Sunday, March 24, 2013

THE HOMILY I'D GIVE IF I WERE A PRIEST




Is it me or does an unfortunate nosy-neighbor strain sometimes creep into our beloved mother Church? As  I commented here the other day:

“I’m not wildly interested in hearing about other people’s sins but I’m always interested in looking more closely at my own: my fear, my self-righteousness, my hardness of heart, my terrible pride, my abysmal lack of charity. All the things that lead to loneliness and isolation and the desperate hunger that lead to wanting to anesthetize the pain with sex, food, booze, shopping, drugs, porn…I would like to hear more homilies on the beauty of the Narrow Gate! That Christ calls us to come fully awake, fully alive, fully open to joy…That doesn’t come from following a rule book and even less does it come from constantly peering around to make sure everyone else is following the rule book. Of COURSE when you’re awake in love, you’re not going to cheat on your spouse. Of COURSE you’re not going to be frittering away your life energy on porn.

And of course you are going to feel your own pain and loneliness and hunger and fear very deeply, so deeply that at times it seems it cannot be borne. You’re going to be pruned into compassion. That is our whole value as followers of Christ: we allow our suffering to make us available and vulnerable to the suffering of the world; to the terrible sexual and emotional wound at the heart of mankind”…

I thought about that for awhile. I started thinking about the kind of homily I'd give if I were a priest. Now don't get me wrong: I love priests. I have no desire to be a priest. Priests are doing just fine. But as we enter Holy Week (during which our poor priests are going to be vastly overworked), just for the heck of it, here's the homily I’d give if I were PRIEST FOR A DAY:

"To be a follower of Christ is to participate in the victory of love over fear. And just on the off-chance we've veered from our place at the back of the church with the tax collector, folks, we’re not "following the rules" so we can look good in the eyes of our also-following-the-rules fellow church-goers. Come ON, my brothers and sisters! Those people were the PHARISEES! Those were the people who killed, and who continue to kill, Christ! Catholicism is not a country club whose members we vet to ensure we’re in the “right” company! The very thought should turn our stomachs!

Here’s how you know your life in Christ is bearing fruit:

In spite of your own suffering, loneliness, and pain, you're welcoming. You're warm. You're kind (or you're at least shooting for those things, and not just toward the people who can "do" something for you, but everyone). You’re in immediate, intimate contact with a few active drunks, someone who’s headed into or has just emerged from a psych ward, an incarcerated felon or two, several porn addicts, a young girl who’s pregnant out of wedlock, several women who have had abortions and are in silent, excruciating mourning, at least one stripper, several people in desperately unhappy marriages, about to be evicted from their apartments, or dying, a minimum-wage worker or two, at least three people who are certifiably insane, at least one U.S. Army chaplain and one peace activist (even better if they’re both priests and the latter is in solitary confinement in a federal prison), several homeless people (the more the better) and a whole TON of gay people, transgender folks, and sex and love addicts of all stripes...

If that’s not part of your circle--in my case, that IS my circle--you're not getting out enough. If you aren’t sharing your struggles and heart with that circle, at the very least in prayer, something is wrong. Because those are the people Christ hung out with. Because “those people” are us: the people, the only people, suffering, struggling humans. Because if we’re going to be inviting people to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, we sure as hell better be inviting each other into our homes, our tables, our hemorrhaging, conflicted hearts.

If you're afraid all that is going to "lower your standards," you're very much mistaken. There's no lower standard than self-righteous fear.

Share the joy, man. Tell a joke. Lighten up. Eat a meal with some friends. Exchange stories of how you’re walking toward the light.  One morning you’ll wake up and realize you are 'following the rules" and then some. You’re not going to Mass just on Sundays, but every other day—because there’s nowhere else you’d rather be. You’re not going to just three AA meetings a week, but five—plus a trip to the jail to talk to the drunks there. You’ll realize you haven't added it up but you're probably giving away at least ten percent of my money. You’ll realize, with total wonder: I have not watched porn, masturbated, had sex outside marriage, or flirted with someone inappropriate for weeks, months, years…

You’ll realize: I actually let that guy who cut me off in traffic yesterday off the hook. I actually felt a stab of what felt suspiciously like affection toward my mother-in-law, my junkie son, my sex-worker neighbor, the Marine Corps soldier, the bleeding-heart liberal (depending on your stance, one of these is sure to be difficult), my boss (bonus points if you're self-employed), the young girl who, from a one-night-stand, is having a baby…

You’ll realize: Oh. THIS is what Christ meant! I don’t have to be boiled in oil or have my eyes gouged out. This is laying down my life: this sharing, this exchange, this richness, this mercy, this mystery.

