The Force Awakens – Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I’m sure you’ve heard about the new Star Wars movie,
The Force Awakens.
It’s breaking all box office records,
and I’ve seen it myself a couple of times.
One of the things I find interesting about this new Star Wars trilogy
is that it begins in the same way as the original trilogy with Luke Skywalker.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I’m not giving much away
by saying that the main character starts the story on a desert planet
feeling forsaken, feeling abandoned,
just like Luke Skywalker alone on the planet Tatooine
feeling left out of things,
feeling abandoned by his friends who have gone off to fight in the rebellion.

Now this is not unique, of course, to Star Wars.
Many, many stories begin wth the main character
being abandoned or forsaken.
Harry Potter, for instance, is left on the Dursley doorstep as a baby
where he grows up in a tiny room under the stairs, abandoned, seemingly, by any friends he might have had.
There’s also Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked on an island,
young Pip in Great Expectations and Jane Eyre,
orphans who are raised by distant family members,
and Cinderella who is left abandoned when her father passes away
and is forsaken, ignored, persecuted by her stepmother and stepsisters.

These stories resonate with us
because we can feel abandoned at times,
we can feel forsaken,
that we’re living as the prophet Isaiah says in a desolate land.

This is especially true this time of year in January,
with its grey skies and frigid temperatures.
We’ve just come out of the long holiday season.
The celebrating began at Thanksgiving
and lasted all through November and December.
And then suddenly life returns to normal.
The mail has turned from Christmas cards to credit card bills.
Now we’re back at work,
the kids are back in school, and so life continues.

It’s a bit of a let down,
this time of year called Ordinary Time.
It’s not meant to be humdrum, but that’s sometimes how we feel.
The word Ordinary itself simply comes from the word Ordinal
which means counted, it’s counted time,
we count the weeks of the Church year.
But maybe sometimes we feel instead
that we’re counting down the days to our next vacation.

And the culture around us doesn’t help, either.
Sometimes we feel abandoned by the culture,
abandoned by people who call us ignorant for our beliefs,
or who say that we’re outdated,
that the values we believe in are old-fashioned.
We’re “out of touch with reality.”

Sometimes this even happens on a national scale
when a group is mocked or persecuted.
Certainly the Jews during the Holocaust
must have felt abandoned,
like they were living in desolate times.
In today’s world Christian Syrians
and other Christians in the Middle East feel abandoned, forsaken.

And so in some way we can all relate to being abandoned,
of being left on our own,
like Rey or Luke Skywalker in Star Wars,
or Harry Potter, or Jane Eyre.

That’s why the Wedding Feast of Cana is so important today, right now.
For the rest of this year we will be reading from the gospel of Luke,
but before we get to Luke,
the Church chooses this reading from John’s Gospel
to help us transition from the Christmas season to Ordinary Time.

The Wedding feast of Cana reminds us
that we are not forsaken,
that we are not abandoned,
that we are not living in desolation.

This is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in John’s gospel.
At Christmas we celebrated Jesus’ birth,
last week we recalled Jesus’ baptism,
and now we have the beginning of his public ministry.

And so at the very beginning, at the outset,
we’re given a reminder
that though we may at times feel abandoned,
though we may at times feel left out,
this gospel tells us not to let that get us down,
not to let that overcome us.

Jesus is at a wedding with his mother,
and as one spiritual writer puts it,

We don’t know the couple was whose wedding Jesus celebrated.
Maybe that’s because it wasn’t just their wedding,
but the marriage between God and the people of God.
…Isaiah had dreamed about the day when
“as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride,
so shall your God rejoice in you.”
For John, Jesus is not just a guest at the wedding,
he is the bridegroom who has come to make a loving and lasting
commitment with God’s people.

And at this wedding in Cana,
the celebration is maybe beginning to die down,
just as in a marriage the excitement can die down,
the couple can settle into a routine,
the family can get in a rut.

At this wedding in Cana the wine is running out.
In our lives, it can feel like the wine is running out.

And it takes someone like Mary to recognize it.
It takes someone like Mary to point out that the wine is running out,
that the celebration is about to fall apart,
and that Jesus is the one who can bring it back to life.

And so Mary goes to Jesus
and then she goes to the servers and says,
“Do whatever he tells you to do.”
And Jesus changes the water into wine.

As we begin Ordinary Time it is good for us to hear
that as we continue in January and move into February,
Jesus turns the water of our lives into wine.

The story of Cana is all about newness:
new wine,
new grace,
new beginnings.

When we invite Jesus into our lives,
just as the couple invited him to their wedding,
then he takes the ordinary moments and fills them with grace.
Our getting up in the morning for breakfast,
our commute to work,
the daily grind,
are full of graces
now that Jesus has come into the world.

And just as Mary noticed that the wine was running out,
we can look at the world around us and notice the wine running out,
the celebration starting to die down,
the feelings of abandonment and desolation starting to grow.

