Sunday of Ordinary Time
49:3-6; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34
Last week I was standing in my office
before class looking out the window. My
door was closed. Below me students were
walking between classes. And for a
moment I had this quiet sense of the presence of Jesus, in the room, beside
I hesitate to talk about this in a
way. It feels very personal. Very intimate.
What I felt wasn’t physical exactly. It was a presence. But it was the presence of a person, of a
man, and of a man with hands and feet and a particular warmth and energy.
The feeling lasted just a few minutes,
and it was never overpowering. Even as this
was happening I was also doubting it and questioning it. But for those few minutes standing at the
window what I felt was a kind of intense and quiet joy, and a lifting of the burden,
and a freedom, and a hope.
“Now I have seen and testified that he is
the Son of God.”
I believe our lives are full of moments
that can be read as signs of God’s presence.
The Spirit is everywhere. But
this was different. I’ve felt it only a
few times before, and never like this.
Once in the woods on the coast.
Once in a plane on a runway.
Several times over the years at mass.
And I report it not because I think I’m different than anyone else. I think we have all been “sanctified,” as
Paul says to the people of Corinth, “called to be holy, with all those everywhere
who call upon the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” I think we have all been granted these rare
moments of grace, in some way and at some time, and that however intimate and
even embarrassing they are to talk about, we need to talk about them, we need
to keep reporting what we have seen and felt, or all this religious language we
use and all these gestures we make will just be language, will just be gesture
What’s remarkable about John the Baptist
today is that Jesus comes walking towards him and suddenly, instantly, he
knows, he proclaims, he cries out, behold. He doesn’t stop and analyze. He doesn’t hold a workshop. He doesn’t set up a debate. This is a real experience and John has been
waiting for it and when it happens, he knows:
Most of the time faith is just idea to me,
as I think it is for most of us, a set of dogmas I have to work hard to explain
and justify, to other people and to myself.
I live so much in my head. We all
do. But what if the Church isn’t just an
institution and what if this language we use isn’t just language and what if
there’s nothing we have to explain or justify anymore? What if Jesus is real, and he’s here, and he
really does love us, and everything really will be OK?
I’ve been worried lately about one of my
sons. But over the weekend he called and
we had good, long talk. I’ve been worried
lately about my father. But over the
weekend my brother sent a picture of Dad holding his new great-grandaughter in
his arms, and he’s laughing, he’s looking up, really happy, really surprised.
Moments like this aren’t like the moment
in my office, not so definite, so embodied, but in light of that experience and
in light of the Gospel and in light of the whole tradition, we can choose then
to look at them as another, quieter way that Jesus is always coming.
the Lamb of God, in the voices of our sons and in the faces of our fathers, in
all our voices, all our faces.
The sun comes out after the wind and the
rain and suddenly our lives are given back.
This happens again and again. It is always happening.
And this is why we come to mass: to sharpen our memory. To train our eyes.
This is why we come to mass: to honor those rare moments of special grace
and to try to understand them.
This is why we come to mass: to be in the presence of people who believe.
It’s as if we take turns believing. It’s as if every mass some of us are dark
inside and some of us are lit up.
I remember coming out of anesthesia and
Deacon Francis being there to pray for me and later a Eucharistic minister
coming to give me communion. I couldn’t
think. I couldn’t offer up my surgery to
God, not then. So Francis and the
Eucharistic minister had to take over for me.
And then we switch. Later, when we get back our strength, we can
pray for others.
I’m feeling empty, when Christ feels far away to me, what helps me most of all
is just to be in the company of others whose faith is stronger than mine, who
have the confidence of Christ and the peacefulness. I just want to be around them.
And so today it is my turn. Today I tell you what happened to me last week.
I was standing in my office and I was
looking out the window. I was thinking
about the class I was about to teach. It
was raining outside. And then I had this
feeling that someone was standing behind me.
Or he was beside me. Or he was in
the room somehow, in the air of the room, and he wasn’t an idea, he was a
person, and maybe it’s because I’m steeped in these images and these stories,
maybe it’s because every Sunday I stand here underneath this crucifix, but it
felt to me almost like my son was standing there, or like my father was--it was
the way you feel when someone you know comes up behind you--and I could feel
his kindness, I could feel his awareness of me.
His interest in me.
But I’m saying too much. This isn’t right. It was like a dream, too, or a memory.
was subtle: if I turned my head it would
all go away. It would disappear.
I don’t know. All I can tell you is that for a few minutes I
was no longer worried about all the things I had to do and no longer afraid of
failing and no longer tired and discouraged.
That’s the most important thing. I
wasn’t thinking about myself at all. I
felt I was in contact with reality and that reality was mysterious and
wonderful and good. I felt open to what was around me.
Just subtly. Softly.
For a moment.
And I am here now to honor that. I’m here now to offer that, to you, and to
Jesus Our Lord, in thanksgiving and hope, and to ask you to strengthen my story
with your stories, to ask the community to affirm what I experienced, as I
affirm what you have—and to ask Jesus for continued grace, to ask Christ in the
Eucharist for deeper and deeper faith, wilder and wilder confidence, greater
and greater hope, for me and for all of us.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.