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, April 24, 2010

A Distraction (homily)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 13:14-52; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:27-30

Once when Maggie was about twelve we were driving to mass and I was yelling at her. I was shouting. The tendons were popping out on my neck I was so mad.

We slammed into the parking lot, I raced into church, threw on my alb, processed up the aisle, proclaimed the Gospel, and looking out at the congregation, got ready to preach.
And there was Maggie, looking back at me, in tears.

*

I am an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. I have been ontologically changed.

And: I am an ass. I am a hypocrite.

And Maggie of course already knew that. She knew that and she forgave me.

She didn’t lose her faith. She was able to separate things out: the human from the divine.

*

Pope Benedict is a sinner. He is a flawed human being in need of grace just as I am and you are. He has a confessor. He has a past. He has a personality. And he’d be the first to tell us that if he were here.

Pope John Paul was a sinner, and Pope John the Twenty Third was a sinner, and every Pope who ever lived was a sinner all the way back to Peter himself, and not just when he betrayed Jesus during the Passion but after, in all the events that are narrated in Acts, when he waffled and fought and got things wrong even as the Spirit was moving through him and he was helping to create the Holy Catholic Church.

That’s the thing that’s so inspiring to me about the book of Acts: how messed up the early Church was. Just like now. Because the Spirit is always moving through our personalities and our conflicts and our gifts and our flaws and we never need to panic. Just grow up. Just accept reality.

*

All the voices we’re hearing, in the media and on the internet, all the voices attacking the Church because of the scandal in Europe now, all the voices in the media defending the Church, just as loud, just as shrill.

Ignore them. They are not the voice of the Shepherd.

Here’s the voice of the Shepherd, here’s the sign of the Shepherd: Pope Benedict praying with the victims of abuse in Malta. Asking for forgiveness. Tears in his eyes.

*

There’s a great liturgy going on in heaven, in the universe, in nature. It’s going on all the time. It’s the liturgy described in the book of Revelation today, with the multitudes singing and the Lamb on the throne, and our liturgies are aligned with this, they tap into this, they catch a glimpse of this, through all our imperfections and distortions, like a stained glass window that both admits the light and refracts it.

But the mass here is not exactly and completely the mass in heaven, the Church is not God, as the Scriptures are not God, are inspired by Him and contain Him but are not exactly Him, and if we let ourselves think that they are, we are sinning, we’re getting it wrong, we’re indulging in a fantasy that the Church herself preaches against and more important that Jesus preaches against.

The Church is a finger pointing at the moon. It’s not the moon.

*

Imagine the Church exactly as you would want it to be. The ideal Pope. Just the kind of people you want ordained, just the kind of doctrines, just the kind of liturgies. If you’re an arch-conservative, an arch-conservative church. Everybody else kicked out. If you’re a liberal, a wildly liberal church. Everybody else kicked out.

You’d still have to get up in the morning and look in the mirror. You’d still have to face your own sinfulness. Your own sadness. Your own fear.

What would really change? Would anything really be easier?

No. I don’t think so. In fact, if we didn’t have anything external to complain about, we’d really be in trouble. We’d really have to start being Christians, and that’s hard. That’s doesn’t get into the New York Times. That doesn’t get on Fox News. That doesn’t get into some sort of mass email: hey, everybody, I prayed the Psalms today.

*

I mean to be talking to all of us, to the people so intensely attacking the Church and to the people so intensely defending the Church. The problems in Europe right now are real problems and important problems and we have to face them and solve them, structurally, with justice and compassion and wisdom. But.

There’s a great temptation here. A great distraction.


It’s easy to look outward. It’s easy to worry about the Other. But all those things described in Acts today are inside of us, in our souls, and that’s where the real work is. The believers in Antioch, the resisters in Antioch, the jealousy and the abuse are all within us, are all dimensions of our own personalities, and our call is to turn and face those things, humbly and honestly. All we can reform is ourselves—our own failure to listen to the voices of the people we’ve hurt, in our own lives; our own imperiousness, our own arrogance, our own devotion to power and to structure.

And we can’t do that anyway. We can’t reform ourselves. Only God can.

Until this life is over and we join the multitudes in heaven in the heavenly liturgy, we will hunger and we will thirst, the sun will fall on us and the rain will fall on us, and we have to stop expecting otherwise.

