Homilies,  Year C

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 7 August 2022

Many years ago there was quite a popular film that was made called, “Dead Poets Society.”  It starred Robyn Williams as a slightly eccentric schoolteacher – if ‘slight’ can ever be used to describe Robyn William’s eccentricity.  At this school, though, he mentored a group of students into realising their potential.  The catchcry of the film, Carpe Diem, “Seize the Day”, became somewhat famous in itself and got to be widely used.  

The film was very much a portrayal of the philosophy of Henry Thoreau.  Thoreau was a well-known American humanist philosopher of the 19th century. His famous work was called, Walden, and was an account of him leaving the city and retiring to the side of Walden Pond in the north-east of the United States at which he sought to come to the essence of what life was all about.  It represented his own sea-change, as we would call it today. Thoreau was very conscious of how we can go through our life as people who are only half-awake.  We can lead our life as if we were asleep.  These are amongst his most famous lines:

“To be awake is to be alive.  I have never yet met a [person] who was quite awake. How could I have looked [them] in the face?

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not be mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.  I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of [a person] to elevate [their] life by a conscious endeavour.  It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, or so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do.”[1]

Long after Thoreau, the Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig, wonderfully describes this in a cartoon in which he has his customary little figure, knapsack over his shoulder, following a little duck, which for Leunig is the symbol of the soul, traipsing over what first looks like the tops of mountains.  However, on closer examination the mountain peaks show themselves to be the noses of upturned faces which are asleep.  It is Leunig’s marvellous way of depicting how the spiritual person is the one who is fully awake while the rest of the world sleeps.

It is easy for us to go through life only half awake.  It is easy for us to go through our life asleep.  But then we go through our life only half-alive.  Jesus has come that we may have life, he declares in the gospel of John.  “I have come that you may have life and have it in its fullest.” (Jn 10:10)

If this is so, then Jesus enables us to live our life fully by rousing us from sleep and by awakening us.  A constant refrain in the gospels is the one that we hear in today’s gospel;  “Stay awake!”  It is not simply a moral injunction to keep us on our toes, as it were, lest our actions be surprised and exposed.  We miss the richness of the message if we simply think Jesus is enjoining us to be on our guard because he is going to spring on us, as it were, when we least expect it.

No, we do not live in this type of fear in Jesus.  Rather, Jesus urges us to stay awake because this is precisely the way in which we can receive life in all its fullness.  The one who is awake, is the one who is conscious, the one who is alive.

The Spirit of Jesus comes to us, therefore, in order to awaken us.  And how does the Spirit awaken us?  The Spirit awakens us by touching our ear and touching our eye that we might hear more and see more in our life.  The Spirit works in our life to open our ears and to open our eyes, so that seeing more and hearing more we live our lives more awake and therefore have the chance of a life lived more fully.  This is why the stories of the cures of the deaf and the blind have such significance in the gospel narratives.  These are dramatic illustrations of how the Spirit works to heal us in what closes us off from life.  And with open ear and open eye we inevitably are those who listen more.  In other words, we stay awake by an ever-deeper commitment to the adventure of listening.  When we stop listening, then our eyes and ears close.  And with ears and eyes closed we begin to fall asleep, even though we might think we are awake.

As Christians we are called above all to be people who listen.  As those who listen, we are those who can lead their lives as people who are awake.  As people who are awake, we are those, in turn, who might perceive the presence and action of God all around us and within us.

A couple of years ago, I came across this wonderful poem on listening.  Let me share it with you and as I read it, let us wonder at how listening enables us to be people who are truly awake and who stay awake.


The mat of welcoming

The test of intention

The sign of communication

The mark of good will

The cradle of attention

The bridge of gender

The door of hospitality

The teacher of respect

The protein of growing

The permit of searching

The strength of friendship

The bed of intimacy

The window of openness

The key to understanding

The foundation of learning

The seed of encouragement

The voice of confidence

The fibre of commitment

The ear of the heart

The memory of trust

The relief of anger

The key of forgiveness

The balm of healing

The anchor of peace

The hand of support

The soil of nurturing

The invitation to risk

The means of change

The sound of leadership

The seat of wisdom

The lining of love

The meaning of prayer

The home of the spirit

The path of salvation

The gate of heaven

The touch of God

(Roman Paur osb 1995)

May each of us be touched by God that we might be awakened to our life.

[1] Henry Thoreau, Walden (Signet Classic, 1960), 65.

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