Sunday, August 10, 2014

Look, Speak, Listen

Readings for Sunday, August 10/ 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13
Psalm 85:9-14
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:22-33

All of get nicknames at various points in our lives. We get them from our parents. We get them from our friends. Sometimes we get them from people we’d rather not get them from. But we get them. One of mine when I was younger was ‘Eagle Eyes’. I got it when I was at the airport with my mom and stepdad trying to find my sister in the midst of a large crowd. As I excitedly shouted “There she is!” they said, “Way to go, eagle eyes” and it stuck. I was very proud of that name and my good vision. A few years back I went to the DMV to get my license renewed and did that nice little test when you put your face into the machine and read the line full of letters. When I did so the lady said, “Good. Now read the first few letters.” I read them off again  and she said, “No, the ones before them.” I looked at the screen again and said, “There aren’t any letters” to which she responded, “There should be.” And with that I earned my self a nice little ‘Restricted’ tag on my license.

I soon found out that my right eye is perfect, but my left eye…not so much. For years I had made along okay thinking that my eyes were perfectly fine but when I had to get glasses I realized just how clear things were supposed to be. I saw again how my eyes were supposed to see everything and that changed things; I will always know how I am supposed to see. And our life in Christ is much the same. When we encounter Christ – not just know about Him, but know Him personally – things necessarily change and we’re never the same again. We can lose our glasses sometimes by wandering away from the Lord and the faith, but there’s this something in us that will seek to see clearly again, to be filled again with His life.

That’s what this entire life is really about – drawing closer to the Lord each day and coming to see our entire lives through the lens of Jesus Christ. Doing so is a lifetime of progress mixed with setbacks, growth in virtue and struggles with sin. But the invitation is always to keep trying. Today the Lord places before us three witness to show us three aspects of that journey with Christ that we’re invited to embark upon each day: Peter reminds us to look at God, Jesus reminds us to speak to Him, and Elijah reminds us to listen.

We start with Peter. We all know the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water. Jesus is in the midst of the sea and Peter goes out to meet Him. The crazy thing is that Peter really does walk on the water at first because He keeps his gaze upon the Lord. He trusts that Jesus is really there and will care for Him, but then he takes his eyes off of the Lord and starts to look at the wind and the wave and woosh: down like an anchor he goes. When I take me eyes off of Jesus, when we take our eyes off of Jesus, we sink quickly. But if we keep our eyes fixed on Him, we sometimes do crazy things like walk on water.

When I first arrived I told you I would try to explain some of the liturgical meaning of things I do differently, so let me take a moment here to talk about the use of the altar cross. Some of you may remember, or at least have heard of, a time when the priest faced the same direction as the people to offer Mass. We often hear it described as ‘having his back to the people’ but that puts the emphasis upon us rather than on who it’s supposed to be, because the reason he faced that direction wasn’t to hide anything or be ‘better’ than anyone; it was to look together with the community at the center of all of our worship: Jesus Christ crucified. In a strange turn of events, I now typically have my back to God in order to face the community... I wonder how He feels about that? But that’s another homily…

The point is that the crucifix was always the center of worship and rightly so, since the Mass is the re-presentation of that sacrifice Jesus made. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI pointed out that while the priest should still be facing the direction of the people, changing back now might not be advisable. But, he said, to help emphasize the centrality of Christ in the liturgy once more, it is good for the priest to place an crucifix on the altar so that the community can gaze up Christ and the priest could as well. You’ve likely noticed that I don’t look up at y’all very often when I’m at the altar and that is because I’m trying to recall that you and I are not the center of attention here. He is. When we look at Him, we are changed. As a shy child, my step-dad had to tell me frequently ‘Look me in the eye’ when I was speaking or being spoken to. What I have realized is that when we look someone in the eyes, the windows to our souls, our disposition changes and we connect on a deeper level. And the same is true with Christ here in this Church.

But not only here. We should have crucifixes in our homes to so we can gaze upon Him there as well. And they don’t have to be a centerpiece. If we have a crucifix on the wall that we only see from time to time, it still stands as a reminder that even if we’re not aware of it, God is always there, always watching over us, always loving us. We need to learn to look at Jesus.

The next step is shown to us by Christ as He set time aside to go speak with the Heavenly Father. We all know there is no shortage of things to do today and it seems like the more structures there are to help us be more time-efficient, the more things we feel like we have to jam into our packed schedules. We go from place to place to place but easily pass over the most necessary thing: prayer. I say that because the simple truth is this: if Jesus needed to take time to pray, we all need to take time to pray. We have to spend time talking with our God, telling Him the needs of our hearts, telling Him the places we see Him and don’t see Him, telling Him those places where others are in need. But we can’t stop there. We have to listen. 

Elijah shows us that in the reading from Kings. The Lord is not found in the loud noise that surrounds him but in the quiet whisper. It strikes me that when he heard it, he covered his face to go out to meet the Lord. Sometimes meeting the Lord is scary because we don’t know what God might say, what He might ask, or the simple fact that God might speak to us. There is a fear or hesitancy in our hearts and so we like to keep things happening and keep noise going on so that we don’t have the option to hear the quiet whisper of the voice of the Lord. To be able to actually grow in our relationship with God we have to spend time in silence. I firmly believe that 90% of our problems can be solved simply by sitting in silence because there the Lord speaks and can give us guidance instead of us trying to make things happen ourselves.

Look, speak, and listen: these are the essentials to our life of faith and the beautiful thing is that the Church provides them for us each and every week here at Mass. We come to this house of God to gaze upon the face of the Lord and to meet Him in the crucifix as well as the Eucharist. We speak to Him as we bring our needs before Him in the offertory and we pause to listen to His voice in the silence of our hearts after receiving Holy Communion. What love our God has for us! And what a shame it would be to fail to love Him in return.