Stretch Forth Your Hand – Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Aged Hands

If you’ve ever looked at the hands of your grandmother or grandfather,
Or at the hands of an elderly friend,
Then you’ve had a glimpse of their life story.

Each pair of hands has a story to tell,
And the older we get, the more our hands have to say.
Some hands are scarred or spotted.
Others are twisted and gnarled with arthritis.
A hand can have callouses or be as smooth as lotion.

The fingers, too, tell a tale about our lives.
Some of us have long fingernails decorated with bright polish and fancy designs.
Some nails are nervously chewed down.
Our fingers might be covered with a band-aid or circled by a wedding ring.

Whether they’re spotted with age or smooth as silk,
No two hands are alike.
Each hand in the world has its own unique creases and landmarks.
No two fingers have the same fingerprints.

Written on our hands is the story of our lives and the choices we have made.

The readings today speak to us of the choices that lie in our own two hands.

The book of Sirach tells us God has set before us fire and water.
To whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Life or death.
Good or evil.
Water of Life or
Fiery Gehenna.
The choice is in our hands.

In the gospel Jesus tells us that we have the choice to break the commandments or to obey the commandments.
The choice is in our hands.

We make the choice in our hearts, and our hands make it happen.

What do our hands tell us about the choices we have made?
What story do they tell?

These are the hands that reached out to Mom and Dad while we were just learning how to walk.
These are the hands we would fold in prayer as we knelt by our bed before sleep.
These hands were pressed tightly together as we walked up the aisle to make our first communion,
And they held the bouquet as we walked up the aisle when we were married.

These hands play video games and swing baseball bats.
They tap on tablet screens and type up term papers.
They make the winning free throw or putt for birdie.
They throw a Hail Mary pass or make an interception.
These hands tickle the keys of a piano, rattle off a drum solo, or strum the strings of a guitar.

These are the hands that tuck the children into bed at night,
And these are the thumbs that text them
To make sure they got to their friend’s house safely.

Water or Fire? Life or Death? To whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.

Hands can pick pockets, spray graffiti on a wall, or throw a rock at a window.
A closed hand held high can strike fear into children or classmates.
An open hand can slap or spank in anger.

A hand can pull the lever of a slot machine or toss in more poker chips.
A hand can hold a beer can or a wine glass.
It can be stained with nicotine.
A hand can inject a needle
Or move a computer mouse and click on images that can destroy a marriage.
The palms of our hands can cover a face that is too ashamed to be seen
Or too sad to smile.

But hands pressed firmly together can pump a stopped heart to save a life.
And we can hold hands when we walk on the beach,
Or when one of us is dying in a hospital bed.

Our hands can hook up jumper cables when a car won’t start,
And they can leave a tip at a restaurant.
They can hold a video camera during a pageant or a play or a ball game.
They can serve a meal to the homeless,
Or be placed simply on a shoulder for comfort.

When these hands carry a gift to the altar, and we recall that a brother or sister has something against us,
Those hands can leave the gift there
Drive us to our brother or sister
And reach out to them in apology and forgiveness.

God sets before us fire and water,
And it is up to us to decide to which we will stretch out our hands.

We each have a choice to make.

And the actions of the hands reveal the choices of the heart.
We may intend to do good, and we may know the right thing to do.
But no matter what we intend to do,
We discover what we truly choose
By the story we read in our hands.

Our hands express our choices, our decisions. They tell the story of our lives.

God’s hands tell a story too.
We can see the workings of God’s heart by looking at those hands:
The hands that smeared spit and mud and cured a man’s blindness.
The hands that touched the leper and made him clean.
The hands that drew Lazarus forth from the grave.
The hands that broke bread, blessed it, and gave it to his disciples.
The hands that washed their feet.
The hands outstretched on the cross.

With his hands, Jesus freely embraced the will of the Father;
He chose Life over death.
Good over evil.
Relationship over rebellion.
And his wounded hands tell the story.

Like Jesus, we are free to decide.

God does not tie our hands.
He sets before us life and death,
And lets us choose.

God will never use violence to force our hand.
God is persuasive, assertive, and direct.
But never tyrannical.

There are no handcuffs in heaven.

We can choose to break commandments or to break bread,
To build up or tear down.

We gather here as a community to renew our decision to choose the Water of Life and reject the Fiery Gehenna.

In a little while we will extend our hands in the sign of peace, and offer the story of our lives to our neighbors.
No matter what our hands say about the choices we have made in the past,
Today we offer our lives to each other in peace
And recommit ourselves to choosing life.

And then we will approach this altar and stretch out our hands to accept the Body and Blood of Christ from the Hands of the minister of the Eucharist.
Our hands will receive the one who holds us in His hands,
And once again our stories will become the One Story.

And we will know it as well as we know the back of our hands.

An Epitaph All Readers Can Relate To

Benjamin Franklin

There have been few people as wise, eloquent, and humorous as Benjamin Franklin. Evidence: the epitaph he wrote for himself when he was but a young printer in 1729 (Alas, it was not, in the end, used on his gravestone.):

The Body
of
Benjamin Franklin, Printer
(Like the cover of an old book,
Its contents torn out
And stript of its lettering and gilding,)
Lies food for worms:
Yet the work itself shall not be lost,
For it will (as he believed) appear once more
In a new
And more beautiful edition,
Corrected and amended
by
The Author.

As quoted in A Passion for Books, edited by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan

When St. Francis of Assisi Returned from Rome: A Poem

Markó, Károly - Italian Landscapes at Sunset, Fishermen

I don’t read nearly as much poetry as I’d like to, but I recently read this lovely poem by St. Francis of Assisi and wanted to share it:

When I Returned from Rome

A
bird took flight.
And a flower in a field whistled at me
as I passed.

I drank
from a stream of clear water.
And at night the sky untied her hair and I fell asleep
clutching a tress
of God’s.

When I returned from Rome, all said
“Tell us the great news,”

and with great excitement, I did: “A flower in a field whistled,
and at night the sky untied her hair and
I fell asleep clutching a
sacred tress …”

From Love Poems from God, by Daniel Ladinsky