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The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
during the coronavirus pandemic
July 5, 2020

Click here to watch Father Ryan give this homily. The homily begins at 25:20.

    It’s not Catholic custom to give a title to a homily and post it on a reader board, but if it were, I would probably call this one, “DO THE GOSPELS MAKE SENSE?”  And my answer to that question would be, ‘maybe not so much!

     And if that sounds a bit irreverent, let me remind you, for starters, of the Christmas story – from the Annunciation to the birth in Bethlehem. How much sense does it make? Or how about the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who suffer persecution”). Do the Beatitudes really make sense? Or how about the twelve apostles – unlettered and unimpressive as they were: how much sense do they make? And then there are some of the parables of Jesus – the Prodigal Son, the eleventh-hour vineyard workers – do they make sense? Or how about the crucifixion? St. Paul dared to speak of “The folly of the cross.” You get my point.

     There is something about the Christian gospel that defies the rules of logic and runs counter to all accepted human wisdom. Today’s gospel is a good case in point. It contains this wonderfully spontaneous prayer that gives us a window onto how Jesus prayed, how he talked to his Father. We hear him praising God for hiding the great mysteries from the very ones who ought to be able to understand them the best – the learned and the clever – and of revealing them instead to mere children. Does that make much sense? Only if you abandon the normal rules of human logic and buy into what I like to call “gospel logic.”

     In gospel logic God does strange things: God uses the little ones of this world to confound the great, the weak to put down the strong, the foolish to put to shame the wise. Only in that context can we ever hope to make sense of things like God becoming human and being born in poverty, or of the dead and defeated Jesus rising from the dead, or all the things that happened in-between.

     All this comes home to me in a striking and very personal way whenever I celebrate Mass with the L’Arche community over on Capitol Hill. Many of you know about L’Arche. It’s today’s gospel in flesh and blood: “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, to you I offer praise; for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever you have revealed to the merest children.”  L’Arche – French for ark - is a wonderful movement that welcomes the “merest children” of this world – most of them with developmental disabilities - into loving, familial communities. L’Arche believes that each of these ‘little ones’ is sent by God to teach and heal, comfort and challenge the rest of us. 

     Celebrating Mass with the L’Arche Community is, shall we say, in marked contrast to celebrating Mass in the Cathedral! That’s an understatement. It is, shall we say, a tad less formal and solemn than a cathedral Mass! My ‘concelebrants’ are likely to have Down Syndrome or to be severely deaf, or to be living with other disabilities. Often, they sit next to me on the couch and always they pray with a joy and an intensity that can take my breath away. And I venture to say that they understand things about God and God’s love and God’s mercy that I will never understand. And not only do they understand, they teach! They teach me – they teach everyone present - how to sing and laugh, how to celebrate and how to bask in God’s love. No theological treatise I’ve ever pondered, no tome I’ve ever read or studied has taught me the deep things of God I learn just from being with, and praying with, the L’Arche community.

     I began by speaking of gospel logic. It’s a logic that Jesus espoused and preached and lived, but its roots are in the Jewish scriptures, as is evident from today’s Old Testament reading from the Prophet Zechariah. The reading paints a strangely incongruous scene: a victorious king who is not a warrior but a messenger of peace. He is a humble figure with none of the trappings of royalty. He comes among his people not in the usual manner – sitting astride a charger surrounded by troops and weapons of war; no, he comes in utter meekness, riding on the back of a lowly beast of burden.

     The Church has always read that passage from Zechariah in light of Jesus’ triumphant Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, and rightly so. But the story doesn’t end there. That’s only the beginning. The story runs down through the ages whenever God raises up a gentle apostle of non-violence, a prophet of peace, to challenge the world’s powerful and call us back to gospel logic. I think of saints like Martin of Tours, who when he became a Christian could no longer in conscience serve in the military; or of countercultural saints like St. Francis of Assisi who I think has become far too domesticated. Everything about St. Francis was radical. And that’s true, too of people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, and, of course, of our own Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen.

     When you put people like these – and my friends over at L’Arche - up against the great powers and the great power brokers of the world, you come up with a strange picture indeed, but no stranger than the helpless child of the Bethlehem manger, or that vulnerable figure, arms outstretched, on Calvary’s cross. All are part of the upside-down logic of this faith of ours, the mysterious wisdom which God withholds from the learned and the clever and reveals to mere children.

     We go now to the table of the Eucharist, the table to which Jesus bids us come. And we will find nourishment here, abundant nourishment, but only if we abandon our pretenses, drop our facades, and approach the table as children.

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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