Homilies,  Sunday,  Year B

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

It is often lamented today that the rites of initiation into adulthood have been lost. We no longer have those rituals which mark the passage from childhood or adolescence into maturity. Until recently, one of the principal rites of passage for young people today may have been overseas travel. With few resources they headed off to distant places where for six months, twelve months or more, they move from country to country, culture to culture, working and touring. Often enough they return home then with a new sense of identity and ready for a commitment to work, or study, or relationship that they could not muster beforehand. It has become a time of passage. 

All of us, however, experience periods of life which are about transition. And this period of transition is like a journey for us. We are called to let go of previous ways of doing things or understanding things. We know we must now face the future without the supports of the past: we go forward without purse, haversack, or sandals. These are times of doubt, of insecurity. Surely, we are in such a moment in our history now. Even the fragile confidence that the worst of the pandemic was behind us has evaporated with the onset of a new lockdown. We have set out again on a new sea of uncertainty; our plans are in confusion; we are not quite sure what is going to happen.

The journey of transition into which we are led can also come in times of sickness, or through the death of someone close to us. These journeys come to us through redundancy or through failure of one kind of another. These are all times of passage for us. And yet, as periods of transition they can be times of transformation if we engage them with deeply listening heart, a welcoming heart, a hospitable heart. They can become times when we recognise what is truly important to us, and what we only thought to be so. They purify us and reshape us.  As Doris Lessing accounts for one of her characters in The Golden Notebook:

“Anna knew she had to cross the desert. Over it, on the far side, were mountains – purple and orange and grey. The colours of the dream were extraordinarily beautiful and vivid … The dream marked a change in Anna, in her knowledge of herself. In the desert she was alone, and there was no water, and she was a long way from the springs. She woke knowing that if she was to cross the desert she must shed burdens.”[1]

The Australian essayist, Robert Dessaix once remarked, in our life we can be either tourists or travellers.1 A tourist is someone who has everything packaged, and everything follows a pre-determined plan. And because everything has been decided prior to the trip, there is no room for the unexpected, for surprise. A traveller, on the other hand, is open to the unexpected, and finds in the unscheduled the greatest significance. As we writes,

“. . . it means letting go your sense of panic that whatever it is you’ve embarked on must follow a prescribed course adding up to something. It means taking whatever happens to you – a passing cat, the Mona Lisa, knocking over the teapot – and letting it tell you a story. It means letting time crumple, being in a dozen places at once and doing what you love doing most . . . 

Whether you travel or whether you tour is, I suspect, all a matter of your attitude to time. . . Everything depends on your answer to the question, What does it mean not to waste time? 

The tourist cannot waste time for everything has to occur as planned; the traveller can surrender plans and allow the unexpected to take them in a surprising direction. The tourist knows the destination and its time before setting out; the traveller might know the destination but is not committed to the route by which to arrive there.”[2]

But the Gospel today goes further. Not only takes it call us to be travellers rather than tourists; it calls us to a readiness to discover in the unexpected a chance to say something of the good news of our discipleship of Christ. We are to do this, as we go along, “not with grand words or complicated concepts but with the ‘joy of the Gospel’ as Pope Francis has reminded us.

“And how beautiful it would be if all could admire how much we care for one another, how we encourage and help each other. Giving of ourselves establishes an interpersonal relationship; we do not give ‘things’ but our very selves. Any act of giving means that we give ourselves. ‘Giving of oneself” means letting all the power of that love which is God’s Holy Spirit take root in our lives, opening our hearts to his creative power. And giving of oneself even in the most difficult moments as on that Holy Thursday of the Lord when he perceived how they weaved a plot to betray him; but he gave himself, he gave himself for us . . . When we give of ourselves, we discover our true identity as . . . givers of life; we discover that we are brothers and sisters of Jesus, to whom we bear witness. This is what it means to evangelise; this is the new revolution – for our faith is always revolutionary . . .”[3]

But perhaps only the traveller, rather than the tourist, can truly understand this. Through these difficult weeks that lie ahead, let us be travellers, and let us be revolutionaries. 

[1] Cited in Robyn Davidson, Tracks (London: Picador, 1980) i.

[2] See Robert Dessaix, “(and so forth)”, (Sydney: Macmillan Publishers, 1998), 140, 148. 

[3] See Pope Francis, Homily for Mass in Bicentennial Park, Quito, Ecuador 9 July 2015.

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