Encountering love, even when life crumbles
A homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time; Readings from the Catholic Comprehensive Lectionary: Daniel 12:1b, 3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:32–39; Mark 13:1–32.
Oh, my friends. I gave good thought to changing our readings today from what is assigned by the lectionaries. Both the standard lectionary from the US Catholic Conference of Bishops and the more inclusively designed Catholic Comprehensive Lectionary (CCL) set these for us, although the CCL Gospel reading is expanded to provide a much broader scriptural context.
The reality is, whether we like it or not, we have to face even the hardest parts of scripture and life. And, rarely is the hard stuff ‘convenient.’ It seems to pile on when we are most in need of rest, of a break from the hardships of life.
I love the month of November. I would have us sing songs of praise! I’d say, let’s look upon the changing leaves — the beautiful golden tones among the trees offset by tints of sunset orange, fiery red, and cocoa. This time, as our Midwest seasons grow colder and much of the plant world prepares for its winter slumber, Mother Nature blesses us with a feast for our eyes. Let’s appreciate this fleeting moment, breathe it in.
But scripture today would have us be watchful in a different way. Jesus’ prophetic speech demands attention. He warns his beloveds, “all will be thrown down!” Don’t be caught unaware when the world about us crumbles. But he also says, “do not worry” when you are brought to trial. What I would like to say to Jesus is: your speech is overwhelming.
And yet! Jesus continues, “do not worry beforehand about what you are going to say [in the time of trial]. Just say whatever is given to you at the time, for it is not you speaking, it is the Holy Spirit.”
So I’m not going to worry about preaching this Gospel today. Let’s trust the Holy Spirit.
And the Holy Spirit says, my great grandmother Myrtle made the BEST oyster dressing every Thanksgiving, and she passed her method lovingly on to my mom, who I would dare say has surpassed my gram’s culinary excellence. Recently, at work, a friend asked “if you knew this was your last day on earth and could have absolutely anything for a last meal, what would it be?” Hands down, my mom’s version of Gram’s dressing. That’s all. It tastes like love, resilience, comfort, and perseverance. With all the decadent options available to me, just give me that. Let me savor the bites, and be reminded of the women who made me.
I come from a long line of strong women. And their strength is their love. No matter what life throws their way, they put love first. I think that is all Jesus is asking today, though his words strike terror.
It’s because we only get to do this thing called life once. Impressive homes, cultural monuments, socio-economic statuses and hierarchies… “Look, Teacher, what grand stones!” exclaimed one of Jesus’ disciples. Ah, yes, the stones. They won’t last. Humanity will advance through stages, and so will the Earth. Famine, drought, conflict, war. These are signs of birth-pangs.
Jesus compassionately pleads with us not to become attached to the stones of our society. Don’t be deceived. Let’s not become attached to the “things” of life, nor to the stones of hierarchical power that bind us. Instead, let us be bound in Love — as that is the source of eternal hope for all of us.
Love is simple. On November 23, 1978, my parents went to celebrate their second Thanksgiving as a married couple with their families. My great grandma Mary, an Italian woman who made it her mission to feed the ones she loved (and wanderers, too), noticed that my mom wasn’t eating. She took her to the garage, and snuck her a piece of pumpkin pie. “You’re not gonna have that baby on an empty stomach.” I was born, easy peasy, several hours later. So every November 23, we eat pumpkin pie. I love this time of year.
But mercy, Jesus wants our attention. We are heading into a season of difficulty, and we’ve not finished walking through one. We’re not facing a “mere” blizzard of 1978. Collectively, we have experienced so much trauma related to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, political unrest, global warming, and social divides. Who here has not suffered? Families have been divided, best friends have become suspicious of one another. And in the midst of it all, we individually battle with loneliness, job insecurity, housing or food insecurity, mental illness, disabilities, cancer, and other sources of pain.
Jesus says, “Beware that no one deceives you!” What do you think he is warning us against?
I think he’s warning us against the lies that come with too-easy fixes. Jesus says, “Many will come using my name, and say, “Here I am.” So I am wary of any individual who claims to have answers or special power to resolve problems for others.
I also think Jesus is warning us against believing that darkness is all there is during difficult seasons of life, when it feels hard to perceive the light of God’s love. That’s hard.
Overall, I think Jesus wants us to hold out for Love and discipleship, and to resist the urge to believe that “easy solutions” exist for our complex problems, or that “darkness” is all there is.
That’s not to say there is no cure for wordly pain….. We have the salvation that Love offers, and we can walk with one another towards greater wholeness, that God’s Will may be one on earth as it is in heaven.
No biggie. It’s just the Gospel.
People can make theology complicated, but the timeless question before is simple. What is LOVE doing (or trying to do!) in and through us?
I see love everywhere. I see it in the way people of our community greet one another. I feel it in your presence and your words. I have been touched by Love in the many beautiful tributes I’ve read on Facebook in honor of beloveds who have recently died. I see it at work when professionals come together to respond to the needs of a NICU parent in agony. I feel it in my maternal grandma’s voice when I call her every Monday, and she responds, “Angela!” I see it in my paternal grandmother’s smile, whose picture greets me every time I sit at the piano. I know LOVE in the spiritual and physical reminders that tickle my soul, graced by the memories of those who now rest in God’s arms. I see it in the love my parents have for each other, and my grandpa for his family. And I feel immersed in it every Thanksgiving dinner. That is the holiest day on the calendar for me. God puts skin on and greets us at the table.
So while every day is a day to give thanks, the season is upon us to be extra mindful. Love lives in our gratitude — in our ability to see and rejoice in our blessings, even (perhaps especially) in crumbling times.
So my friends, where do you see love? How do you call yourselves back to Love when the darkness of the world might deceptively shadow your view of God’s light? What are you thankful for?