Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American essayist, poet, philosopher, and historian. Thoreau is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings. Walden anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history. These are two sources of modern-day environmentalism.
Thoreau was once quoted as saying, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.“ Is there an antidote to this pessimistic outlook towards life?
I was talking with several people recently about Confession. One recalled a story when he went to the sacrament at the parish of John the Evangelist in Center City Philadelphia. He went to the priest and after he finished what he thought was a routine confession, The priest said, “let’s dig a little deeper into those.” The priest and he proceeded to discuss his confession in depth for between 10 and 15 minutes. My friend was wondering what the other people in the confessional line were thinking. After he left the confession a number of them looked at him rather curiously. They probably wondering what he might have done to merit such a long Confession.
Sister Ann Shields, S.G.L., is a noted speaker and author whose activities as an internationally known evangelist have taken her across the globe. Sister Ann is a member of the Servants of God’s Love. They are a charismatic religious community canonically established in the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. She tells the story about going to confession to her spiritual director. Again, after saying a relatively benign confession: her spiritual director sat there with eyes closed for quite a long time. Eventually, he said to her, “are you the least bit sorry for even one of those sayings?“ Sister and was perturbed at the question. Nevertheless, she had to admit to herself and to her spiritual director that she really wasn’t too terribly remorseful. With that, the spiritual director said to her “well then why don’t you leave and then come back when you are.” Even though it was a rather embarrassing moment, Sister has never approached confession the same way.
I must say that I went through a similar experience when I went to confession to a Jesuit at Saint Joseph’s University. After offering a routine confession, the priest began to examine my sins in a rather direct and detailed fashion. I’ve never forgotten that confession. As I have joked to others in recalling the story, “I can see why these guys were involved in the Spanish Inquisition.“
What is at issue here?
In contrast to Thoreau’s “man of desperation,” the second century Bishop, Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, once wrote, the glory of God is a man fully alive.” The word “glory“ as found in today’s gospel comes from the Greek word “doxa.” The roots of this word mean, “being in a state of clarification especially in terms of how we relate to another person.
Speaking of Jesuits, Father Robert McTeigue, SJ, is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. He is a professor of philosophy and theology. He has taught and lectured in North and Central America, Europe and Asia and is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics. He has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and religious formation.
“When humility is understood as telling the truth—the shameful truth about ourselves and the wonderful truth about God – we come to realize that, truly, we are fallen, we are sinners. Truly God is all-holy; most wonderfully true: God is merciful and fiercely desires to save us from our sin.
”Why? Because while in our sinfulness, we are in a dis-integrated state. We fail to reach the heights of that man/woman “fully alive.”
If you want to know what humans are really like, look at Christ crucified. Picture us flinging that broken body at the feet of God and yelling, “This is what we think of your son! This is what we think of nature and grace and love and human flesh!”
Then picture our Heavenly Father lifting up Christ Risen, declaring, “This is what I think of my son! And this is what I think of human flesh! And this is what I think of nature and grace and my covenant with you!” If we can see that, then the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place.
When the secularized world looks at our celebration of Easter and the Ascension and asks in bewilderment and scorn “What difference does it make?” we have to be ready, willing and able to give a good answer. The difference that Easter makes, whether anyone or any group feels it or not at any given moment, is that Christ’s resurrection is love’s vindication. Because of Easter, we know that it is not foolish to love, to sacrifice, to pray or to hope. It is not foolish or wasteful to beget a new generation of children on this earth and prepare them to be citizens and heirs of Heaven. And it is not foolish to strive for a joy and completion that this world cannot give.
The Easter Season does not offer us a guarantee of happy feelings, but it does offer a remedy for despair—and that is something that the world cannot give.
That’s far from quiet desperation … that’s what glory looks like. That’s being fully alive.