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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

St. Ignatius Loyola (homily)

Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola

Earlier this summer I gave a talk in Bend, at the public library, and I didn’t get the response I wanted. I didn’t get much response at all, and it really bothered me. For a while, as I was driving back home over the mountains, I was really worked up about it.

And that’s where St. Ignatius Loyola comes in, this great 16th century Spanish saint, the founder of the Jesuits.

Today is his feast day, and I’m really honored to be able to preach, because the Jesuits formed me as a Catholic, they made me a Catholic, in my four years as an undergraduate at Gonzaga, and not because they pushed me or pressured me but exactly because they didn’t. What formed me was their intellect and their example and their openness. And a few years ago I was formed still more deeply by Jesuit spirituality when I had the chance to do the Thirty Day silent retreat and go through the Ignatian spiritual exercises.

And central to the exercises is the idea of “indifference,” of being indifferent to the world—not in the sense of not caring about people or things but in the sense of not letting our ego and our attachments get in the way of our relationship with God. We shouldn’t care whether we’re rich or poor, famous or obscure, or even healthy or sick, as long as God is present in our lives--and God is always present, he is always close to us, closer than we are to ourselves.

Maybe you remember Fr. Lucas often praying this famous prayer, the prayer of St. Ignatius: “Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I have and cherish, you have given me. I surrender it all to be guided by your will. Your grace and your love are wealth enough for me. Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more.”

It’s a lovely prayer and a powerful prayer and an amazing prayer, finally, and I invite you to memorize it and to pray it every day, as I prayed it that day driving back from Bend, going up over the pass and into the valley.

Why should I care about the Deschutes Public Library, and the people in it, what they think of me, when the sun is shining on the mountains and the Lord is shining out in all the created world?

Not that I ever do surrender like that, ever do make that kind of radical commitment. I keep thinking I have and then realizing I haven’t. It’s just too much, too hard. No, when I pray this prayer I’m really praying for the grace to surrender, the grace to let go in this total way—and at least for the awareness of my inability to do this, an awareness of my ego, an awareness of my grasping and my holding on to things, an awareness of my daily, hourly, minute by minute idolatry, my putting of other things in the place of God: recognition, usually, the praise and approval of others.

But even that awareness is a lot. Is everything. Can slowly change me and open me up and make me available to the grace that is always flowing down on us all.

Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!





Monday, July 30, 2012

Pearly Everlasting (poem)



In the meadow above the sea
violets and yarrow and curly everlasting.

In 2005, Andy. In 2007, Mom. In 2009, Sue.

When you put Jesus on the cross
make him a woman you loved.

She has a long, beautiful neck
and fingers like a dancer.

When you put Jesus on the cross
make him your son on the eve of the game,
and he has long, lovely muscles
and lovely, white skin.

He looks up and says, it’s OK, it’s OK,
and he sounds like a boy and he sounds like a man.

Through the window
the mouth of the river
and the waves and the light.







Pearly Everlasting (homily)

Matthew 13:31-35

Our son and his wife are getting ready to move, and Barb and I have been taking care of our youngest grandson. He’s been sleeping over at our house and we’ve been spending a lot of time with him. He’s going to be 8 tomorrow: a really active little boy, great with puzzles.

Yesterday Barb and I took a break and spent the day on the coast, just the two of us. We saw two bald eagles. We learned about a coastal flower called “pearly everlasting.” Above the tidal pools at the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse we saw a mother whale and her calf surfacing, a dozen times, and also harbor seals and pelicans. It was bright and sunny in the afternoon, after a day of clouds.

About a week ago we drove up near Independence for our nephew’s wedding. We found the address and parked behind a barn. There were rows of chairs set out and flowers. So we sat down and waited. We didn’t expect to see my brother and his wife beforehand because they were part of the wedding. Then the music started and the bridal party started processing in and we were getting more and more confused, until finally the bride came down between the rows and we didn’t recognize her. It wasn’t her. We were at the wrong wedding.

The real wedding was across the highway in a garden—same address, just across the road. So we had to get up and leave and figure that out and get ourselves there, to the right place, just in time for the vows. We were trying not to laugh.

Afterwards I was sitting at a table in this beautiful garden with my two younger brothers, all of us in our fifties now, and everything just seemed fine, relaxed, good. OK.

The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny seed. It’s like the leaven in bread. It’s everywhere and all around us. The Lord is always talking to us, he never stops talking to us, calling us, being with us. He is with us always.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hooks

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

We are all so easily hooked. We’re hooked all the time.

Someone says something critical, about the president, or the church, or about us or our families, and instantly we’re mad, we’re upset, without even thinking about it really.

And we don’t walk away, as Jesus tells us to. When we’re rejected, Jesus says, we should shake the dust off our feet. But we don’t. We hold on to the dust, we carry it everywhere, until finally it gets into our clothes and under our skin, and it changes us, over time. It makes us small and bitter, more prone to act out.