You’ll realize that love is a way more tender--and way more exacting Master--than fear.


THE CASBAH CAFE
LET'S HAVE COFFEE!



27 comments:

  1. I must be doomed, because I do maybe one of those things you mentioned, maybe none. And I'm not a great rule-follower either. May God have mercy on me.

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  2. But maybe, Ruth Ann, you sent a greeting card to an old man living in a nursing home. Or maybe to the little old lady living alone down the street. Once heard a Polish priest give a homily on small stuff like that.

    I'm such a slug, though, that I rarely rouse myself even to that level.

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  3. I've got to become less polemical. Less irritable. More like that fourteen-year-old future Carmelite who did ridiculous things like pray for the salvation of hardened murderers (and the news often points us toward a few we can pray for!). I've got to become more Good Samaritan ('go and do thou likewise'), more Matthew 25, more peace-maker and not just peace-wisher!

    I'd note in passing that there were one or two okay Pharisees: Joseph of Arimathea, I think, was a Pharisee; and Gamaliel from Acts, who warned his co-religionists that Jesus might be "from God" -- but yes, we should avoid pharisaISM, being "the proud Pharisee"! Which I am, oftener than I care to admit.

    I know more than a few people in the categories you mention who are just so darned interesting that they have to be in heaven when all is said and done! I'll let God work out the details. And of course, prayer -- for you, for me, for all these interesting folks, for everyone.

    The victory of prayer over polemic, of love over fear, is being made especially vivid in these recent days, I feel, with the new pontiff. I revere Papa Francesco's immediate predecessors, Blessed John Paul and Pope Emeritus Benedict -- they are holy, humble, magnanimous souls, great minds and hearts! -- but ever since the election of Pope Francis, I've been positively goofy with a kind of "let's spread the joy" feeling! I need not scowl all the bloody time!

    Oh, there are moments of crankiness. And moments where the impulse to froth and foam over the death of civilization occurs. But please God, may they become fewer and fewer --

    -- and finally, Heather, your words about daily Mass. Yes. It is indubitably salvific. I hope to get to Arch Street today!

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  4. Brilliant and you finally put into words just what I feel. Thanks, as always, Heather, for sharing who you are through your writing...so I can see who I am, too.

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  5. MB and I help out with Marriage Prep course at our parish. I one session about relationship/communication/conflict resolution I speak (from experience) about sometimes you simply have to be willing to loose. To let the other 'win' even when you 'know' you are right. And not just loose for the moment to come back at it later, no, that' deferred winning. I'm talking about loosing. Loose. Loose like Christ in Philippians 2. Of all the things said that seems to get the most push back and it the hardest to people to lay hold of, especially men (no big surprise there).

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  6. Great post Heather! It's all so true! I really do think most people strive for this. Even the ones who appear to only be rule followers---I have and love many people/traditional Catholics in my life who some would classify as "rule followers." Even they strive for this Christ-like love you speak of. Look at Pope Francis--a rule follower but an example of poverty of spirit and humility, service for the poor. And look at Pope Benedict----a rule follower but a wonderful example of humility, prayer and contemplation and communicating the faith to a prideful world. This would make a great homily!!! I'll tweet it on to my fellow priest friends! I sort of have both sides to me---i understand and would love to (but fail miserably!!) follow the rules because they make sense to me as God's way to have His joy and peace. But I hang out with mostly sinners mostly like me, in the meetings in AA, and in my online world. I'm rambling. I'm buying your book today! I've had two people recommend it to me this week!

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  7. I tend to look at myself as being only one step - one failed relationship, one hour of weakness, one mistake made in desperation, one hardship - away from being any one of those people: the incarcerated, the drunk, the homeless, the woman mourning an abortion, the stripper, the addict. And maybe the truth is that it'd take more than one thing going wrong in my life for me to step into any of those roles, but recognizing that I too could be any one of those individuals has aided me in developing a gracious heart toward those people, toward those vulnerable populations.

