HOMILY WEEK 33 04 – Year I
The Many Visitations of Jesus:
Optional Memorial of St. Clement I
(1 Macc 2:15-29; Ps 50; Lk 19:41-44)
When I was a young Oblate in my first mission of Beauval, Fr. Jim Fiori OMI and Sr. René Buliard SMS, drove down from Île-à-la-Crosse for a visit one evening. The two Grey Nuns Sr. Simard and Sr. Gamache, and I shared a supper meal with them. The great food and often profound conversation made the evening fly by – before we knew it, it was 11 pm, and they had to drive back home! But no one regretted the late hour – so pleasant and rich was the visit.
Reflecting on that experience, I realized that much happens when we connect with others at that level – everyone is changed, enriched, perhaps even transformed a bit by this quality of fellowship. Dare I say that we tasted a bit of the eternal banquet in the Kingdom of God that evening?
The gospel today invites us to take very seriously the many different ways that Jesus wants to visit us, be with us, stay with us, and make a difference in our lives.
This gospel is one of the two instances in the scriptures where Jesus weeps – the other is at the death of his good friend Lazarus. Both of these instances portray Jesus as grieving – something many of us find a challenge in our own lives. In one instance, Jesus enters into the pain that Martha and Mary are feeling, shares that pain, doesn’t rescue them from it, and weeps with them. In the gospel today, Jesus is grieving the lost opportunity his people had and did not accept – his presence as the Messiah, his visitation.
That rejection would keep them on a path of narrow, nationalistic economic-socio-political-religious self-determination that would eventually lead to the destruction of the temple, the center of their religious life, by the Romans.
What is at play here is the priceless gift of free will that God has given us. As Gerald May teaches in his book Will and Spirit, that gift is what makes us truly human, children of God, and sets us apart from the rest of all God’s creatures. We have a choice – we can be willing, and cooperate with God’s grace, or we can be willful, and stubbornly try to live life on our own terms, deciding what is right and wrong (the original sin) and self-righteously pursuing our own selfish goals that often lead to addiction to the false gods of possessions, prestige and power.
The bottom line is that God never forces us, never over-whelms us, always, always respects our human freedom – actually, usually is under-whelming, as Ron Rolheiser likes to say. It is really up to us to choose to be humble, realize that we do not see the complete picture, and freely accept the guidance and reality of God in our lives.
Indigenous spirituality has something very similar with its “Ethic of Non-Interference” – a respect for the other so strong that one may not interfere with another person’s plans or actions, even if they might be harmful to themselves or others. It is almost frightening to think of it, yet God does exactly the same thing – so priceless is this gift of free will.
Step three of the 12 Step program provides us with a wonderful guide as to how we can use that gift: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” That, essentially, is what we are all called to do, sooner or later, if we are to be truly children of God and live in the reign of God. Yet that seems to be the hardest thing to do for so many of us, and leads to most of our contemporary problems, including sexually transmitted diseases, family breakdowns and rampant addictions (our modern version of the destruction of the temple).
We are invited today to be humble, place our faith totally in Jesus as the presence of God in our lives, and seek to do only his will. Again, Step Eleven of the 12 Step program provides us with wisdom along the way: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God, seeking only the knowledge of God’s will for me and the power to carry it out.” It is hard to express it more succinctly than that.
There can be spectacular visitations, but God usually comes to us in more subtle ways. God might visit us with a gentle conviction of wrong-doing that moves us to repent, receive forgiveness and strive to live in a new way. It may be a sudden awareness of a painful emotion or negative attitude such as resentment, false pride, control, or stubbornness that is hurting those we love, and for which we need healing.
Very often God visits us through scripture – perhaps a word or phrase that suddenly strikes us in a new way. It may be creation, art, music, a heart-to-heart conversation – all these are ways that God may visit us. We just need to be awake and attentive, and then respond as best we can. As Paula D’Arcy states, “God comes to us disguised as our life!”
I remember a lady who, after a session of Visio Divina on a painting of Jesus washing the feet of Peter, realized with a shock that she was Peter – one hand wanting to forgive someone else in her life, the other hand afraid to do it. The next day, she shared with me that she had morphed overnight into Jesus – now she knew she had to wash that person’s feet, and she did – taking two weeks to write her a letter with love, expressing her hurt feelings as a way of forgiving this person. God had visited her that day, and she responded.
Today the Church offers us the option of honouring St. Clement I, someone who took an active role in seeking reconciliation in the early Church. Pope Clement I is recognized as third in succession to Peter. Other than the fact that he lived in the 1st century, little is known about his life or death. Tradition suggests Clement was a contemporary of Peter and Paul, perhaps a former slave of the imperial court. He was martyred in exile about AD 99. Clement’s fame rests in a letter he wrote to the Church of Corinth when Christians there revolted against their leaders. Intervening as bishop of Rome, he clearly expected obedience, an attitude that demonstrates the primacy of Rome at an early date.
The Eucharist is our family meal during which Jesus comes to us, visits with us, is present to us through Word, Sacrament, and one another.
May our celebration strengthen our faith in Jesus, and empower us to recognize the many “visitations” that he is extending to us each day.