Homilies and Poems

I am a Catholic Deacon and a Professor of English at Oregon State University. I've created this BLOG as a way of sharing my Sunday homilies, for anyone who would like copies, as well as some of my poetry. I'm also very glad to continue the conversation, over email or in person. Just click on "profile" and then onto my email address. Peace be with you and the Lord be with you. Also visit me at my website.

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Saturday, August 27, 2005

It's Grace, It's Love, It's Everything (Homily)

August 28, 2005
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Romans 12:1-2 and Matthew 16:21-27

Let’s forget about all the headlines. Let’s forget about all the arguments and controversies. Let’s forget about all the issues.

Let’s think about Jesus. Let’s think about Jesus the person, the human being, the man who used words, yes, but who, more than that, was the word, the Word Made Flesh.

And let’s not think about him at all. Let’s not think. Let’s try to imagine ourselves in the presence of the Lord and what that would look like and sound like and feel like.

Imagine your high school physics teacher. Imagine your masseuse. Imagine a little boy running and playing. Imagine your grandmother, in her spandex yoga shorts. Imagine someone you actually know and really like, the kind of person you just want to be around, the kind of person you keep needing to see and be with, and use that image and that person and that face to help you feel and see who Jesus Christ might be, this tremendously compelling man, this tremendously charismatic man.

Because to believe in Jesus is to fall in love, deeply in love, head over heels. It’s more than that, too, of course, but it’s love for sure, and it’s what’s brought us here to the mountain. It’s why we’ve followed him, even though we’re not really clear what’s happening and what it all means, even though we’re deeply confused and even afraid. “An adult and mature faith is profoundly rooted in friendship with Christ,” Pope Benedict said in April, on the opening day of the conclave, right before his election. Friendship. Intimacy. That’s first, before anything else. “We must mature in this adult faith,” Pope Benedict said, because “it’s this faith--only this faith--that creates unity and realizes itself
in charity.”

Friendship. Intimacy. Unity.

All we should want is to be with Jesus. All we should want is to hear his voice. All we should want is to look in his eyes and to have him look in ours.

*

And now he is. This is the center of the gospel. This is the turning point. Everything has led up to it and everything leads out from it. Now Jesus is going to tell us who he is and what it means to follow him, and everything else about being a Christian--everything else, all the issues and arguments and controversies--has to be measured in terms of this, has to be held up to this standard, has to be seen through this lens.

“It’s this faith--only this faith--that creates unity and realizes itself in charity.”

“Charity without truth would be blind,” Pope Benedict continues--yes--but “the truth without charity would be like a clashing symbol.”

*

And the truth, the mystery, is that he will die. He will die. This person we love more than anything on earth will die.

And it’s more than that. Even more. Because we must die, too, Jesus says. What it means to follow him is to lose it all.

*

Imagine how confused the disciples must be. How confused we must be.

We’re not confused enough, I think, and we have to be. We have to feel this sense of our life being turned upside down and everything we believe and want taken away from us, because only then we will be silenced, only then will we be humbled enough to even approach the truth, a truth which is by definition beyond us, a truth which by definition we can’t own or use or put into words.

*

We can get some pieces of it, of course, and exactly in these terms. Parts of this are pretty clear, because Jesus has already died to himself. He has died to himself in all his ministry so far. We are so in love with this human being that we want to be like him in his physical self, in his body, and so we think back on everything he has said and done to this point and we try to imitate it. We study it closely. We read it absolutely literally. And what he’s done is walked in the fields and looked at the birds. What he’s done is lived entirely in the moment, without fixed plans or projects, radically available to whatever has presented itself, whoever has. What he’s done has been to sit in silence, deep silence, by himself, in the hills, or with us, praying. We can hear the wind blow when we’re around him. We can hear the sea behind him. And when the people surge around him, when the crowds discover him, he doesn’t try to overpower them, he doesn’t try to organize them, he doesn’t separate out the doctrinally sound from the unsound. He listens to them. He feeds them. He cries for them. He laughs with them. He tells them stories.

*

Think about his hands: reaching out, touching a woman’s shoulder, a man’s eyes, reaching out in joy to the sky, swinging loosely at his side. His hands are never clenched, his hands are never grasping, and so we already know a little what it will mean for him to die on the cross, his arms outstretched.


We already know a little what we have to do. We have to unclench our fists. We have to slow down. We have to live in the moment. We have to feed the poor. We have to stop judging. We have to stop talking.

This is the truth, or as much of it as we can glimpse.

*

But even this much is hard, really hard. Even this much is so counter to what we think religion is about, just as it was for Peter 2000 years ago, Peter who expected glory and vindication and reasons for smugness. No. That’s to conform to the age, the age of Peter and Paul as of our own, where people want only power, want only a false kind of certainty, from religion as from everything else. But no. No. In the very confusion and tenderness of this moment, in the fear of this moment, the disciples begin to experience what it really means to follow this person and to be in love with this person.

*

To follow him we must hush, to follow him we must unclench, and all we should ever want is to follow him. That’s the paradox. We long for union with this charismatic man, this wonderful man, or we should, and the way to do it, he is saying, the only way to do it, is by letting him go and by letting ourselves go, too. There’s a tremendous, incredible joy on the other side of this letting go, but we have to first let go. Otherwise, we can’t be with Jesus in this deeper, more profound sense. Otherwise, we will lose him, and how can we let that happen? How we can we live without this loveliness and this laughter and all the fields and the lilies and the stars at night? How can we live without this little boy running? This grandmother in spandex? This life, this light, this everything?

Has anyone ever really understood this, this pre-transfiguration discourse, this mystery, this fact that we must die? Has anyone ever come to the bottom of it?

*

So let’s stop thinking about the controversies and let’s stop thinking. Let’s seek first this deep friendship with Christ that Pope Benedict has said is the real foundation of truth, this intimacy and union and love and even this confusion that have to come first, before all argument and theology and abstraction, and after. Let’s first seek friendship with Christ, in our hearts and in our bodies, because finally this is the truth. Let’s be in love and let’s be confused and let’s feel our world turned upside down, because “it’s this faith--and only this faith--that creates unity and realizes itself in charity.”

“Charity without truth would be blind.” Yes, of course. But “truth without charity would be like a clashing symbol.”

Let’s not clash. Let’s not judge. Let’s seek charity first. Let’s seek friendship first. Let’s fall in love, head over in heels in love, and then let’s let him go, and then let’s let ourselves go, in silence and confusion and freedom and joy.

Because finally this is the truth.

It’s grace. It’s love. It’s everything.