    Heather, this may be my favorite post of yours. And the timing of it is perfect, for only just yesterday I discovered in my pocket a paper on which I'd written lines from 'Redeemed' that I had underlined and revisited several times. I They align perfectly with this post... can I share them? can I share YOUR words? :)

    "My purpose on Earth: to put my body, attention, good cheer, and desire to do better, such as they are, into the stream of life, at the service of others" (132).
    "I have become a firm, firm believer in the act that isn't going to get me anywhere and is inconvenient and involves interacting with another person" (133).
    [Giving of myself to others] "is often just what's needed when I'm on the verge of calling 911 and begging to be carted off to the psych ward" (133).
    "We're called to a willingness to be emptied, to be servants... not withholding... of being available... of offering up my whole self."
    "I'm in a relationship with every person." (136).
    "When my heart is broken, I get to sit for a while with someone whose heart is broken, too." (136).

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  8. It seems we are most effective lovers of all men when we do not distinguish between sacred and secular.

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  9. Preach it, Sister!!

    I read "Shirt of Flame" for my Lenten reading. Although Therese was a sentimental childhood favorite of mine, I had NO clue about her until I read more of/by her as an adult. I found her hugely challenging and was put off by the surface contradictions of her life story. As I get older, I am better able to understand how she was just crazy - crazy in love with Jesus. Your book sets up a great example of how to "pray" St. Therese in our own lives. Thank you for listening to your Call to write. We who read you are all the richer for it.

    Good Holy Week to you and all the wonderful readers of Shirt of Flame!



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  10. This was a throw down... wow...

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  11. Ha ha, I just thought I'd throw "masturbation" in there to make sure you all were still awake...

    No, seriously, thanks everyone. And Owen, you touched on the heart of it--the most radical, subversive, core aspect of Christianity is this willingness to "lose," to be last, to have the fruit of our labor remain mostly hidden...to accept what the world considers pathetically meager results...it is all right there, out in the open for all the world to see, on the Cross...which we have a tendency to regard for five seconds, say "Okay I'm a 'Christian,'" and then proceed to go out and in one way or another, kill each other...

    Crazy gratitude is the key...the birds are singing here in L.A...wishing you all a deep and fruitful Holy Week...

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  12. Thank you, Heather. This has given me strength to go on today when I was having a difficult time with a difficult family member. May you have a blessed Holy Week.

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  13. Love this! Very much needed this today. It reminds me of Chesterton's "If I Had Only One Sermon to Preach."

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  14. The people I am with day in and day out often seem to me totally self-absorbed, extraordinarily dirty, loud and violent. They are my small children and they hold their mirrors up to me. Thanks for this.

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  15. It's always eye opening to open one's self to folks outside our circle. My son (an addict/alcoholic) has given me many opportunities to extend myself to people I would normally cross the street to avoid. It's all a source of tremendous grace. Jesus didn't just come for the middle class, the clean, the well fed, the employed, the healthy. He came for us all. They will know we are Christians by our love.

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  16. I have so enjoyed your thoughts here, Heather, and the comments of all of the readers above! Its all so fascinating ... I need a week or three to process it.

    Now, about the drunks, prostitutes, drug addicts, psychiatric patients etc that ought to be in our inner circle .... hmmm. Not hmmm as in I grimly disagree ... just hmmm, this is something that challenges me! But then i ALSO feel compassion for the Pharisees - sometimes I wish Jesus could have been a little more understanding of them - given a bit more - am I just clueless to say such a thing? I mean, the Pharisees were trying. We like to categorise them as out-and-out smug hypocrites but weren't they like so many of us - trying to honour God, going astray a bit, getting their priorities wrong, for sure - but human and struggling, all the same? I mean the complete drug addict has possibly stopped struggling to make sense of life, to find God, and has thus taken the easier route than the Pharisee ...

    Anyway, yes, I love the challenge you have laid before me here - especially that of being loving, warm and kind in the midst of our own pain. St Therese said the same - to make our weaknesses, yes, precisely our own pain, inadequacy and suffering, part of the God's work on earth - not to lay it aside and try to be good "despite" it - but to work with it, incorporate it into our spiritual act of worship, and service.

    I like those thoughts of Heather's you wrote on a piece of paper, Alica Rae. They summarise much of what we read in this blog.

