13 August 2006

Knackered and needing a nap

19th Sunday OT: I Kings 19.4-8; Ephesians 4.30-5.2; John 6.41-51
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation and St. Paul’s Hospital

As the Brits say, “I’m knackered.” I’m tired. Done in. I bet you’re tired too, aren’t you? I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted by many things these days—constant attacks on the Church from anti-Catholic bigots in the media, in the government, even in the Church Herself! I’m worn bare by our own steady and often petty in-house bickering over questions of authority, liturgy, morality, Catholic identity, and on and on, ad nauseum. I’m weak and weary from wondering why some Catholic theologians refuse to teach the faith of the apostles; why some bishops and priests seem hell-bent on ruining the Church in one exorbitantly expensive zipper scandal after another; why some unsettled lay folks work so hard to turn the Roman Catholic Church into the largest liberal Protestant denomination in the US. I am worn out by the narcissistic guerilla tactics of self-appointed prophets and priests and delusional neo-pagans playing at being Catholic priestesses while the three-ring circus of 24/7 media coverage gives their self-serving twaddle all the light and sound any egomaniac would empty her trustfund to pay for….I’m knackered….and I bet you are too.

I think we need a nap. Something cozy with tea and a good book. Maybe some lulling classical Spanish guitar music or some traditional Japanese flute. A hammock or a daybed with cool sheets. Tinkling chimes fluttering in the wind, randomly ringing the day through…a light rain splatters the grass, cooling the air…ah, much better.

Waking from my nap, I read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians again and blush in embarrassment: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.” Like a prophetic voice in my stubborn ear, Paul says exactly what I need to hear, what we need to hear in these tumultuous times: when we entertain and nourish bitterness, fury, anger, contention, malice, and scorn we grieve the Holy Spirit, the spirit with which we were sealed for the day of our redemption. In other words, we violate, do injury to the love of God for us, the love that engineered and accomplished our redemption. Paul says, “…be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving of one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

Easily said, St. Paul. But the Spirit of Bitter Contention and Rebellion is just waiting behind our crystal wind chimes to whammy us again with anxiety and fear and wrath. We say with Elijah, “This is enough, O Lord!” How do we recover the peace of Christ, the assurance of his love, the promise of his mercy? How do we live day to day with the seduction of wrath born in disappointment? With the temptation of contentiousness born in self-righteousness? How do we flourish as holy men and women when the delicious lure of morose delectation, our love for the deserved misery of others calls to us so sweetly? What help is there for us!?

Exhausted and despairing in the desert Elijah surrenders to his weakness and cries out: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life…!” Worn out, he takes a nap. And wakes to find food and water. An angel appears and orders him to eat and drink. He does. And naps again. A second time he wakes, finds food and water. The angel orders him, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” He obeys. And walks forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God. With angelic prompting and solid food, Elijah defeated his weakness—his exhaustion and despair—and made good on his promised pilgrimage to God.

What help is there for us as a Church when tempted by the spirits of contention, rebellion, wrathful condemnation, and bitter rebuke? What food and drink is there to relieve our exhaustion, nourish our souls, raise our spirits, and calm the dangerous waters for our safe passing? Jesus says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven […] Amen, amen I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life […] I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

Our help, our binding assistance, the support we need and seek is the Eucharist—the sacrifice of the Mass, the supper of God’s family. We will find in the local worship of the universal church the abiding presence of Christ—in his temple, in his people, in his priest, and, uniquely, in his Blessed Sacrament. He is not here to loiter or fuss about or merely occupy a beautiful space. He is here to possess our hearts. To own our minds. Ready as food and drink for our bodies, nourishment for the pilgrimage to God that we promised to take at our baptisms. He is here as his Father’s promise fulfilled to make us His children, co-heirs to the kingdom, adopted sons and daughters of the Most High. He is here to make us the living bread, the living flesh and blood of Christ so that we then can live day-to-day as sacrificial offerings to God.

We must first sacrifice our bitterness, our bile, our anger and shouting, our scorn and wrathful condemnation. We must make these holy by surrendering them to God’s transforming love, His enduring compassion. He will give back to us His joy, His delight in us, His ever ready forgiveness, and His peaceful voice speaking an empowering Word of truth. Jesus says, “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.” We shall all be taught by God!

That we must be ready to remove from us the soul-killing voices of dissention, rebellion, bitterness, and contention does not mean that we must be ready to ignore or even coddle the Spirits of Deceit and Disobedience. Nothing about growing up to be Christs for others requires us to tolerate false teaching, listen to phony myths, or watch anti-Catholic bigots (both in and outside the Church) dismantle the Body given to us by Christ. Charity without Truth is not love; it’s merely lazy toleration. But Truth without Charity is mere accuracy, just fact—cold, hollow.

If we will imitate Christ as Paul exhorts us to do we will confront false teaching, phony myths and anti-Catholic bigotry with the Truth in Love—not sugarcoating the Truth of the faith with pretty platitudes or accommodating rhetoric nor failing to treat God’s children with respect, the dignity due them as the images and likenesses of God. We can witness to the faith, be apostles to the truth of our Catholic tradition without the exhausting work of putting on the spiky skins of bitterness, anger, and contention. We can make this pilgrimage promised so long ago with the food and drink of Christ Himself—our Eucharist, our sacrifice, our blessed supper and Who we will be in the end.

There is manna in the desert of our disappointments. There is cool drink in the dry wells of our bitterness: “I am the living bread come down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever!”


  1. Anonymous9:31 PM

    Marvelous. Absolutely marvelous. Thank you.

  2. Frater: excellent homily as ever. I was just slightly amused by your use of "knackered"... I recall using that word in polite British company, among people of my grandparent's generation and they were somewhat taken aback.

    Yes, the word now means "very tired, exhausted" but its etymology is somewhat more suspect and reveals the reason for the askanced reaction of older (and more respectable) British folk.

    As one source puts it: "To describe yourself as "knackered" means that you are really tired - something along the lines of "beat". However, as usual it has a slightly more dodgy meaning as it technically describes being exhausted after sex. You can get away with it in everyday conversation but bear in mind that everyone knows the true meaning too. The derivation, I understand, is from the time when old, worn out horses were taken to the "knacker's yard" and... well... converted into glue". And again: "for some reason 'knackers' also refers to testicles and somebody being 'knackered' meant being tired out particularly from sexual exertion. perhaps the two are linked and it was originally horses too exhausted to stud that were taken to the yard".

    Now, this couldn't possibly apply to the holy prophet Elijah... although he was indeed fatigued!

  3. Anonymous8:57 AM

    Thank you Father for posting ... I was struggling w/thoughts long these lines. Your reflections have helped. Thank you.

  4. Beautiful post. I will make a link on my blog.

  5. Anonymous10:34 AM

    Like pml, I've also been struggling with similar thoughts. Your beautiful words remind me of the real Reason I continue to attend Mass (mea culpa, I skipped yesterday) -- that Reason is Jesus Himself, and everything else is just peripheral. "Jesus is the Reason". Thank you, Father.

  6. Although in the UK, Ireland and Australasia the term 'knackers' does refer to testicles I would dispute that it is cognate with the expression 'knackered' meaning tired. A knacker (derived from the Irish 'an eachoir' meaning horse dealer) is a person in the trade of rendering animals that are unfit for human consumption, such as horses that can no longer work.The expression "knackered" was originally "ready for the knacker’s yard",
    the knacker's yard or knackery being where this rendering takes place. The expression may be looked on askance in 'polite' company but any allusion to testicles or sexual activity is mistaken.