It’s at those times most of all that we turn to Jesus
and tell him, “We have no wine.”
And then we listen to him, and we “Do whatever he tells us.”

This is why we have each been given the spiritual gifts we heard today
in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians
Some of us are asked to express wisdom,
some of us to heal.
We have all been given different gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Each of us are servants at the wedding
and Mary says to each one of us,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Just as the servants at the wedding assisted Jesus
in turning water into wine,
we are to place our spiritual gifts before Jesus
and assist him
in turning the water of our lives into the wine of salvation.

The prophecy of Isaiah has come true:

We are a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD,
a royal diadem held by our God.
No more shall people call us “Forsaken,” or our land “Desolate,”
but we shall be called “My Delight,” and our land “Espoused.”

When we feel abandoned and forsaken,
this scripture gives us new hope.
You know, that’s the title of the original Star Wars movie
with Luke Skywalker,
A New Hope.
And the new Star Wars movie is called The Force Awakens.

Today we are reminded that Jesus is the source of our real hope.
Jesus is our new hope each day and always.
And we see in today’s gospel what happens
when the real force awakens,
we see what happens when the Son of God begins his public ministry
and works the first of his miraculous signs.

That’s why we come here to celebrate the Eucharist.
We come to receive the consecrated wine, the Blood of Christ,
and the consecrated bread, the Body of Christ,
that transforms us week by week,
transforms the water of our lives into the wine of salvation
and banishes all feelings of abandonment and desolation.

My Favorite Reads of 2015

2015 was a down year for me in terms of number of books read. I had some academic responsibilities in the summer and early fall that took up time I would usually have spent reading. Because of that I missed hitting my reading goal of 40 books. Still, I read 23 books, and these are my top 5:

  1. The Three MusketeersThe Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas – This was a great re-read, and I hope at some point to read the sequels.
  2. In His Spirit by Richard Hauser, SJ – A spiritual must-read.
  3. Sober Intoxication of the Spirit by Raniero Cantalamessa – A fantastic exploration of the Charismatic Movement by the preacher to the Pope.
  4. Challenge by Mark Link, SJ – A daily meditation book that uses the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius for its structure. Highly recommended.
  5. Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian – The last book in the Aubrey/Maturin series is a worthy finale. This marks the second time I have read the series, and I can’t wait to read it again in a few years.

As 2016 begins, I have decided to read all of the books in Daniel Burt’s The Novel 100: A Ranking of the Greatest Novels of All Time. It’s a terrific list, and you can see all the books at The Greatest Books website.

I’m using the second edition in which he added twenty-five more, so there are actually 125 books on the list. I’m reading them from the bottom up, starting at number 125, and I’ve already started. I began with Treasure Island, moved on to The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Three Musketeers. I’d already read those three before, but they’re such great books it was a pleasure to read them again. I’ve finally gotten to a book I haven’t read before, Gone with the Windthough I’m certainly familiar with the story, having seen the movie multiple times.

Not One of Our Prayers Is Lost – Elisabeth Leseur on All Saints Day

From Elisabeth Leseur, Selected Writings, as quoted in today’s Give Us This Day:

Elisabeth LeseurThis is a lovely feast, the feast of those who already live in God, those whom we have loved and who have obtained happiness and light; it is the feast of eternity. And what a fine idea to make the feast of the dead follow so soon! During these two days a vast stream of prayer and love flows through the three worlds: between the church in heaven, the church one earth, and the church in which souls wait and atone. The communion of saints seems twice as close and fruitful. We feel that the dead and all those we love are close to us in God; and this living doctrine, by God’s grace, gives life to many on earth and in purgatory. Not one of our tears, not one of our prayers is lost; they have a power that many people never suspect. I want to spend this month in prayer, remembrance, thoughts of heaven, as well as in charity and peaceful, courageous activity.


What Are You Asking? – Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Truck Driver HitsWhen I was about eleven or twelve years old,
I was fascinated by the life of long-haul truckers.
I used to listen to songs by Red Sovine and Merle Haggard,
watch movies like Smokey and the Bandit,
and dream about living life on the road.
One year I asked my mom and dad for a CB radio for my birthday
so I could talk to all the truckers on the road from my room at home.
Their response was similar to Jesus’ answer to James and John:
“You do not know what you are asking.”
And it’s true. I had no idea what I was asking.

Have you ever asked for something
not realizing the full implications of your question?
Maybe when you were younger
you asked your parents if you could have a dog or a cat or a fish.
There was no way they could explain to you
just how much work it takes to care for an animal.

And there are those of us here who have popped a certain question.
What if when we asked “Will you marry me?”
the response we got was,
“You don’t know what you’re asking.”
But after all, how can a young couple possibly know
how their lives will be affected by that question?
Brenda and I have been married twenty-five years,
and we’re still finding that out.

When James and John ask Jesus to be seated in glory
on his right and left,
Jesus tells them, “You don’t know what you’re asking.”