    I just want to spare a thought for the "suffering, struggling humans" who DON'T look like society's wreckage, but who look good on the outside, and who, despite Pharisaical tendencies, are still, underneath, struggling, conscience-stricken (occassionally), pretty darn conflicted, perplexed but persevering, trying very hard to trust and put God first, still battling fear, know more intellectually than they feel able to carry out in practice ... very hard on themselves ...sometimes too easy on themselves ... challenged every day to change ...ho hum, i reveal too much.

    Anyway, i love the comments of others, you all add so much to my understanding. I like what Owen says about "loosing" (losing, too). Just lose, just be willing to let the other guy win! Be unknown, un-triumphant, but faithful and in intimate contact with Him who makes it all worthwhile ... but i definitely, according to your definition Heather, "don't get out enough". That's probably why i have too much to say.

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  17. Thank you for this. When I was teaching in elementary and middle school, the realization that "those people" really included me was more clear as it confronted me every day. I needed this and although I shouldn't seek it, I am encouraged whenever I hear Catholics embracing the fearlessness in love that is our Church.

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  18. Dear Heather,
    Jane,

    Oh deer I wish I wear a better editor and I wood theirfore catch my truly stupid spelling mistakes. ;-)

    Thanks for seeing my meaning in spite of my obvious error in spelling.

    I did indeed mean losing not loosing and thus obscured my own meaning. I should take better care. Loosing with two Os and no e does make an interesting application, even though my intended meaning was be willing to "lose" - be willing to be the one who does not win; be willing to be the one perceived as wrong even when 'right'; be willing to fail or be perceived as having failed even if one has won. :)

    With that in mind, Heather, both in this post and in person you are willing to lose. Some truly good folks are misunderstanding your meaning (and not as in my case for want of careful spell checking). They see in this post, and in an earlier one where you spoke eloquently about Church not as a club but as a place of quiet devotion (my 'loose' interpretation), as an imposition on what God has called them too. I do not read you imposing anything. Speaking with passion about an area that needs to be addressed, yes but imposition on anyone else's vocational calling, no. The comparison these good folk make is unnecessary. Like Francis vrs Benedict is unnecessary. I have written directly in their own combox, I hope with charity, so what I am saying here is not "out of school". Recently I have said a number of times that when we converted from the Protestant 'solas' we entered the Church of both/and.

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  19. Owen, I would never know about my apparently many detractors if not for your keeping your ear to the ground. So thank you! And as always, thanks for your beautiful insights and for weighing in.

    And Jane, thanks for your heartfelt note--of course the point isn't that everybody's friends "have" to look like mine (though if they don't, you may be missing out!): the point is that the mark of a follower of Christ is charity. The point is that it's kind of hard to visit the person in prison, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry if everyone you know has no need of charity--and more to the point if you have no need of charity yourself.

    I'm not talking about sitting around the bar telling dirty jokes. As always, Christ is the model. I'm talking about doing what he did and having the orientation of heart he did.

    In our ways, we get to try to walk toward the light, contribute more to the world, learn how to love. That's all Christ asks of us, whatever our station, however that is given to us.

    The problem with the Pharisees was that they purported NOT to stumble. They tried to spiritually excel and then to use their spiritual "excellence" as a weapon. They were busybodies, instigators, and spies. Jesus would just be going around, minding his own business, and there they'd be, peering over his shoulder, trying to trap, trip up, gather evidence. "What are you doing picking grain on Sunday?" "What are you doing, healing people?" I mean get a life!

    No-one knew better than Christ the unbelievable peril of using "religion" to boost our own egos, to undergird our own satanic urge to dominate, to cloak all manner of darkness, evil and murder under the banner of "God." (I have just read Andrew Bacevich's The New Militarism and Rachel Maddow's Drift and I feel weakened)...

    When I was in Pittsburgh, director of the Gailliot Center for Newman Studies Kevin Mongrain (who has a Ph.D. in philosophy and has thus STUDIED such things) was explaining (I paraphrase) that, knowing of the desire of the human heart for God, Satan is too clever to attack religion directly. So he infiltrates it from within. He invites us to warp, misinterpret, appropriate religion for our own ends: money, property, power, prestige...

    It is no accident that for Christ's entire public ministry, the Pharisees were his perpetual and intransigent adversaries. He didn't even bother with the Romans, whose wrong-headedness was small potatoes compared to potential for evil of his fellow "believers."

