04 January 2013

Our Ruin & Repair

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Finding useful solutions to life's little problems is mostly about knowing the nature of your problems. How do you know that you've found a useful solution if you don't understand the problem? A corollary to this: finding what you seek is mostly about knowing what you are looking for. How do you know that you've found what you've been looking for if you don't know what it is you are looking for in the first place? These two rather obvious observations lead us to conclude that living life in this world is an adventure in asking the right questions so that we recognize the answers when we find them. Thus, when Jesus notices two of John's disciples stalking him, he asks, “What are you looking for?” Well, obviously, they are looking for him. Why else would they start stalking him? As Jesus walks by John and his disciples, John says of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Here, walking by, John proclaims, is the answer you've been seeking all your lives. Jesus is the answer, your answer. Now, what is the question, your question, that Jesus answers? 

Imagine you are standing just a few feet away from the scene described in this morning's gospel. You see John the Baptist and two of his many disciples hanging around talking. Then this famous preacher, Jesus of Nazareth, walks by and John—himself a famous preacher—shouts, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” John's disciples are startled at first but quickly collect themselves and start following after Jesus. Just as they walk out of earshot, you faintly hear one of the disciples ask Jesus, “Teacher, where are you staying?” And Jesus answers, “Come and you will see.” The whole exchange takes less than a minute but that's long enough for you to wonder: were John's disciples looking for this “Lamb of God” person? John's emphatic proclamation would seem to indicate that they were and then they fall in with Jesus to follow him. What message is this Jesus guy preaching, a message that draws John's disciples away from him? You soon realize that this little scene has done more than strike your curiosity. Now you're trapped asking your own questions about what it means to be the Lamb of God, and how a man can be called such a thing. Lambs of God are sacrificed in the temple for the remission of sin. The whole thing is at once confusing and intriguing. And your questions just keep piling up. Then the Big Question hits you, “What am I looking for?” 

If you are a follower of Christ, you follow The Answer. You've found what you seek; you've found your solution. That part was easy. The more difficult task is searching out and discovering the problem that the Christ solves. You might wonder: if I've found my solution in Christ, why bother with understanding the problem he solves? To fully grasp a solution, to fully understand an answer, it's necessary to understand the true nature of the problem; otherwise, you may never fully appreciate or wisely use the solution you've found. For all of creation, the Christ solves the problem of a broken relationship with the Creator. For us human creatures, as a whole, the Christ solves the problem of sin by making it possible for us to live again in original justice with the Father; that is, the death and resurrection of the long-awaited Messiah repairs the disease of original sin universally, for all. So the better question is: what habit or attitude prevents you from following Christ the Answer to the best of your ability? Perhaps the best way—and ironically so—to figure this out is to follow Christ the Answer to the best of your imperfect ability and let your walk with him reveal the very problems he is sent to solve. What are we looking for? Our ruin and its repair.*

* The contemporary American poet, Eric Pankey, in a poem titled, “Prayer,” asks this question: “What do you love better: the ruin or its repair/Desire’s affliction or fire’s harsh sacrament?”

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  1. Welcome back! This homily seemed a little different: more on the easy side of relaxed than usual.

    First paragraph was a good start - it left me chuckling knowingly, thinking of Douglas Adams...and 42. But it was a good practical beginning, reminding us that we need to be sure we are asking the right questions, though even if we know the Big Question we must often search around asking smaller (though not less important) questions to really find the fullness of the answer - which you developed further in para 2 & 3.

    I liked the short journey into Ignatian prayer style you introduced in para 2.

    I appreciated paragraph 3, but got a little lost from "So the better question is ...." I had to go back and read it S L O W L Y :-). And you got a little "whoa!" from me with your last sentence...I think if I had been listening it would have left me scratching my head, and turning the phrase over and over until I figured it out (as it was, the footnote was helpful). Sure hope there was a short amount of silence after the homily to let that one sink in!


    1. I think my point with that last sentence is this: it's not enough that we seek out Christ as the Answer. If we don't understand the question we're asking, then having Christ as the Answer is pointless. Thus, we seek both our ruin (what ruins us?) and our repair (what fixes the ruin?).