To see and be seen, how witness changes everything— a homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Opening reflections: What happens when we heed or ignore what we see with our own eyes? In our first reading, an enslaved girl will show her leprosy-afflicted captor the way to freedom; he follows and is healed. In the Gospel, ten adults with leprosy approach Jesus and are healed. Pay attention to their responses. In our homily, we will contemplate how they react to the up-close and personal revelation of God’s healing presence. And, we will ask: how do we?
Readings from the Catholic Comprehensive Lectionary:
2 Kings 5:1–19; Psalm 92; 1 Timothy 3:16; Luke 17:11–19
Homily: Just this weekend, I took a field trip with another mom and our teenagers to visit the University of Illinois. The other mama was an alum and an enthusiastic guide. She gave us a personalized tour and answered all sorts of questions. At one point, my son asked her: “how did you know what you wanted to study?” She explained that, at first, she didn’t. She enrolled in pre-med because her mom was a doctor. It wasn’t until her senior year that she took a specialized science course that redirected her future. She told the kids that when she set foot in that professors’ classroom, for the first time in her life, she saw a woman alive and excited about her profession. To quote her, “seeing that changed my life.” That’s when she realized she could follow her interests and love her work, too. So, that’s what she did. She discontinued her prescribed path to med school and became an entomologist.
As it turns out, the joy of living into one’s vocation is infectious. Sometimes, to see or be seen is a pure gift of grace — easy and hopeful.
Sometimes it is painful. Often, it’s both.
I wonder about that today. Reflection is hard work, and we live in demanding times. How many times might we have experienced something that allowed us to witness God in our midst, only to turn back, finding it just too difficult to let that knowing change us? When have we been like the army commander Naaman, who, after experiencing divine revelation of the true God, returned to his ruler to bow to an Aramaen god?
The gospel presses further. When the Samaritan recognized his leprosy was gone, he returned to give thanks to the Source: Jesus. Unlike the others, he did not return to the controlled image of God who lived in a Temple, behind a veil, never to be seen. Having seen and known God in Jesus, the Samaritan returned to the one who restored his health and place in society. At first, Jesus seems to lament, “The other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And then, he told the Samaritan, “Rise up. Go on your way. Your faith has made you well.” How difficult it is to see and follow a new path — a lifesaving path — when everything we have known is challenged by it.
Where are we in these gospels today?
As individuals, we might find ourselves in any number of situations. I would like to suggest that we are a community that practices a kind of loving spirituality that fosters seeing and being seen. That doesn’t mean we are perfect, but that we show up with the intention of walking together through joys and sufferings, differing ideas, and holy moments where wisdom helps us grow.
And, we’re very specifically here because of the witness of a girl who had a vision of being a priest. A girl who saw God writing a blessing upon her own heart, one that would guide her through many seasons of life — as a school girl, a Franciscan sister, a teacher, a pastoral associate, a spiritual director — and, with the opening of a door through RCWP — a priest, and then bishop. She certainly knew the laws and rules of those who manage the institutional image of God, and yet she risked change by following God’s very personal call.
How lucky are we? She doesn’t expect this today, but as Nancy prepares to ordain Martha and then retire as active bishop, I feel like it’s a great time to talk about her witness.
Through your vocation, Nancy, you have opened the way for others to see and recognize the presence of a living God. You helped us express and participate in our love for our Church, even while avoiding a return to conformity in a monolithic institution that manages the image of a man-god. Your ministry as priest and bishop has enriched people of all genders. Through the gift of your witness, you have helped us learn to bear witness through our lives, too. It’s a gift that keeps giving.
Much like my earlier story of the student and professor, you have been a life-pivoting force for me. And I know the same is true for others. The joy of you living into your vocation is infectious, even if it hasn’t always been easy.
So thank you. May you go on to weave, garden, travel, and do what makes you happy in your retirement as bishop. May you continue to bless us with the gifts of your priestly vocation. May the friendship of this community bless you, too. And, with God’s help, may we all rise up, and go on our way.
Questions for reflection — Where do you find yourself in our readings today? What have you seen that has changed or challenged you? What has it meant for you to be a part of communities with women priests?