Archive for 1996
Since Peter McGrath’s not here today it safe to let you in on a secret. In cynical circles, Jesuits are not known for their liturgical awareness. In fact, there’s a joke. How do you tell a good Jesuit liturgy? —No one gets hurt.
Advent is a good example. In my house of 11 men, we bought our Christmas tree on the first Sunday of Advent, dressed it on the first Monday, and celebrated Christmas around it four days later. Meanwhile the poor Advent wreath with its one candle sat there, glowing dimly, totally overshadowed by this gaudy Tree with its miles of electric light.
December 15th, 1996
The first of December! No sooner are the turkeys all eaten than the Christmas trees are being sold. Why is it that December seems the shortest month? Once Thanksgiving hits and the dishes are all washed up you know that it’ll be no time at all before its January. However long November seems with its rain and its chills December rushes by. There’s so much to do. So much to think about. So many worries.
Well December is here, and our feet are on the starting block and the race is about to start. We are waiting for the starting pistol to fire so we can be off and running—parties, presents, family, shopping, making ends meet. What are you looking forward to this December? What are you rushing towards? And what are you hoping will soon be over?
December 1st, 1996
Imagine something with me … What if the world were to end this afternoon, let’s say at 2:38? What if these next few hours the only ones left to you? Can you entertain the thought for a while, can you let it slap you in the face, can you believe it for a moment, can you wonder? What would you do? What would you do with these suddenly precious, suddenly precarious, moments?
Who would you turn to? Who would you touch? What last minute phone calls would you make for last minute good-byes? What unlikely things suggest themselves, things you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the courage? What risks might you take in these last few hours now that safety and reputation have become meaningless?
November 17th, 1996
I don’t know if you saw in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday, amidst the murders and the political pundits, a little headline for a review of a new film about Cesar Chavez. It ran “Not a saint but human.” Not a saint but human.
Where do we get the idea that holiness is not for real people? That sanctity reduces humanity? That being close to God means being far away from ordinary life?
November 3rd, 1996
Two things happened to me this summer in England. I was ordained and I fell in love—more or less at the same time. Such is God’s comic timing! At just the moment I am reaffirming a public commitment to a celibate life my heart is soaring in an altogether different direction.
“You shall love the Lord your God all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Those “all’s” don’t seem to leave much room for manoeuvre! But alongside them is the command, “love your neighbour as your self,” which Jesus says is “like” the first. Work that out in practice! And I’ll tell you, I tried.
October 27th, 1996
What a hope there is in the vision of Isaiah! Food for the hungry. Vintage wine for the parched spirit. An end to death for ever. No more war, no more shame, no more humiliation, no more violence, no more poverty. For every suffering of Isaiah’s exiled and defeated people he promises an opposite joy. Quite a hope!
Does it seem like that today when we read the newspaper or look around our neighbourhoods? Is life a banquet or is the table empty? Is this a time of feasting or a time of mourning?
October 13th, 1996
Is God good, merciful and forgiving or is God angry, vindictive and merciless? That’s the problem that the parable seems to be dropping us into. A God who has two faces. On the one hand a gentle ruler who is moved in the depths of his guts by the plea of the slave who somehow has ended up owing him 10 million dollars, so moved that he writes off the debt and lets go a fortune, just like that. On the other hand an angry tyrant who is able to change his mind and hand someone over to the torturers until they’ve paid up.
Now which is it? Because the parable seems to paint the portrait both ways: infinitely forgiving and dangerously punishing.
September 15th, 1996
I hate Ezekiel. He’s a prophet to give prophets a bad name: While Jeremiah is driven near mad with having doom to speak and Amos is overwhelmed by his passion for the poor and even Isaiah seems at least genuinely hurt by the word of exile he bears, the voice of Ezekiel always seems a little too happy to be heard, always a little too happy to intimidate and to threaten disaster. And our readings open today with Ezekiel’s excuse, a veritable busy-body’s charter, — if I don’t echo the voice of Adonai then I’ll pay for it. Your Honor, I had to do it — it was me or him. I was only following orders.
But, like ‘em or loathe ‘em, we will always have self-righteous Ezekiels. And that’s because there’s always injustice and division and hurt in the world, in the church, and in our communities. Always … and all too real. And that’s what the readings today force us to remember. For every Ezekiel there is a Cain — that first of many murderers — with his question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Somehow we have to handle hurt in our midst and division in the church and injustice in the world and handle it with neither the relish of Ezekiel nor the cynicism of Cain.
September 8th, 1996
The missal says today’s readings are about food and feeding — but it seems to me that nothing links them — at least they are linked by nothing. So I have nothing to say and I want to say it three times! Confused? …
Hands up all those who find the first reading insulting? OK, at least embarrassing? No? Well, I do. Water, wine, bread, milk: symbols of all the heart desires and the body pines for — all this ours for nothing? For nothing. But who wants charity? … What’s the catch, God? Because there’d better be a catch; there has to be a hidden cost — nothing is too demeaning. OK, God, lower the price a little, if you must, bring these things within my price range — set it where I can afford — but please leave me at least the dignity of paying a little. Please don’t just give it away. What do you think of me? Do you think I can’t pay? Do you think I’m worth nothing? I am worth something you know. I don’t want your charity. Nothing is just too little. Don’t you know I have my pride?
(move to centre)
Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ. What is there between a work of art and the artist who creates it? If she is very lucky something bridges the gap of creation and the artist sees herself in her work. There are the thumbprints in the clay, the brushstrokes on the canvas, the form of feeling expressed and made visible. The very person of the artist, opened out, expressed, come to public life for all to see and touch and hold. Something stands between the artist and the work and makes it possible for one to contain the other. That something is the medium — the clay, the canvas, the gesture. … We are God’s work of art. A work in whom God comes alive in delight. A work made out of nothing, ex nihilo. The medium of our making is nothing. Nothing stands between us and the love of God made visible in Jesus. The human artist wrestles with the clay, the blank canvas, the marble: encounters it fully and takes the risk that something of beauty will emerge from the medium. God stoops down into nihil, into nothing, and finds us there. Nothing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(move to chair)
“Sometimes,” says a character of Ursula Le Guin’s, “sometimes only too far is far enough.” Sometimes all you have is next to nothing. Sometimes in the face of need, and pain, and hope all you have is nothing. Sometimes only nothing is enough. Sometimes all you can do is take what little you have, raise it in thankful blessing, break even smaller, and … give it away. Sometimes only nothing satisfies.
August 3rd, 1996
I think we all know, in one way or another, what St. Paul means when he talks about being caught in the slavery of decay: we all know, at times, the feeling of being trapped, the sense of the slow downhill slide; we all know how the past can be a prison, the present packed with pain, and the futile future only promising to hold worse. We now the struggle to not go under, to just survive, to just keep on breathing against the whole weight of the world.
All of us have an inkling of that slavery to decay—in our own personalised package—and I only evoke today by way of contrast, because the readings set before us this afternoon underline powerfully God’s verdict on fear, on decay, and on death.
July 14th, 1996