If a twelve year old girl can figure this out, so can we.

*

Get off the net. Stop reading the emails and writing the emails. Stop standing in the square and telling other people what to do.

Go into your room and pray. Join Pope Benedict and pray, in tears.

Because it’s only then, in the silence, that we can really hear the voice of the Shepherd. It’s only then, when we stop shouting and stop listening to the shouting, that we can hear the Lord calling us.

And here’s what he’s saying. Here’s what he’s always saying: peace be with you.

Peace.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Annie (homily)

April 2, 2010
Good Friday

I know a woman who is a first grade teacher in a small town, and she gave me permission to tell you about a little girl in her class, Annie.

Annie was abused by her father, and her mother was abused, too, and finally, before the father left them both, in his anger and his meanness he burned their house down. To the ground.

Annie’s mother is a screamer. She likes to scream at Annie and she likes to come to school and scream at the teachers. And now she’s living with a new boyfriend, which means that Annie is living with a new man, too.

Who knows what will happen to her as time goes on?

“The first movement is singing,” Czeslaw Miolsz writes in a poem.

A free voice, filling mountains and valleys.
The first movement is joy.
But it is taken away.

And yet one day in class in a little writing exercise, Annie drew a cross. This cross. She spent some time on it, you can tell. The wood of the cross is brown, and Jesus, hanging on it, is red. Notice how precisely Annie has colored the red. How deep the color is.

This isn’t a Catholic school, it’s a public school, but somehow the cross is in Annie’s mind, and what she writes at the bottom, in her awkward printing and jumbled spelling, is about Jesus.

I know it’s hard to read, but what she writes is this:

I love God because he died for my sins. He died on the cross. He loves me. He had angels. He is the Dad of the world. His name was Jesus but we call him God.

Notice the word printed in the bottom corner of the picture itself: Dad.

I don’t know who taught Annie this or how she learned it, but it’s profound in ways she can’t really understand-- or that maybe, come to think of it, she understands too well.

In the midst of her suffering and the complications of her family Annie knows of the cross and she thinks of the cross and the cross gives a meaning to her suffering and a meaning to her life. The cross does two things at once: it confirms her suffering, and it transforms it.

*

I love our new crucifix. I love the wood and the bronze. Do you know that the corpus, the body of Jesus, weighs something like 750 pounds?

What I love about our crucifix is that it’s hard to tell what it is. It’s hard to tell whether Jesus is being crucified at this moment or whether he’s rising. Whether he’s suffering or exalted. Because he’s both, at the same time.

I love how the corpus is hanging just a few inches away from the cross itself. There’s a gap between them. I love that the cross seems to have broken apart. It’s still a cross, but the pieces of it are starting to pull away. Because Jesus has shattered it, he has opened it up, without changing its shape, without denying its nature, and the Spirit is radiating out from the hole this has made, these bronze half circles are flowing out like sound waves or ripples in a pond.

As Christians we are both tremendous realists and tremendous optimists. We don’t deny suffering. We embrace it. We see it clearly. Not just the suffering of Annie but the suffering of all the Annies, all the children of the world, all the children of history, in the rubble of the earthquakes and the rubble of the wars and the rubble of family life shaken by our own selfishness and sinfulness. And at the same time, in the very face of it, we see the Resurrection. The two things are intimately connected. The Crucifixion always implies the Resurrection, the Resurrection always implies the Crucifixion, and whatever we see we apply the logic of this, we apply the great And.

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? This is what Jesus cries out from the cross, and he means it, this moment is absolutely desolate and absolutely bleak, it is the end of all meaning. And, at the same time, it is the beginning. The beginning of all joy. Because with the cross and through the cross the Resurrection comes into the world and the wood of the cross is shattered and the Spirit of the Lord comes flooding through, exploding into our reality.

Jesus died on a cross and he had angels and he loves us. Jesus is the Dad of the world, he is the father of all of us forsaken by our fathers and forsaken by our mothers and no one is finally abandoned, no one is finally unloved and unregarded but everyone is taken up and held in the arms of this cross and in the arms of this man.

His name was Jesus but we call him God. Because he is God, because he is the Dad of the World, he is the Son of the World, and he is always with us, he is always loving us, even in our suffering and especially then. Always then.