Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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March 17, 2019
[Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Pearl City (Scouts Mass); Kalaupapa, Molokai]
I hope I can keep you awake!
Yes, every preacher’s nightmare is that people will fall asleep while he is preaching. So we try to find ways to make the homily interesting and lively – or at least short – so that we can have your full attention.
Sleeping seemed to be a part of two of the readings we heard today. When the Lord wanted to seal his covenant with Abram, he cast him into a trance – what we might call a deep sleep or altered state of consciousness. It was not a sleep that made him unaware of his surroundings, but rather a sleep that would help him focus on the presence of God passing through the sacrificial victims he had laid out for the Lord. It was this trance or deep sleep that God used to wake Abram up to God’s great love for him and to the relationship God wanted to establish not only with him but with his descendants, who would be as numerous as the stars of heaven.
Then we see Peter, John, and James, these three favorite disciples of Jesus with whom he shared experiences he shared with no other disciples. As they would later do at the Mount of Olives when Jesus was experiencing his terrible Agony in the Garden, they had fallen asleep during their prayers as they went up this high mountain with Jesus. (So don’t think you are the first to fall asleep while you are praying!) Yet perhaps it was that sleep that helped them focus so intently on who Jesus really was that his very form changed before them. They could see him speaking to Moses and Elijah, who represented all the law and the prophets, so that, as the Christmas carol says, “the hopes and fears of all the years” were met in Jesus at that moment. Once they were fully awake, they saw only Jesus, but in this “twilight zone,” if you will, they were able to see Jesus in all his glory and to even hear the voice of the heavenly Father pointing him out as his “chosen Son.”
We come to this time of Lent, with its subdued colors and subdued music, when we slow down our metabolism by fasting and we open ourselves to dozing off by committing ourselves to greater prayer. We even focus on the ultimate sleep of death when everything grinds to a halt and all that seemed so valuable is taken away from us. We meditate not only on the death of Jesus, but on our own deaths. But we do these things so that we may ultimately be even more awake and more focused on the eternal life the Lord wants to give to each of us – and especially on the glorious resurrection of the dead that Jesus, the firstborn of the dead, started. The irony is that we can be sharper and more focused when we are well rested and are able then to see things we may have entirely missed otherwise.
Our most intimate encounter with the risen Jesus in all his glory is what we are doing here and now. Jesus is physically present to us in the Eucharist. Yet how often do we come here wanting to be stimulated with exciting preaching, with engaging music, and with overwhelming joy. The Church, during this time of Lent, invites us instead to be bear and meager, which could cause us to tune out, even to fall asleep. Yet it can focus us on the fact that what is most important here is not the music, the preaching, or the beautiful environment, but the fire of love that silently passes in our midst as Jesus is present to us. Tuning out all the natural stimuli can help us better tune in to the voice of God. Expecting to be kept awake by someone else may actually deprive us of seeing the glory that is before our eyes, when Jesus, in a different form than we are accustomed to seeing him, reveals to us his brilliance and glory.
In these days of scandal in the Church, it is easy for many to walk away, disgusted by what the leaders of the Church have done or not done. Many are simply getting off the mountain because many of those who preach repentance are ourselves so much in need of repentance. Yet if we refuse to run, and instead meditate on the daily humdrum routine of living and preaching the Gospel, we may just wake up to realize that it is here that we encounter Jesus our Savior in a way he is not encountered anywhere else, and so we awaken more deeply to his glory.
In our homes we can also be asleep when it comes to another family member in need or to a fault that we ourselves have that is causing division and chaos among us. Yet in the sleep the Lord can give us a vision of how glorious that person is, how much we love them, and how much we need to do to show them that love.
So, I hope I can keep you awake! But even if I don’t, I hope even more that you will have your eyes filled with the brilliant glory of the risen Savior who loves you and is truly present here among us; that you will have your ears more attuned to the voice of our Heavenly Father calling you to listen to him and to thereby shine yourselves with a glory only God can give you.