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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Location: Corvallis, Oregon

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The First Station (poem)

The summer after my mother
died, when my wife was away,
I drove out into the desert:

loneliness within loneliness
within loneliness. I wasn’t
prepared for the canyons,

how narrow they were,
and deep. I wasn’t prepared
for the Stations of the Cross.

They climb into a pine
forest behind the monastery
at St. Gertrude’s, but they

begin in an orchard,
a cherry orchard,
and it was harvest time.

Jesus Condemned For Us,
the first one said, the scene
in plaster, framed by wood.

But beside it a cherry tree,
heavy-laden, thick with fruit.
Bright red fistfuls of Bings.

Chasm (poem)

on my birthday

Sometimes in the spring
there is a scent in the forest like mint.

Sometimes in the fall
there is a scent like tea, and the leaves
are the color of tea.

You descend into a deep chasm
thick with spruce and fir.
You are near the sea, and it is rainy
and wet, and you have to slap
through the salmonberry and fern
that hang over the path.
Before long you are soaked
clear through.

When you arrive at the bottom,
something seems to change.
The trees seem to pull back.
The birds begin to sing as if
you are approaching a ceremony.

But it is just a meadow, with a stream.

Clear water flowing
over smooth, gray stones.

Don't Listen (homily)

Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; Second Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

We all know how important it is to listen. To pay attention.

But one of the keys to the gospel today is that Jesus doesn’t listen. He doesn’t pay attention.

Jairus’s daughter has died and the crowd is anxious to tell Jesus that. You think you’re so important, Jesus? You think you’re so special? Well, forget it. You’re too late.

But, Mark tells us, Jesus “disregards the message.” He goes right ahead with what he was planning to do anyway.

“Why all the commotion and weeping,” Jesus asks a little later in the story. When I walk into a room, I’m easily influenced by what people seem to be feeling. If they’re anxious or angry, it rubs off on me. It gets into me. But not Jesus. When he asks about the noise and the fuss, he’s really saying that it’s all meaningless. He’s shutting it out. No matter how much people “ridicule” him, no matter how strong the resistance, he’s not listening.

* * *

Lately at OSU my computer has been flooded with emails about the economic crisis and the looming budget cuts. There’s been quite a bit of commotion and weeping. And it’s important to pay attention, up to a certain point, to be a responsible citizen.

But the example of Jesus suggests that after that certain point, we just have to turn it all off. We can’t let the outer world be stronger than the inner world. We can’t let what other people say and do determine who we think we really are.

Whatever is flashing on my computer, the sun is shining. Breath is coming in and out of my lungs. I am loved by God. Whatever is flashing on my computer, it’s usually about the future, and the future hasn’t happened yet. The only place I can be is in the moment, in the here and the now. Everything else is just an abstraction. Everything else is, in some fundamental sense, unreal.

* * *
Because the issue here isn’t really not-listening, of course.

When I say that Jesus doesn’t listen, I mean that he really listens--but not to the powerful, not to the prestigious, not to those the world regards as important. He listens to the hemorrhaging woman. In all that surge of people he can feel her presence, and he turns to face her and see her. He pays a deep and radical attention to her, this woman the people regard as unclean, as unworthy--and he can do that because he’s not allowed himself to be distracted by the babbling of the crowd, by the 24 hour news cycle.

* * *

A subtler example. I was sitting at a talk the other day next to a person I know slightly. We chatted a little, and like every other time I’ve been around this man, I got a really negative feeling from him, a strong, negative energy--anger and judgmentalism and an odd kind of possessiveness. I had this instinct to get away.

Listening and not-listening. In that particular situation I think that I was supposed to listen to my own feelings and not listen to what the man was saying to me. I was supposed to ignore him and listen to myself.

It’s like what happens when we’re in the act of writing and the critic pops up in our heads and says, that’s stupid, that’s dumb, don’t say that. So we stop. We get blocked. Instead we just have to accept the voice that is really ours and we have to write what it is we’ve been given to write. We can all write. We all have good things to say, and besides, there’s plenty of time to revise and polish later. But for now: ignore the audience. Just write.

* * *

I don’t mean to judge the man at the talk. I don’t want to condemn him.

I want to do something more basic and instinctive. I want to try to get to the level of simple and direct acknowledgement of my own reality--because this, I think, is what Jesus is calling us to.

“God did not make death / nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living / for he fashioned all things that they might have being / and the creatures of the world are wholesome.” This is the pattern and this is the rule: that we are fundamentally good and that the world is fundamentally good and that anything that tells us otherwise, any crowd, any individual, is to be shut out and ignored. The voice of deep or defining self-doubt: that is never the voice of God.

* * *

I know a woman whose husband died and whose son came to the funeral--her estranged son, a son who had pulled away from the family and lived a life that many might disapprove of. In fact several people at the funeral did disapprove, and they let the mother know. All the mother felt was joy at his return, all she felt was a mother’s love. But her friends said, that’s Satan tempting you, this desire to embrace him, because he’s sinful. He’s going to hell.

Listening and not listening. What to listen to and what not to listen to.

Again: the Church doesn’t teach that any particular individual has ever actually been sent to hell--the Church teaches God’s infinite mercy--the Church teaches that we shouldn’t judge--that it’s not up to us--that we are all sinners and that the only sins we should be concerned about are our own.

So just on the face of it, being as strict and literal as we possibly can, what the friends at the funeral said to the mother was wrong, theologically, dogmatically.

But the readings today tell us something more. They say: disregard the message. They say: forget all the commotion. They say: don’t listen to the friends.

Listen to love. Always listen to love.

* * *

As Jesus always listened to love, and still does. As the little girl listened to love. The innocent little girl. She listens and she rises, she listens and she knows, that it’s death that is the lie, not life. Doubt, not joy.

And we are the little girl. We are dead and we are lost.

But not if we listen to the Lord. Not if we listen to the voice we most want to hear.

The One Voice.

Rise, little girl. Rise.