Homilies,  Sunday,  Year B

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021

A very happy Father’s Day to all our fathers, grandfathers, and mentors! We pray that this day be one of blessing for each of you, and that you grow in your amazement of your God-given vocation to truly encourage the life of another. 

The populist American writer, Robert Fulgham once told of a story of Frank Marshall, an international chess player. During a competition many years ago, Fulgham relates the incident in which Marshall made what is often called the most beautiful move ever made on a chessboard. In a crucial game in which he was evenly matched with a Russian master player, Marshall found his queen under serious attack.  There were several avenues of escape, and since the queen is the most important offensive player, spectators assumed Marshall would observe convention and move his queen to safety.  Deep in thought, Marshall used all the time available to him to consider the board options.  He picked up his queen – and paused – and then placed it down on the most illogical square of all – a square from which the queen could be captured by any one of three hostile pieces. Marshall had sacrificed the queen – an unthinkable move to be made only in the most desperate of circumstances.  The spectators were dismayed. Then Marshall’s opponent and the crowd realised that Marshall had actually made a brilliant move.  It was clear that no matter how the queen was taken his opponent would soon be in a losing position. Seeing the inevitable defeat the Russian conceded the game.  Fulgham draws the lesson from the story:  “To me it’s not important that he won. Not even important that he actually made the queen-sacrifice move.  What counts is that Marshall had suspended standard thinking long enough even to entertain the possibility of such a move.  He had looked outside the traditional patterns of play and had been willing to consider an imaginative risk on the basis of his judgement.  From now on in life I often hear myself whispering to myself, “Time to sacrifice the queen!”[1]

When Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee he himself breaks from the standard expectations of his family and society.  Jesus steps out with daring.  “Jesus presents himself as filled with the Spirit, “consecrated with an anointing,” “sent to preach good news to the poor.”[2]

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord(Lk. 4:18-19; cf. Is. 61:1-2). 

There is a term in the New Testament used by St. Paul for this courage and innovate boldness:  it is what St. Paul calls parresia.  It is that spirit of faith which believes and therefore speaks.  Paul reminds us that we are not to be ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1: 16).  We are to speak it out boldly, and we are to do this in a world that may be uninterested, which may be “completely closed to it, has no comprehension for it, offers it no foothold and threatens to quench it.”[3]  The Word of God intrudes upon a world unwilling to hear it, a world hostile to it, because this Word goes too far; it makes too many demands in that it brings to light the hidden contents of the heart.  The true Word of God is provocative, often “out of season” (2 Tim 4:2) and thus destined to arouse contradiction.  

The word of God demands courage of us.  The quality of parresia (boldness) is the strength which enables us with his courage, the boldness that counters our inclination to shrink back, to remain silent, passive and inert. It forces us to speak when the rest of the world would wish us to be dumb and without voice.  As one writer once commented that anyone who has not had the experience of being forced to speak out when they would really have preferred to keep silence is a “mere petty propaganda–monger, one who has no true comprehension of the significance of what they are speaking.”[4]  He goes on to say that “the one who deliberately evades the pain which this virtue of parresia(boldness) entails, and who really is silent, one who occupies themselves with something else in order not to have to speak of God, such a one as this is no apostle of the incarnate Word of God.”[5]  Rather, the message of Jesus “must be uttered by us everywhere” as the same writer indicates.  As he says, “Indeed it is for this purpose that the string of our tongue has already been loosened in baptism (Mk 7: 31-37), and not only our ears but our mouths too have been opened in order that we may not longer be dumb servers of dumb idols, but that we may be able to ‘confess’ by praising God and avowing our faith in God. (1 Cor. 2:2).  Not to commit ourselves to this mission of proclamation, in which ever way it presents itself to us, is therefore a denial of our baptismal reality. 

I am particularly conscious of this myself as a writer.  As Thomas Merton, the great spiritual teacher of last century, once observed,

“If a writer is so cautious that he never writes anything that cannot be criticized, he will never write anything that can be read.  If you want to help other people you have got to make up your mind to write things that some men will condemn.”[6]

 . . . Hence no writer who has got anything important to say can avoid being opposed and criticized. Thus the writer who wants to ‑ let us say reach, or help rather than influence people ‑ must suffer for the truth of his witness and for love of the people he is reaching.  Otherwise his communion with them is shallow and without life.  The real writer lives in deep communion with his readers, because they share in common sufferings and desires and needs that are urgent.”[7]

But what Merton says of writers is also true for all of us.  Each of us  recognises the call to speak when it is safer to stay silent, the call to speak in our workplace when it makes us draw strange looks from others, the call to speak in our circle of friends when we might suffer as a result with unpopularity.  As Leunig once prayed: “In order to be truthful, we must do more than speak the truth. We must also hear the truth.  We must also receive truth. We must also act upon truth.  The difficult truth.  Within and around us. We must devote ourselves to truth. Otherwise we are dishonest and our lives are mistaken. God grant us the strength and the courage to be truthful.  Amen.”[8]

And we are truthful whenever we speak up when it might be more comfortable and more convenient, safer, to remain mute and silent.  Then the word “Ephphata – Be Opened” resounds in each of our hearts.  The ligament of our tongue is loosened and we speak clearly.  Yes, then in our own time, the deaf hear and dumb speak.

[1] Robert Fulgham, Maybe (Maybe Not):  Second Thoughts from a Secret Life, (New York:  Villard Books, 1993).

[2] John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis:  I will give you Shepherds,” Post-synodal exhortation, (25 March 1992), n. 11.

[3] Karl Rahner, “Parresia (Boldness),” Theological Investigations Volume 7 (New York: Seabury Press, 1977), 262.

[4] Rahner, “Parresia (Boldness),” 265.

[5] Rahner, “Parresia (Boldness),” 265.

[6] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 111.

[7] Merton, Letter to Lorraine, 17 April 1964, in Witness to Freedom:  Letters in Times of Crisis, 167.

[8] Michael Leunig, The Prayer Tree, (Melbourne: Collins Dove, 1991).

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