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

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Seeing Ourselves Seeing

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Matthew

The Beatitudes are so beautiful and so challenging. So hard.

Blessed are they who mourn?

Think of how you feel when you mourn. When a parent dies. When a child suffers or fails. When you lose a job or a house or a friend. How terrible this is. How the rest of the world disappears. How all the things that mattered suddenly don’t anymore. The office intrigues. The garbage disposal. The neighbor’s dogs in your flowerbeds. Nothing. You are radically focused. You are overwhelmed with feelings you can’t put into words. Nothing makes sense. It’s so bad it’s like something has happened in your body: this heavy, heavy weight.

And that’s good? That’s blessed?

Blessed are you when you are persecuted? When people attack you?

Think of those times. You’ve had a falling out with someone at work and the emails are going back and forth. People are shunning you and talking behind your back. It’s hard even to walk into a room. Or you’re going along and everything is fine and suddenly you get this devastating piece of criticism. All those metaphors: of carrying the world on your shoulders or being stabbed in the back. They all seem literally true. You can’t breathe sometimes.

And that’s good? Is Jesus a sadist? Does God want us to suffer?

No, I don’t think that’s it at all. I think these terrible times are a means to end. I think they’re good because life is mysterious and life is overwhelming and we need to see that and accept that. We need not to cling to our little illusions. I think these terrible times are good because they strip us of what is false, because they force us to give up our attachments—our attachment to reputation, our caring about what people think, even our clinging to the people we’re closest to, our false dependence on them.

When my mother died, I kept on living. As bad as I felt, as hard as this hit me, I survived. I felt guilty about this for a long time but then this freedom came. I am not just my mother’s son. When I fought with a colleague and we became enemies, I kept on living. I walked to my car and the rain was still falling and I was aware of the rain falling. As hard as this hit me, as terrible as this was, it didn’t finally affect something deep within me, and that’s the advantage of such moments, that’s the blessing: that suddenly I’m aware of this deep, inner place.

This is what it means to have the mind of Christ, to live in this place and from this place.

There’s the self that experiences things, that loves and suffers and wants and needs. And then there’s the deeper self, the one that is able to step back and think about itself thinking, see itself seeing. All the mystics talk about this. All the psychologists. Somehow we have to learn to stand back and watch our own dramas. To see ourselves from a compassionate distance. Somehow we need to learn not to identify with our own feelings, to not be defined by them. There’s this viewing platform, this place from which we can see, and this where we have to stand. Whenever we panic or fear or get angry we have to withdraw to this place within us, behind our eyes.

Because from this place we just aren’t affected anymore by the things that used to affect us. We’re no longer triggered, hooked, snagged.

We think: I’m having this angry feeling or this selfish feeling. Not: I am angry, I am selfish. We realize feelings come and feelings go and they always will. We can’t repress the negative ones. They’ll always be there. And that’s fine, as long as we don’t think, this is who we are. No. Who we are is deeper than that. Behind that. Underneath that. Above that.

Imperishable. Absolutely cared for. Infinitely valuable.

From this place, from this platform, we don’t constantly rank and categorize, ourselves and others, we’re not constantly judging anymore, because we’ve been flattened and reduced ourselves. We know that none of that matters. And we also know that deep inside these other people they too have a center, a spark, the self we all share. We’re all equal.

We’re at a distance in one way but the paradox is that this brings us closer in another. Food tastes better. The air seems purer. The grass is more intensely green. We’re not distracted anymore and so we can be more available to the moment, to the weather, to the person who happens to come. We love the people we love more deeply because we no longer love them to possess them, to use them to make ourselves feel better. We just see them. We’re just glad to be around them.

Blessed are we. Blessed are we. In some translations the phrase is “Happy are we.” “Happy are we.” And that’s it. We don’t need to do anything to be happy. We don’t need to own anything to be happy. We don’t need to be anything to be happy. Whatever the external circumstances, whether we’re rich or poor, famous or obscure, young or old, healthy or sick, we are who we are and life is what it is.

This is why growing old is a gift, because it helps us to let go and forces us to. This is why death is a gift, one of the greatest of gifts, because it completes the process of stripping away and prepares us for the next stage.

This is the faith of the martyrs, the faith that sustained them in their suffering. This is what gave the early Christians the confidence and the courage that all the ancient historians marvel at. This is the courage and the love that Jesus brought to the cross. This is the wisdom we consume in the Eucharist. This is the faith and the joy and the confidence that we are given in Christ Jesus every day of our lives.

That place, deep inside of us. That’s where Christ is. That is Christ. And nothing can take it away.

Blessed are we. Happy are we. Loved are we. Everywhere and always.

The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?