HOMILY WEEK 32 02 – Year I
Living Our Human Longing Well
(Wis 2:23-3:9; Ps 34; Lk 17:7-10)
“God created us for incorruption.”
That evocative statement from the Book of Wisdom, and the readings today, invite us to live our human longing well.
Today’s first reading from Wisdom is one we are most likely to hear at a Catholic funeral. In fact, it is the one I chose for my father’s funeral, not just because it speaks of eternal life, but also because the sentence of “sparks running through the stubble” fits his life as a farmer.
That imagery also carries a much deeper meaning for me. I remember walking through fields of burnt out stubble and kicking over a clump of black straw to find a glowing mass of embers. The burnt stubble represents for me the rocky relationship that I had with my father for at least fifteen years, and the glowing embers and sparks of the reconciliation I experienced with my father two years before he passed away. I was truly able to celebrate his funeral with joy because we had forgiven each other all past hurts and were reconciled. I knew, as the reading proclaims, that he was at peace, and that, at the time of visitation, “he will shine forth” and will abide with God in love.
The reading is strong on immortality, not just on life after death, but a new life of union today with God, who “made us in the image of God’s own eternity.” That explains the longing for more, the constant restlessness, the yearning for wholeness, the sense of incompletion that is in every human heart. As St. Augustine put it, “Our hearts are restless, O God, until they rest in thee.” One woman put in her will, “Bury me with a fork in my hand, because my mother always told me to keep my fork for the best is yet to come.”
The rest of the readings provide us with a guide, a blueprint for how to live our lives along the way, until we too are called home, beginning with the words, “Those who trust in him will understand truth.” That is an invitation to focus on truth, beauty and goodness. Jesus is the truth, the beauty and goodness of God. Those are three traditional attributes of the Trinity. Where truth, beauty and goodness are found, there is God. Occasionally, I delight to visit a friend who expresses her emotions through art, a God-given talent. Her home is filled with beauty that radiates the presence of God.
Another way found in the readings helping us negotiate that longing for the divine, is contemplative prayer and joyful praise. The Book of Wisdom states that “the faithful will abide in God in love.” To rest in God’s presence, soaking up God’s love, is contemplative prayer that leads to an intimate relationship with God, the kind of relationship Jesus had with the Father. The psalmist invites us to the prayer of praise, to magnify the Lord with him or her, and to bless the Lord at all times. A grateful person is a happy person who will naturally want to bless the Lord.
A third way to live our lives on this earth is that of radical discipleship and redemptive suffering. Wisdom speaks of being disciplined, appearing to be punished, a departure thought to be a disaster. When we can accept some suffering in our lives without bitterness or resentment, as Jesus did, then we are already in the kingdom.
Radical discipleship may come to us through illness that becomes our “passio” – which means “being done unto,” when we can do little, and everything is done to us. How we accept that is key – letting it make us better, and not bitter. There are things in life that only suffering will teach us. To subvert that suffering either by medicating our pain through addictions, or eliminating it by medically assisted death, is to betray our call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. When our suffering connects with his, we grow in compassion and character, and our suffering takes on profound meaning and purpose.
Finally, Jesus in the gospel reminds us we are live not for ourselves alone, but for God and for others, through selfless service. As he came to serve and not to be serve, so to we must seek to serve, to use our gifts and talents to build up the reign of God here on earth. I love to quote this line from Sr. Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give away.” We are called to pour out our lives in selfless service, which will always prove to be the best way to experience joy in our lives.
Take a few moments to think of the people in your life who are living these readings right now, in their families, work, study and recreation. I can name dozens – Lucie, Debbie, Dan and Joanne, Eva, Bob, Ron, Harry, Richard, Wendy, Justin, my brother bishops and Oblates, Oblate lay associates, family, friends, relatives, religious brothers and sisters – the list is endless. So many are focused on truth, beauty and goodness. So many are leading prayerful lives. So many are accepting some suffering in their lives without bitterness or resentment, even joy, and so many are constantly giving of their time, treasure and talent to make this world a better place. They are truly living their human longing well. Take time to say a prayer for those you know, and give thanks to God for them.
The Eucharist is a participation in the eternal life Jesus came to bring us, through his Word and through the reception of his body and blood. This is our greatest prayer connecting us with the Father in Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, and as Ron Rolheiser OMI writes, our “greatest act of fidelity.”
May our celebration pour forgiveness upon us, heal us of our shortcomings, fill us with joy, and empower us to live out our human longing well through lives of truth, beauty, goodness, prayer, acceptance and selfless service.