Friday, August 21, 2015

Choose. A homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time.

"Sugus" by aTarom
I wrote this homily for the collection Sick, and You Cared For Me (part of the Homilists for the Homeless series - all the profits go to aid the poor), which was published last fall.  We called the candies, "eggman candy" because we called the farmer who brought the egg the eggman.  He always kept a few of these Swiss sweets tucked into his basket.

It's not the big choices that confound me, but the little ones.  The choices I sometimes don't even realize are choices until I reach the examen at the end of the day.

This is a homily I wish I could preach aloud.

“Choose,” urges my mother, as I peer into the basket the farmer set down in our dim front hallway. The pale grey cartons of eggs are stacked on one side, a sharp contrast to the brightly colored candy on the other. I clutch a nickel in my small hand; do I want purple or red? Is there no green apple? Candy was an infrequent treat in my rural childhood, making it so hard for me to choose.

Forty-some years later I’m sitting in a sun-drenched office overlooking the Atlantic, clutching a cup of tea, listening to my director explain the next step in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the Meditation on Two Standards. “It will be here to see a great plain, comprising the whole region about Jerusalem, where the sovereign Commander-in-Chief of all the good is Christ our Lord,” says Ignatius, “and another plain about the region of Babylon, where the chief of the enemy is Lucifer.” Lucifer sits on a thrown of fire and smoke; Jesus stands in a lowly place. Their standards are flying; the battle lines are drawn. Choose.

For anyone drawn to spend four weeks walking with Christ through the Spiritual Exercises, the bare choice itself isn’t hard. It’s already been made. As Joshua proclaims in the first reading, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Or is it? Many of the disciples walking with Jesus in John’s Gospel complained that the choice was tough, sklērós it says in the Greek, as something dried up and hard to chew on. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you,” Jesus has said to them just before this Gospel opens. Words that scandalized them, words that shook their faith, words that were hard to swallow.

To choose to stand with Christ is a choice that leads to things we are not sure we want to eat, cups we are not sure we can drink. “If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them,” says C.S. Lewis. “Eat my flesh,” says Jesus, “that I might abide in you, and you in me.” Choose.

Ignatius invites us to look closely at the camps, to see what we are getting into when we eat of the flesh and drink of the blood of God’s Holy One. To choose to carry Christ’s standard, says Ignatius, is to welcome poverty — spiritual poverty and perhaps even material poverty. To choose Christ is to prefer rejection over worldly honors. To choose Christ is to elect to stand with the foolish and the useless, to joyfully embrace humility for the sake of the Gospel. Choose. It could be tough.

The difficulty in choosing, for me, lies not in my intention, but in noticing the choices before me in the midst of my daily life. Choices rarely present themselves cleanly, with bright flags flying to identify the camps, and the lines of battle so clearly drawn. Instead it is a man facing me on the sidewalk, asking for something to eat. Choose. It is the mentally ill woman who wants a ride home from church. Choose.

Ignatius hoped this meditation would give those who made it a concrete understanding of what is fundamentally driving their choices, in our hearts as well as our heads. Can I recognize what is stirring me up in each situation? Is it greed? Is it fear? Or is it Love?

Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the former Superior General of the Society of Jesus said, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning…what you read…whom you know…Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” Where else would we go, Lord?

The Twelve remained with Jesus, not for power, nor out of fear, not because it was a rational decision, but because Who they fell in with was Love. And what we love, decides everything.

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