This is the text of my first Homily.
Mass of Thanksgiving, June 01, 2008.
Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deut 11:18, 26-28, 32 Romans 3:21-25, 28 Matthew 7:21-27
Deacon Gregory Burch
I once had occasion to spend a day walking about an Island off the New England coast. On that day full of the subtle smell of beach plum riding salt air we came upon a grand old light house, perched high on the edge of a shorn cliff. For generations this lighthouse had cast a protective beacon upon the waters of the sound. Over time the erosive power of the wind and rain and steel gray seas that churned and attacked the shore, had undercut the high cliff leaving the lighthouse in risk of ruin.
The islanders faced a hard choice. They recognized the lighthouse’s beauty, its necessity, its link with each of them. So, to watch the tower wrench the landscape and topple into the sea, or, to work to save it? And many islanders, compelled by some internal calling, chose the path of saving over ruin.
With great sacrifice the crumbling earth, beneath the tower, was replaced and supported with a solid frame work of hardened timber. Then, ever so slowly, that great beacon was inched away from the perilous precipice to a sure footing of safety.
Today’s readings are also all about choices. About our internal calling to choose.
We have listened to Moses. Never one to mince words Moses presents to us a world, and the choices we must make, in stark contrast. To choose between a blessing or a curse. Accept God’s word, covenant with Him, be grounded in faith, or … be cursed, separated and alone. Yes or no. Black and white.
But aren’t our lives more apt to be filled with many shades of gray? Seldom do we face a great, unambiguous, choice between totally accepting God, or rejecting His precepts. Rather, we are constantly faced with many small, seemingly inconsequential, choices. Things we may discount and wave away. It is the little things that day by day threaten to erode us and we start to slip into a lonely sea.
It’s the little things that erode us.
When have I said something hurtful that best remained un-said?
How often have I chosen silence when it was time to speak out?
Have I chosen inaction when my support, my love, was most needed?
Have I squandered a relationship, with a friend or family member, for pride or envy?
Isn’t it sometimes easier to shade the truth?
Oh, and the rain fell. And the wind blew. And the waters rose. Left to our own devices we often whip up the wind and struggle against a tide of our own making.
Today I have mounted these steps to address you for the first time. I stand here in awe, in great humility and with unbounded thanksgiving. I marvel at the unseen hands that have guided me here, that have built, with great sacrifice, a timber framework of time-seasoned wood, to shore me up when the bottom slips away. I know, only to well, how easy it is to shade the truth, to choose self before others. And sometimes I did not even know that I was making a choice.
Yet as the foundation fell from below the tottering edifice that I called my self, and the sands of my misshapen beliefs were carried off by the wind, unseen hands embraced me. And what I once thought was made of concrete, became mud and washed away. And what I found left in place to support my whole being was a frame-work of ancient wood, the wood of the cross.
How is it possible that I can be here before you wearing a Deacon’s stole, or that any of you are here, worshiping before God, for all of our poorly conceived choices? Because we do not have a God of retribution but a God of reconciliation. A God of Love. We are being called to make the choice of true discipleship. Not because the laws are written on a pair of stone tablets, but because it is inscribed on our hearts.
The same symbols we have used to describe our self-erosive choices are matched, in kind but greater in force, by the healing action of God in the world. When the tears of our hurt threaten to wash away a gully below we remember the waters of the flood that purified the earth and we are healed by the flowing font that springs from our baptism. When the harsh winds of life chills our hearts we are warmed by the breath of wisdom, the Holy Spirit that rippled the waters of creation.
As I gaze upon you I have one more image. You are the fine people of the island. This Catholic Church is our lighthouse and Christ the beacon that shines upon the waters of the sound. A man-made tempest is pounding at the footings. But you have come together as a community, working shoulder to shoulder, and have embraced Holy Family Parish and secured it firmly upon the wood of the cross. Each of you, responding to an inner calling, has chosen to be here, today.
Jesus always lays before us choice, but nuanced, subtle and made deeper by His presence. When all is washed away, when we have shed those false cements with which we paste our selves together, we discover that it is the cross upon which we stand.
Soon we will gather around this banquet table and be nurtured by the gifts prepared for you and me. As we mingle our selves with Him, through the mystery of his body and blood, as we taste of eternity, may we come to realize that Christ resides in our every choice.