Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time Ss Peter and Paul Church
17 October 2021
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On Friday night, all of the priests from Peter and Paul had dinner together and then went to the Joliet Catholic vs Benet football game. It was a divided house, a time of tested loyalties. Fr. Michael was our host, and went in his Benet swag. Fr. McGeean is a tried-and-true Providence fan, so he sided with Benet so Michael wouldn’t feel too lonely. Fr. Brad is a proud graduate of Joliet Catholic, and I spent the last three years living in Joliet and had a lot of friends at the game, so naturally the two of us sat ourselves right in the middle of the Benet parents’ section in our brown JCA hats.
Going in to the game, JCA was 7-0 on the season, and – as you may know – Benet was nowhere near that. Joliet Catholic’s team is much larger physically and has a reputation for playing rough. I admit I thought it would be a boring, open-and-shut game.
The long story short is that it was a very exciting game! Benet scored first and each team held the lead two or three times throughout the game before JCA ended up pulling ahead in a couple of plays that were like something right out of Swan Lake…smooth and choreographed; almost beautiful. Ultimately JCA won 42-20 and a great night was had by all. Or at least by Fr. Brad and myself.
It was fascinating to watch the energy fluctuate from one side of the stadium to the other. One moment, it was like Christmas Day on the Benet side and then it was sad; while it was sad on the Benet side, the JCA side was erupting in cheers. The Benet would score and – in true Joliet fashion – you could hear words and phrases not suitable for church.
We’ve been in situations like this: one moment everything is positive, and then next moment something comes along and takes it all away. Then, in a flash, things are fine again. For the long weekend last week I went on a retreat with some teachers from Chesterton, which I was so excited about. We arrived after dark, and within the first 30 minutes I had dropped my phone in the lake. The flashlight was on, and watching the light sink into the distance was like watching Jack from Titanic sink slowly from the door. All hope was lost.
Eventually I psyched myself up enough to jump in and get it, and thankfully one of my friends had a burst of charity and jumped in to get it for me. When he pulled it out after being down there for 5 minutes or more, it worked perfectly fine!
It all begs the question: is reality inherently positive or negative? Or does it depend? Today I want to tell you that reality is positive!
All of us feel the shock of this statement, because we instantly react with the question, is it really true that reality is positive? This is an arduous challenge for us, because we, too, like the ancient Manichaeans, believe that there is a good reality and an evil one. We are immersed in a situation that clouds us, so that we cannot look at reality clearly. We feel shocked by the claim contained in this judgment that reality is positive, to the extent that it clashes with our mentality.
With this judgment about the positivity of reality, we are not offering something that valid only for Catholics, as if to say that “for us” reality is positive, because the companionship, our being together, “convinces” us to think like this, to console ourselves like this. Our claim is that we are dealing with a piece of evidence that everyone can recognize.
Reality can be perceived as positive because it is positive. We are not talking about “baptizing” reality starting from a religious preconception, a “pious” vision, but about recognizing it in its ultimate nature. Reality is ontologically positive. Why? Reality is positive it exists. Everything that exists is there because the Mystery permitted it to happen (everything, in fact, has an origin in a mysterious Something; nothing makes itself); it provokes and sets the person in motion, it represents an invitation to change, an occasion to take a step toward one’s own destiny. Every circumstance is the path and the instrument of our journey – it is a sign.
A crisis becomes a disaster only when we respond to it with preformed judgments. Such an attitude not only sharpens the crisis but makes us forfeit the experience of reality and the opportunity or reflection it provides.”1 (Disarming Beauty, Carrón)
No more homilies about COVID and politics. It’s true that we do face a real cultural battle in these days, on so many fronts. The nuts and bolts of this crisis can be discussed and bemoaned another time. In the midst of all my concern about the talking heads on TV; about all the armchair doctors, theologians, and sociologists; in the midst of all the hysteria about this and about that, and in the midst of so many people in panic mode who’ve lost their inner peace…
In the midst of this there has been a group of people that’s been largely ignored, largely unseen. There are those among us who know that reality is irreducibly positive, and who – because of a very mature faith – accept the challenge of reality and take seriously the questions posed by our current crisis.
How many witnesses there are of people for whom difficulties became occasions for change! For so many people, situations of suffering have made possible their liberation from a dull life; so many unexpected and surprising fruits have been born from pain that was accepted or defeats through which they let themselves be called in question! How many witnesses there are of people who, because of the change and the intensity that they experienced, are grateful for what happened to them, though they would never have wished for it to happen.
By saying that, despite everything, reality remains positive and that it is good to experience in a positive way everything that is given to us does not mean we embrace the difficult moments of life – of loss, separation, death, disease, economic hardship – with a forced smile and a “shake it
1 Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future (New York: Viking Press, 1968), 174-175.
off” attitude; when we say that reality is positive, we don’t mean it in a pious, sentimental, or moralistic way as if we were saying that every dimension of life is “desirable and pleasant.”
Usually what we experience is the exact opposite – “all it takes is the appearance of an inconvenience on the horizon of daily life to cast doubt” on positivity of reality. We see it all the time in our lives – my heart sank when my phone fell in the lake, and those poor Joliet Catholic fans were losing faith very quickly. As soon as something doesn’t go the way we want it to, “we waver…Reality goes from being a sign [of optimism] to being a tomb in which we all, many times, suffocate.”
What is the ultimate reason we can say that reality – no matter the circumstance – is positive? We heard in the second reading. We have a high priest – Jesus, the Son of God – who has passed through heavens; incarnate, made into flesh; from heaven to earth. Not only this, but when he was among us, he did not spare himself a single human hardship with the exception of sin; he entered into every suffering that we can experience, and because of this remains present with us in our sufferings; and simply because he is present within our circumstances, we can say that reality is positive.
Christ did not promise to spare us anything, but to make us capable of facing anything – which is very different – and to accompany us to victory… Christ did not become incarnate to spare us the work of our reason, our freedom, our engagement, but to make it possible – because this is what makes us become human beings, what makes us live life like a fascinating adventure, even in the midst of all its difficulties, even and above all in times of crisis, when everything becomes a question of life and death. Christ became our companion in order to reawaken all of the potential of reason to recognize reality, so we lose neither our heads nor our souls. (Carrón)
Let us beg him, as the Apostles did in the gospel today: “Jesus, take us with you to the Father! Give us a place with you!”
When he asks us, “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” We can say to him with confidence, “we can!” Because you, Jesus, have become like us and showed us that it’s possible to live life’s difficulties – and to do it without sin -; because you, Jesus, have lived my life and died my death so that I might live with you in glory; because you, Jesus, have not spared me the difficulties and trials of this life but instead have redeemed those trials and difficulties so that they might the means by which I am changed and brought closer to your freedom? Because of this, I can drink the cup! I don’t care what’s in it, I don’t care how it tastes, I don’t care what it costs because in the end it will be you, Jesus, that I receive.
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! Truly, truly blessed are those who are called to his supper.
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