Entering the “Circus” for a Purpose. Homily for 1st Sunday of Lent

William Harry McRaven is a retired United States Navy admiral. He was the ninth 9th commander of all US Special Operations from 2011 to 2014. Since 2015, he has been Chancellor of The University of Texas System. Admiral McRaven was also a member of SEAL Team 3 and SEAL Team 6. He spoke about his SEAL training at the 2014 University of Texas at Austin Commencement Exercises with an address entitled, “If You Want to be a Great Leader, Make Your Bed.”

One of the items he emphasized was, “Don’t be afraid of “the circus.”“Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training” or “BUDS,” is the training program to become a Navy SEAL. Admiral McRaven explained that every exercise in BUDS has a score. Every candidate is measured. If you don’t make the score in a particular drill, you are “invited” to “the circus.” The circus is an additional 2 hours of training and exercise at the end of the day. No one wants to go to the circus, but everyone goes for at least something. McRaven went because of his swimming. He was not a talented swimmer. Still, after “getting to” swim extra miles, day after day, his swimming skills got stronger to the point that he excelled in this part during the final testing phase.

Admiral McRaven went on to explain the benefit of “the circus” to the college graduates. You get better. You get stronger. You get the skill set to fulfill your purpose - and complete the mission.

St. Charles Seminary was like being in the circus. For years we were in an artificial atmosphere. There was little free time, no women and no alcohol anywhere in sight. All kinds of immature, bizarre behavior began to surface.

A number of Deacons and I were once talking to Bishop Cullen and we began to complain about this and practically every other aspect of seminary life. He said two things:

  1. This all means that the process is working. Sure, the atmosphere is bizarre and artificial. It’s supposed to be! A good spiritual director will acknowledge the behavior and problems but will then ask you what your problem is. Why is it bothering you? Address what is inside of you.
  2. Grow up. You’re going to experience a lot harder things in the priesthood than what you’re getting hit with now. Get better. Get stronger. Get the skill set to fulfill your purpose - and complete the mission. Don’t be afraid of the Seminary circus.

In today’s Gospel we read, The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days. Satan tempted Him. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. This isn’t Orlando in February. Jesus is in the midst of “the circus.“ The devil is there. Wild beasts are there. Angles are there. Even so, He chooses to go there! He goes there on purpose … to acquire the skill set to fulfill his purpose - and complete the mission.

Creighton University emeritus professor, Father Dennis Hamm, S.J., would claim that the Parish of St. Monica “boldly claims that this vocational call, this purpose, this mission, has been fulfilled in Jesus and through the mission of Jesus’ people. The mission of baptized Christians is nothing less than to implement the covenant of the new re-creation.”

But the only people who do this - are those who are not afraid of the circus.

Father Hamm’s colleague, Joyce Ann Zimmerman writes that “Our tendency is to put off dealing with difficult, uncomfortable, challenging tasks. We often need a push to get going. Lent does this on purpose. Lent is the push. It puts you in the desert,” in the midst of the “circus.”

When speaking about Lent, some might say that the 40 days seems SO LONG! We can focus on how hard Lent is. We can obsess on the “bad stuff” that’s going on around us. On the other hand, Lent might not be long enough for some! These are people with a purpose. These are people who feel that vocational call, that purpose, that mission, to help Christ re-create the neighborhood. These are people who aren’t afraid of the circus.

Lenten homework for this week includes 5 tasks:

  1. Confession
  2. 10 minutes of silence each day
  3. Reading the readings in advance of the upcoming Sunday Mass
  4. Make your bed
  5. Find out why that is important


Audio version of the homily is here:

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