Because that’s the other problem, not just the harm we do ourselves but the harm we do others. Jesus says to walk away, to leave that house for someone else, but we turn around and try to knock down the door. We try to blow the house up. We post a picture of it on Facebook and say bad things about it, in our anger and our hurt, and so the cycle continues.

                                                   *

It’s like poison oak, Pema Chodron says in Taking the Leap, a wonderful book I’ve been reading, recommended by a friend. The worse thing we can do with an itch is to scratch it, because that only spreads the poison.
  
                                                  *

So here are three simple things that Chodron recommends we do instead.

First, simply acknowledge when we’re hooked. Admit it. Learn to recognize the signs: the tightening in the neck, the balling of the fists.

Second, pause, take three conscious breaths, and simply “abide” with the feeling, as Chodron puts it. Just stay with it. Don’t act on it, but don’t judge it either. Don’t try to repress it. Just let it happen.

And third, relax and move on. The feeling will pass, if we let it. It will always pass.

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Not that this is easy to practice, of course. We’re hooked so often and at such deep levels we’re lucky if we can become aware of it once or twice a day, after the fact. But even that awareness would make an enormous difference, not just in our own lives but in the lives of others. It would change the world.

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What we’re really afraid of is how chaotic and out of control life seems, how hard it is to pin anything down. We don’t want to admit that. We don’t want to live in the present moment, to really face reality, because reality is sometimes difficult and always shifting, always changing. So we numb ourselves. We drug ourselves. We eat too much. We live in fantasies of power.

Chodron talks about going on a retreat when she had all the time in the world, but even then, when she sat down to pray, feeling this uneasiness, this sense that she should be doing something else. I feel this, too, all the time. For me this is what prayer often is. It’s me trying to admit how agitated and uneasy I am, and often I can’t. I try to escape again. Into busyness. Into daydreams.

No, Jesus says. We shouldn’t take any food when we go—the things that temporarily satisfy our appetites, our supposed needs. We shouldn’t take any money—any possessions, any power. We shouldn’t take a second tunic—anything to cover up who we really are, any role, any part. We should just go the way we are, and without planning, without knowing where we’re going. We should just try to be present in the moment and take what comes, with all its uncertainty and struggle and ordinariness. Uncertainty won’t really kill us after all. It’s OK. The discomfort isn’t really that bad, and it passes anyway, and often, when we really are this free and unencumbered, often wonderful things happen, too, and we’re available to them, we can feel them. We can heal, we can cure. A power flows into us.

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Or as Ephesians puts it in the reading for today, from a much grander perspective, there is a plan, a plan established from the beginning of time, and we all have a part to play in it, we have all been called “before the foundation of the world”—and that plan is finally not a cause for sadness or fear, however small our role, however hard things may be at times. That plan is a cause for great and abiding joy, because the love of God and the creativity of God continue into the present moment and they continue into the future, a future beyond all our imaginings.

This is the theme of a another book I’ve been reading this summer, also recommended by a friend, The Emergent Christ, by Ilia Delio, a Franciscan nun who applies quantum physics and evolutionary biology to our understanding of Jesus.

At one point in The Emergent Christ, for example, Delio quotes Pope Benedict, in his 2006 Easter Vigil Homily, describing Jesus as “a qualitative leap in the history of evolution and of life in general toward a new future life, toward a new world which, starting from Christ, already continuously permeates this world of ours, transforms it and draws it to itself.” This is just terrific stuff. Fantastic. Creation is evolving, the Pope says, and it reaches its fulfillment in Christ. Christ is “the leading edge of evolution,” as Delio puts it, first in his person, in the way he rises above violence and rises above division, and then in his rising from the dead, his conquering of death, and through him and in him we are called to carry on this work of healing and unifying.

God didn’t just create the world in the past. He is creating it in the future, and he is drawing us toward him, towards ever higher levels of life and consciousness.

This is the teaching of the Church. It’s not at odds with quantum physics. It’s not at odds with evolution. It proclaims them both as what they are, a new way of understanding the saving action of Christ in time and in the universe. “In all wisdom and insight,” Ephesians says, God “has made known to us the mystery of his will,” “a plan” to be accomplished in “the fullness of time,” to “sum up all things in Christ.”

                                                   *

There is a plan, in other words. It’s just not our plan.

It’s much, much bigger. It’s much, much gentler. More joyous. More beautiful.

                                                   *

All we can do is commit ourselves to our own small mission, our own small task, taking whatever comes. All we can do is try to imitate Jesus, try to practice nonviolence and practice humility and practice peace, and so to keep advancing the ongoing work of the Spirit, confident in the end, wildly confident, that everything adds up somehow, that everything contributes to the glory of God, in ways we can never understand and never need to, only embrace, only celebrate, only hope for, only believe.