect

And the Christ would be our cornerstone

 

While it is easy to read today’s texts

In the face of electoral debacles

And national divisions

War and terrorism in the Middle East

a growing nuclear threat from North Korea

and earthquakes in New Zealand

That these are signs that the end is near

 

If that was the case, my job as a preacher

the equivalent of my grade school teachers

Who in the 1950’s taught us, in case of a nuclear attack

get under our desks and put hands over our heads

Remember duck and cover?

 

Happily my job is not, however, to invite you

To the spiritual equivalent of “duck and cover”

Because the readings today are not a prediction

About the future or demise of earth

Or this fragile constitutional union

Rather, what the texts and the liturgy asks today

Is how are we going to live in these days

When catastrophes do happen, institutions do collapse

And life does seem fragile even threatened

 

That is why Jesus is no clairvoyant in today’s gospel

Rather he understands that

Every temple is a temporary structure

Every framework … ever cause

That promotes our vision of the world

Will fade, will disappoint, maybe even die

Except his

 

Yet in the midst of these apocalyptic texts

There is a promise … a light .. a hope

A divinely enchanted memory

that humankind too often forgets

 

The promise is found in the enduring memory of God

Who never forgets any child or any nation

Whose persistent spirit lingers in the world & in our lives

Even when it feels like those might be coming to an end

 

This liberating memory lifts the fog and recalibrates hearts

And enables us to recognize

that sometimes it is our experience of Golgotha

of loss, crucifixion and death of a person or a cause

That is most apt to draw back the veil

And exposes the very faithfulness of God

 

Thus the poet Rilke writes:

 

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

 

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.

 

Embody me.

 

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

 

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.

 

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

 

Give me your hand.  (Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, trans. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.  New York: Riverhead Books, 1996. I:59).

 

A second divine antidote to our spiritual forgetfulness

Is the holy remembering that the promise of God’s steadfastness

Is more than a personal balm, or private analgesic

It’s much richer and more taxing than that

 

Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourner, tells the story from some years ago of volunteering in a church homeless shelter around Christmas time. The church basement was decorated with banners and Christmas decorations, “Good news! Christ is born!” “Glory to God in the Highest” and so on. One of the men who lived each day out on the streets looked around the room and asked, “What is the good news anyway?” Jim said there was a long pause; no one knew what to say. Finally someone spoke up from the back of the line, “The good news is that it doesn’t have to be like this.”

It doesn’t have to be this way

If we do what Paul requires of the Thessalonians in 2nd reading

And that is if we get to work

 

If we get to the work of kinship

Not only with North Lawndale

But promote the work the vision of kinship

In our families and our neighborhoods

our work places and across this deeply divided nation

 

Kinship is a particular strategy for remembering

That from the birth of mother earth

To the birth of each one of us

That we are in, and all interrelated

 

The Jesuit priest Gregory Boyle,

Who presentation at Old St. Patrick’s Church some years ago

Gave rise to the kinship initiative with North Lawndale

 

Defines kinship as inching ourselves closer to creating a community such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.  (Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boudnless compassion.  New York: Free Press, 2010)

 

In some ways this past election was about many folk

Who felt that they were being thrown away.

 

Jesus definitively announced his kinship with humanity

We are divinely cajoled to do the same

And to the extent that in God’s good spirit we achieve it

We will no longer, in Fr. Boyle’s words, be pursuing justice

But celebrating it … and authentic joy will abound

 

this election was not the political Grinch that stole kinship

It did not erase the promise of justice

Nor did it eradicate authentic and sustained joy

Rather, it has jogged our memories to the bone

So that we might recall with sacred clarity

what divisions must be addressed

On the path to kinship, and justice and joy.

 

Today’s appointed Psalm, number 98

the scriptural basis for Isaac Watt’s celebrated “Joy to the World”

While we usually think of it as a Christmas carol

[“Joy to the World”] was not originally composed as a carol

Celebrating Christ’s first coming in history

But rather celebrated

his apocalyptic return in glory at the end of time

 

Ps. 98 and Watts’ hymn remind us that God is active in the world now,

That there is evidence of God’s majesty and goodness around us

And that the proper response to the world we live in

The people we meet

The country we cherish even in its division

Is not fear or apprehension or dread

But Joy, wonder and gratitude

 

It is not a childish giddiness but a sober joy

A sober joy that our democracy works

That the election was not rigged

That a peaceful transition of power will take place

And that disparate voices of a diverse electorate have been heard

And will be heard again and again and again

In new constellations of every shifting demographics

 

And in the midst of it all, may the fog continue to clear

So that every American can remember

That kinship was written into our founding documents

That all are created equal

Endowed with inalienable rights that cannot be voted away

As is befitting true Children of God

Through Christ our Lord.

 

© 2016, 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.

6 comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. I was a t Mass but I wanted so much to hear this again . . . and share with others who missed.
    Such a helpful homily for this week.

  2. As a non US citizen I am not so sanguine. Coming in the same week as Leonard Cohen’s death, it has not been a good few days.

    Jikan-silent one*

    The risen sun leaves darkness still,
    a tune is lost, in the morning chill,
    memories sing beyond the hill,
    the poet-singer’s voice.

    Through the dark another speaks,
    fear his words in coming weeks
    when honest John and jean-clad freaks
    reject a crazy choice.

    No time to pause, no place to wait
    live with the consequence of spoken hate
    each is held by politics of state
    as order breaks its bounds.

    Write a word, sing a cry
    ask a question, reason why
    pierce the clouded, heavy sky
    listen to despairing sounds.

    We cannot hear, we cannot see
    the chasm deep beneath the sea
    a plaintive bird high in the tree.
    word of wisdom waiting.

    “Jikan- that’s what they call me up here”
    at the Zen Centre of Mt Baldy, California

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.