What does Jesus mean by that?
On one level he means that they don’t know the full implications
of getting what they want.
They don’t yet fully realize what it means to be associated with Jesus.
After all, as spiritual writer Fr. Timothy Radcliffe puts it,
Jesus’ throne of glory is the cross,
and it’s two thieves that are destined to be on his left and on his right.
So Jesus tells them, “You don’t know what you’re asking,”
because they don’t see the full picture.

But on another level, there’s something else they don’t know.
There’s another meaning to Jesus’ question,
“You do not know what you are asking.”

They don’t realize why they’re asking the question.
In other words, they’re not aware of the question behind their question.
Why do they want seats of honor in the first place?

It’s easy for us to be hard on James and John
and see them as overambitious, self-serving and power-hungry,
but the reality is we all have the same temptation.

We all have a desire to be honored,
to be seen as important, to be publicly recognized.
That’s why there’s a baseball Hall of Fame,
why we hold award ceremonies,
why we name buildings after donors.

What is that desire?
Where does it come from?

Think about the last time you hungered for recognition,
either for yourself or for someone you care about.

What’s behind that?

Partly it comes from a need for meaning in our lives.
We want to believe that our lives count for something.
We want to know that our lives are worthwhile.

And so we look to honor and recognition to be validated.

I hear young people all the time talk about how much pressure they feel
to achieve at the highest levels.
They grow up thinking
that if they don’t make their mark in the world
through some grand gesture or accomplishment,
then they don’t matter.

And then when we reach mid-life
we look at where we are and where we’ve been
and we wonder if we’ve done anything important with our lives.
And even if we’ve received awards or recognition or financial success,
it still doesn’t feel enough.

We are all a bit like James and John,
wanting a seat of honor at the banquet.
It’s true even of the other ten apostles.
The gospel tells us they were “indignant” at James and John.
Because they beat them to the punch!
James and John got to Jesus first.
The other ten start to complain and so Jesus intervenes.

“You wish to be great?” he asks.
“You wish to be first?”
“You wish to sit in honor at the table?”

“You’re don’t know what you’re asking.”
It’s as if he’s saying
“What you really want is to be accepted,
to know that you matter, to be loved.”

That’s all any of us really want.
From the richest CEO to the homeless veteran, we all seek acceptance.
There are other things wrapped up in it, like power and control,
but at the end of the day it all boils down to wanting to be loved.

And so what message does Jesus have for those of us seeking
the place of honor at the banquet?
If you want to be great, he says,
if you want to be first,
then do not seek to be the guest of honor at the banquet,
do not even seek to dine at the banquet.
Rather, seek to be the waiter or waitress.

“Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

That is Jesus’ response to us
when we seek to be honored or recognized.

Being the servant involves an entirely different set of questions.
Instead of asking “Can we sit on your right or on your left,
the servant asks questions like,
“How can I help you?”
“Are you comfortable?”
“Do you need anything else?”

Look at Jesus’ first words in today’s gospel:
“What do you wish me to do for you?”
To be a follower of Jesus means to be a servant.
It means to wait on tables.

The true disciple of Jesus recognizes
that he or she is already important,
that they already matter
by virtue of their creation by God.
All of us are already as important as we ever need to be.
We don’t have to sit in the place of honor at the banquet table,
we don’t have to be recognized in front of thousands of people.
We are already as important as we ever need to be.

This is what we mean
when we say that we believe that all human life is sacred,
from the pre-born infant to the elderly person suffering from Alzheimer’s.
It’s not what we do that gives our lives value,
but rather that we are made in God’s image.

The follower of Jesus recognizes their own worth and the worth of others.
And it’s by serving others that we acknowledge their dignity
and remind them of their value.
“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”

When we serve others, we validate their intrinsic worth,
we affirm their dignity.

And so there are two meanings to Jesus’ statement,
“You do not know what you are asking.”
And with each of those meanings is a challenge.
First, we are challenged to understand the implications
of being a true disciple.
We are challenged to move from seeking an honored place at the table
to being waiters and waitresses at the table,
to be servants.

And second, when Jesus asks us “What do you wish me to do for you?”
we are challenged to look at what lies beneath our desires
and to really know what we are asking for.

This last challenge was driven home to me this week
through a meditation I prayed with the other All Saints teachers.
Each morning before the students enter the building,
we teachers gather for prayer—both here at the primary building
and also at the middle building.

This year we’re using a book of meditations called Challenge,
organized and compiled by Jesuit priest Fr. Mark Link
and based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

I would like to conclude by sharing with you the reflection
we prayed a few days ago.
This was found written on a piece of paper
in the pocket of a dead Confederate soldier.

“I asked for health
that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity,
that I might do better things…
I asked for riches,
that I might be happy;
I was given poverty,
that I might be wise…
I asked for power,
that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness,
that I might feel the need of God…
I got nothing I asked for,
but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself,
my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.”