02 July 2012

An urgent message, patiently delivered

13th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

When faced with the anxious problems of our panicky Western culture, the Church often seems less than eager to offer immediate solutions. While westerners run around like demented squirrels hopped up on triple shot espressos—causing chaos for themselves and the rest of the world—the Church plods along like a sleepy grandpa turtle, waiting for the rest of us to drop from exhaustion and hoping that the alleged crisis will pass. More often than not, that exactly what happens. Sleepy Grandpa Turtle smiles and continues along at his leisurely pace. Why does the Church seem so untroubled by the trendy pandemonium that we in the West feel is about to overwhelm us? Notice what Jesus does when the crowds threaten to overwhelm him: he flees across the sea. You can hear him saying to the disciples, “Aight, boys. Just get in the boat and row.” When a scribe—sounding a little desperate—says, “I'll follow you wherever you go,” Jesus gives us a hint about why his Church seems immune to cultural panic. He says, “. . .the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” The Body of Christ, the Church, exists everywhere and everywhen. There's no hurry in eternity. 

Just after Jesus orders his disciples across the sea, a scribe and a disciple proclaim an urgent need to stay with the Master. Jesus tells the scribe that the Son of Man has no place to rest. When the disciple asks Jesus to wait for him to bury his dead, Jesus says—rather enigmatically—“Let the dead bury the dead.” The scribe is declaring his desire to follow Christ regardless of his destination. The disciple wants Jesus to linger a bit longer so he can run off and to perform his familial duties. Two different responses to Jesus' order to depart and two different answers from Jesus. Both men want to stay with the Master, but neither seem to understand anything that Jesus has taught them. Had the scribe understood Jesus, he would know that the Son of Man is present wherever two or more gather in his name. Had the disciple understood Jesus, he would know that the Son of Man is present whenever anyone heeds his invitation to “follow me.” Proclaiming the Good News is both an urgent task and a patient process. We are given an imperative to complete and then told to persevere. The world's salvation is an emergency, and the Church's mature response to this crisis is diligence. 

What does all this mean for us, the Boots on the Ground? Unsurprisingly, it means that our most potent tools in building up the Church are faith and obedience—absolute trust in God's promises and hearts and minds radically attuned to His will. If we fall in with the world, we too become over-caffeinated squirrels scurrying around like we're being chased by terriers. Panic is not a form of Christian witness. On the other hand, we can't just sit back on the world's veranda, sipping Mint Juleps and watching creation go to hell. Laziness and indifference aren't good witnesses either. So, we follow Christ wherever he goes, and we “let the dead bury the dead.” In other words, we diligently plod along, spreading the truth of the Gospel despite the demands of the world, despite the frenzied squirrely scrambling-around that the crowds seem to love. Our eyes are squarely focused on eternity, the long-game. Christ is always with us—everywhere, every-when. And because he is always with us, we are urgently compelled to preach his Good News and, at the same time, diligently, patiently wait for the seeds we plant at his command to germinate, sprout, and blossom. There is no hurry in eternity. But for now, we've got an urgent message for the world. 

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  1. I had a really hard time following this, until you said "Proclaiming the Good News is both an urgent task and a patient process". From there to the end, I understood what you were saying and found it relevant and helpful. I think I like to know where you're heading from the beginning, especially in these short, daily homilies - there's only so much time to develop your ideas so I want it right out front. I didn't get that in this one; it seemed somewhat jumbled at times, as if you had a lot to say but couldn't make it fit in the time provided - or conversely, you had nothing to say and were just trying to fill in the space ;-). Or it could just be that my sleep-deprived brain can't grasp the deep and subtle philosophical-ness of this homily (very possible today).

    1. The answer is Yes, all of the above. :-)

      My writing process is not separate from my thought process. . .IOW, I think as I write and write as I think. I never start with One Idea and flesh it out. Very often I delete 2.5 pages and the ending becomes the beginning. . .when there's time. This a.m.(here's my excuse) I awoke at 5.30 having failed to turn on my alarm! How's that?

    2. Ha!
      I write the same way, unless of course the muse inspires! So I understand where you are coming from. Daily writing with deadlines - always tough, and you have to have it done no matter what. Can't be perfect ALL the time :-).

    3. Indeed. I have inviolable limits on length, so throw that into the pot as well.