As you know, I was away this past weekend and Pastor Dick Dahl graciously covered for me–here is his homily–enjoy! Thanks Dick!
The first two Readings today provide powerful images for this homily.
The reading from Isaiah presents Yahweh God saying: “For as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and do not return before having watered the earth, fertilizing it and making it germinate to provide seed for the sower and food to eat, so it is with the word that goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me unfulfilled or before…having achieved what it was meant to do.”
Then Paul in his letter to the Romans, describes the whole universe groaning with severe labor pains as the Word of God is in the process of “achieving what it was sent to do.”
Quantum theology also gives us a new insight into this “whole universe.” It reveals that the gigantic cosmos, like a hologram, is mirrored in each smallest part of reality. Similarly we too, small as we are and seemingly insignificant, are part of the universal process in which God’s Word is “achieving what it was meant to do.” And, as in the quantum world, to quote Fr. Richard Rohr, “If we let the mystery happen in one small and true place, it moves from there! It is contagious, it is shareable, it reshapes the world”
Part of the slow and agonizing labor pains our part of the universe is going through is coming to deal with people who see things differently from us. This challenge presents itself to us in politics, religion, culture, and other differences. The tendency is not only to dislike their views, but to dislike them—in extreme cases to view them as evil.
In her thoughts about non-violence, Sr. Joan Chittister writes, “Nonviolent resistance is committed to making friends out of enemies. Nonviolent resistance condemns systems, ideas or policies that oppress, but never launches personal attacks against individuals who are agents of the system itself. Nonviolent resistance refuses to sow hate for the enemy.”
Father Rohr advises, “Don’t waste any time dividing the world into the good guys and the bad guys. Hold them together in your own soul—where they are anyway—and you will have held together the whole world. You will have overcome the great divide in one place of spacious compassion. You, little you, will have paid the price of redemption. God takes it from there, replicating the same pattern in another conscious human life.”
I’ve read, for example, that during former president Jimmy Carter’s audacious effort to bring about reconciliation and a peace agreement between representatives of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the effort appeared to be ending in failure after days of difficult negotiation. The night before the unreconciled participants planned to depart, President Carter brought eight photographs of the eight children of the dissenting Israeli holdout. Carter had written a personal message to each of the eight children. This act of personal kindness led the Israeli leader to soften his resistance and the peace agreement was eventually achieved.
One of the core principles of Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation is, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” As Jesus explained about the parable of the sower of the seed, “The seed sown in rich soil is someone who hears the word and understands it; this is one who yields a harvest.”
The remainder of this homily follows the framework of the three Readings. It is about understanding the Word of God that has come among us and “will not return until it has achieved its purpose.”
Again I find Richard Rohr helpful in finding a way to proceed. He writes that abstract ideology will not get us very far, and much common religion is ideology rather than real encounter with Presence. When religion becomes mere ideology (or even mere theology), one’s spirit withers. As Pope Francis says, people all over the world are rejecting this top-down form of religion—and they should because this is not the path of Christ himself.
Father Rohr explains that most religious searches begin with one massive misperception. People tend to start by making a very unfortunate, yet understandable, division between the sacred and the profane worlds. Early stage religion focuses on identifying sacred places, sacred time, and seemingly sacred actions that then leave the overwhelming majority of life unsacred. People are told to look for God in certain special places and in particular events—usually, it seems, ones controlled by the clergy. Early stage religion has limited the search for God to a very small field and thus it is largely ineffective—unless people keep seeing and knowing at larger and deeper levels.
In Franciscan (and true Christian) mysticism, there is finally no distinction between sacred and profane. The whole universe and all events are sacred, serving as doorways to the divine for those who know how to see. In other words, everything that happens is potentially sacred if we allow it to be. Our job as humans is to make the admiration of reality and the adoration of God fully conscious and intentional. Then everything is a prayer and an act of adoration.
For those who have learned how to see fully, everything—absolutely everything—is “spiritual.” This eventually and ironically leads to what the Lutheran mystic Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) called “religion-less Christianity.” Bonhoeffer saw that many people were moving away from the scaffolding of religion to the underlying and deeper Christian experience itself.
Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything and everywhere becomes an occasion for good and an encounter with God.
Yes the universe is groaning in seemingly unbearable labor pain, but God’s plan is so perfect that even sin, tragedy, and painful deaths are used to bring us to divine union, just as the cross was meant to reveal. God wisely makes the problem itself part of the solution. This is what is happening now while the Word of God is achieving its purpose. It is all a matter of learning how to see rightly, fully, and, as Jesus says, with “understanding.”