Homilies,  Year A

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the anxiety with which we are living at this time, our uncertainty can easily translate into despondency. We see video clips of large sporting events, gatherings of people socializing and enjoying life, rallies of one kind or another, and we wonder when we will ever experience these opportunities again. Our Year 12 students are being denied the many rituals that mark the end of their school years. We feel the constraint of not being able to be with our families and friends who are interstate or overseas, especially at times of sickness and death. We are acknowledging that our experience of the pandemic will not be over any time soon. Despondency is inevitable. Despondency, however, can translate into disillusionment. Our sense of loss, of grief, can easily form into a type of resentment, of bitterness. Sadly, then, the outcome is a closed heart.

How are we to live with open hearts even as we acknowledge our despondency?  

One of the most radical truths we will learn in life is that which is expressed by the Australian novelist, Patrick White, “The mystery of life is not solved by success, which is an end in itself, but in failure, in perpetual struggle, in becoming.[1] We can spend our whole life learning the meaning of this.  It confuses us given that it is the opposite of what we want.  It is the antithesis of the culture in which we have been immersed and which seduces us in subtle ways so that we become despondent because we find we are not as free as we think, not as in control as we want to be.

Yet, as life’s deepest commentary, the Gospel teaches us a counter-cultural truth.  Something becomes possible in the very shattering of our hopes, in the experience of disillusionment.  As the Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh put it starkly,

“And three sad people had found the key to the lock

Of God’s delight in disillusionment.”[2]

How can God have a delight in our disillusionment?  It can only be if the experience of disillusionment opens up for us a possibility about life that we may not have otherwise.  The Australian artist, Michael Leunig expresses it in this way:

When the heart

Is cut or cracked or broken

Do not clutch it

Let the wound lie open

Let the wind 

From the good old sea blow in

To bathe the wound with salt

And let it sting

Let a stray dog lick it

Let a bird lean in the hole and sing

A simple song like a tiny bell

And let it ring.[3]

It is the possibility to which we are invited by the scene given us in the gospel of this Sunday. The German writer, Jurgen Moltmann highlights Peter wants what we all want. We naturally love strength, power, and success.  We want to achieve.  We want to be immune from suffering, frustration and contempt. The figure of Peter in today’s gospel personifies this attitude deep within each of us that want at all costs to avoid suffering, to be spared the pain of disillusionment.  As Moltmann describes the scene, “There is the man fighting his way up who want his goals and ideals to be impassable, powerful, victorious, promising success.  [But before him] is the suffering, swooning, and crucified God who loves his people truly as they are, uncertain, mortal, at each other’s mercy.”[4]  As Moltmann observes, it is the encounter between the man who wants to be god, and the God who is man.  

Jesus calls his disciples to follow him not as someone who is successful, powerful, but as someone who is weak and vulnerable.  This totally confuses the first disciples of Jesus, and it continues to confuse us as disciples now.  Jesus is not calling us to go through life suffering.  We are not those who look for suffering.  However, he invites us to be those who do not seek to anaesthetize ourselves from the inevitability of suffering in life.  Our discipleship of the One who will be crucified invites us to engage the unavoidable suffering in our journey in such a way that we might recognize, through our suffering, that in the end we need one another, that we cannot go it alone. It is in our openness to one another in our vulnerability rather than in our strength that renders us most deeply human and provides us with our deepest source of happiness. To follow the One who is fully open to the reality of suffering means that the Christian disciple finds life’s deepest meaning and truth not along the avenue of success but rather along the road of a brokenness that is shared with others, and when our vulnerability is transformed into a hospitality for others.

In every hurt in our life is an invitation to see life in a new, in a deeper, way. In the depth of our hurt, however it presents itself, we learn the most important thing we will learn in our life:  happiness comes to us when we share our weaknesses, and our hurts. This is the invitation of the Gospel to us in the face of our despondency – to stay present to it long enough to perceive what may be the invitation to a new way of living, to a new perspective on life.

[1] Patrick White, Voss (1957), chapter 10.

[2] Patrick Kavanagh, Lough Dorg (1947).

[3] Michael Leunig, Prayer Tree (Melbourne: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1990)

[4] Jurgen Moltmann and Johannes Metz, Meditations on the Passion, (New York: Paulist Press, 1979)

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