Sep 11, 2021
Here's my homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time reflecting just what is "escapist" about Christian faith.
You can find the readings on which this homily is based linked HERE
One of the takes on Christianity that I have always wondered at was the notion that Christian faith is “escapist”
...that it wasn’t bound by real life
...that it was for weak losers who can’t take life “as it really is”.
If escapist means the avoidance of suffering, pain, loss, and tragedy
...people who think our faith is escapist haven’t been looking or listening too closely.
Have they contemplated just why that hangs above us (or sits there right in front of us)
...or why the Eucharist itself is supposed to be celebrated in the presence of a crucifix, with a corpus on it as a reminder of what happened there
...or been here on Good Friday when we venerate the cross, and remember in detail just how the Lord suffered and died
...or why we remember each Sunday that He was “crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried
...or meditated on the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary with their focus on the details of those few momentous hours.
In today’s Gospel when Jesus tells his followers that he will be rejected, suffer and die Peter rebukes him, and Jesus rebukes right back
... calling out Peter as the voice of Satan, trying to tempt Jesus from the path of the apparent dark destiny that awaits him.
There are labels you could hang on all this, but it seems to me escapist with regard to real life suffering isn’t one of them.
In fact, it all seems pretty dark, if that’s where the story ends.
As a young college undergraduate I had a fascinating history professor who wrestled with the presence of the meaningless and darkness in human existence.
His specialty was 19th and 20th century European history, where meaninglessness and darkness are big themes
...especially in light of over a hundred million souls, majority civilians, dead at the hands of all sides during the World Wars of the 20th Century
...and at the hands of power mad ideological race and class utopians, of the German Nazi, as well as Soviet and Chinese communist persuasion.
He offered that contemplating such things was like looking over the edge of a great dark abyss.
...an abyss empty of meaning
...other than whatever suits the strong, the rich, the clever and the cruel.
Back then, I never quite bought that empty abyss idea.
Later, once I recovered my faith, I understood that Christian’s don’t and can’t see it that way.
Christians can look into the same abyss, the same reality, the same darkness and suffering there
...but see that darkness and suffering as largely our own doing as a consequence of original sin, our common human condition
..and will also see the abyss as permeated with God’s love as well
...the same love alive in Christ’s offering at Calvary
...and in the victory of the empty tomb
...which are of course the “rest of the story” that continues on from today’s Gospel.
There, the destiny that Peter is tempting Jesus from is not one of suffering only, but one of ultimate triumph
...where Good Friday is followed by Easter morning.
We don’t know what specifically Peter said to Jesus
...but we can surmise it by the Lord’s words “get behind me Satan”
...words that evoke Jesus' temptation in the desert
...temptations to abandon his call for material comfort, to test divine protection and gain worldly power.
Jesus rejects Peter’s plea and calls his disciples to take up what he has taken up and follow him
..where he will offer himself out of love for “us and our salvation”.
The cross is the offering of himself out of love, the empty tomb, the triumph of this love
...and we are called to share in both.
The cross reminds of it all, and reminds us that we too are called to “love one another” as he loved us
...as an unselfish offering for the good of others for their own sake and not our own.
How to “do” it is laid out in the Gospels, in Christ’s own words and actions.
James reminds us today that our “belief” or “faith” in all of this, if it is real, involves the heart and the hands as well as the head, a kind of full immersion
...in the way, the truth and the life of self sacrificing love
...following in word and deed the Lord who embodied all of it
...believing that that great abyss isn’t dark and empty
...that our vocation is to do what we can do, wherever we find ourselves,
...to magnify the love in that abyss as best we can
...by who we are and what we do, here and now
There’s nothing escapist about any of this.