    Then again, to overfocus on the OTHER Pharisees is to become a Pharisee yourself.

    Speaking of which, check out this great LA Times article about a vet with PTSD who is walking to help pay for the medical treatment of his fellow vets: http://www.latimes.com/news/columnone/la-me-walking-man-20130326-dto,0,5823548.htmlstory.

    Let me be more like him!

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  20. P.S. I agree: I defer to no-one, I lay claim to, I BOAST of the best commenters around! Thank you, thank you. You challenge and inspire me.

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  21. Yes,I felt more at home in New Orleans with the poor, inner city kids, mentally ill, drug dealers, etc. that I shared a life with everyday than I do with the seemingly perfect (and constantly busy suburbia life in which I am forever comparing myself to others and always coming up short. Don't misunderstand me, these are some very lovely people and good Catholics and Christians doing some great work for God. God need his people everywhere. I'm just not sure that I am meant to be a suburbianite. I am too broken and the broken and suffering people are my people and have always seemed more real to me. Some might argue that's not a fair statement, but it's a perspective thing. Now that I am surrounded by "seemingly" perfect middle class America and caught up in keeping up with the Jones', I completely forget there is a really broken and hurting world out there. I know that's my problem as a lazy Christian and not suburbia's, but it sure was much easier to look outside myself when I was confronted with humanity everyday. I know it's still all around me, but we in middle class america hide it very well.

    Having been personally saved by Jesus after living a broken life with deep wounds that led me to a life of drugs, booze, sex, which resulted in abuse, I feel so out of place here in this little world that "appears" to be perfect when I am so imperfect. But I am here so there must be a reason. Of course, there are real people here, I have just been looking around in my little bubble. Please pray for me, that I can get out of myself and seek those who are broken and suffering. It's all about love, growing in intimacy with Christ and bringing as many souls to heaven with you, isn't it? The purpose of this life, I mean.

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  22. Heather:

    for some reason I found this post deeply wounding and simutaneously profoundly true. In effect you're saying I'm a pharisee and this aggravates me. On the other hand the shoe probably fits. Encountering reality isn't a terribly pleasant experience.

    Peter

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  23. That's a great line Peter... not very pleasant at all.. Also being willing to lose is not pleasant either.. I'm constantly struggling with allowing myself to lose, to let go, to sacrifice and the constant almost violent urge to lash out, to be louder, to dominate conversation, to prove my point. Saying no to that and losing is a gauntlet, but I think worth it.

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  24. Dear Ms. King,
    Holy Week blessings to you and your readers. I pray (yes, pray!) your blog daily and have found some beautiful meditation both here and in your books. Thank you for being open to the Spirit and sharing the fruit of that love and your own crosses with those of us who also are striving to journey daily through the narrow gate.
    After nearly a decade of teaching eighth graders, I am (at the age of 38) a brand-new Catholic seminarian for the no-one-has-ever-heard-of-Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware. Your words today on what you would say if you were a priest have had a great impact on me. I want to be that priest who not only speaks those words one day to his parishioners, but also lives those words by the way I live my own life. Pray that I always seek out the lost, lonely, ignored, forgotten and marginalized ... and never forget that I am all those things as well. It is our crosses, after all, that help us love others more deeply, allow God to love others through us, and at the same time conform us to Christ himself.
    Be assured of my daily prayers for you. Say a few for me, too, okay? God bless!
    Rich

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  25. Just to reiterate, this is not in any way about being anti-white, anti-rich, or anti-suburban: it's about being anti- NOSY NEIGHBOR. If you saw where I lived, you'd know that in my way I AM suburban. I write this stuff for my OWN benefit. I can hardly be reminded often enough to resist the terrible temptation toward being the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son...

    I just heard from a priest I know in the Boston area, not even apropos of this post, but he happened to mention in passing that his parishioners are "very middle class, very white, very New England, very Boston and all the men are handsome, the women strong and the children are above average! And I love them so!"

    Isn't that beautiful! Not "they vote the right way." Not, "Thus together we have decided to take it upon ourselves to morally police the rest of the Catholic world." Just "And I love them so." Now THAT'S Catholic!

    Rich, no-one-has-ever-heard-of places are sometimes the best! You are on my prayer list...and welcome.

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