Sunday, March 12, 2017

Second Sunday in Lent

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Roy Parker, OHC
Second Sunday in Lent Year A - Sunday,  March  12, 2017

This homily is about the cost of being born from above,  being born anew. It's about the alteration of birth in that the agony is shared by the baby, not endured alone by Christ our Mother (the phrase of Julian of Norwich). 

The only available epidural in this birth is the hope which comes from another place. While about all that, it's also about the cost of discipleship, and begins with a blessing from the Letter to the Romans:

"Blessed is the one who without works trusts the God who justifies the ungodly whose faith is reckoned as righteousness." 
That is, every one of us - ungodly, whose righteousness is but filthy rags.That is, every one of us, blessed with Abram when we are driven to abandon ourselves to divine providence. According to the scriptures such abandonment is initiated and assisted by God with an urgency conveyed by the original text, an urgency which exceeds mannerly translation. 

The word directing Abram to pull up stakes is lekh - lekha, a double imperative which means not "go," but more like "get the hell out!" The intensity is heightened by specifying the desirability of what he's to forsake - his country, his relatives, and his ancestral house. And the reason? The pagan culture with which all this is suffused. And yet it's a wrenching from so much that's beloved that it must be conveyed to Abram as divine destiny. The phrase, by the way, is so important to the tradition that it became the  heading for several chapters following this one which is entitled "The Call of Abram."

It's conveyed to Abram as divine destiny, and appears in another form when Jesus tells Nicodemus "You must be born anew" where the expression for "must" is again one for divine destiny, the expression applied repeatedly to himself by Jesus regarding the necessity of the Cross. In this vein, then, baptism is a matter of necessarily being wrenched apart from one's former identity. The Baptists know about this in describing a skillful minister of baptism as one who senses just how long to hold the candidate underwater.

For the rest of us, I daresay, there is no referent baptismal experience in water, but God allows us to be wrenched apart from our former selves in other ways, such as baptism by fire, by marriage, by monastic profession, and so forth, which requires an abandonment to divine providence initiated and assisted by God to the tune of "Get the hell out!" As mentioned, the impetus behind such events of divine destiny involves an abandonment to divine providence and, furthermore, a certain abandonment of one's senses in what might be called the ecstasy of hope, because part of the work accomplished in the abandonment can be directly attributed to God. Here are some words on the subject by Charles de Foucauld: 

"Let us have hope! The divine Master is at the bottom of our soul as in the bottom of Peter's boat. He may seem to be sleeping, but he is always there; ready to save us, ready to hear our prayer, waiting only for our cry or perhaps the most favorable moment to say to the sea: Be still. With one word He can always still the storms, scatter all dangers, and make a great calm follow mortal anxiety. Pray always! The more the tempest tosses us, the more we must lift heart and hands to Him alone, and when we pray, let us have an unconquerable hope." (Charles de Foucauld, "Meditations sur l'Evangile")

Now remember: When God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt and you abandon yourself to divine providence, the saving word of Jesus comes as living and active, wrenching apart your being. It's as if Jesus knows just how long to hold you underwater before releasing you.

In this regard I've always loved the scene between Ilsa and Rick in "Casablanca" when they're driving in the French countryside, in an open convertible, on the eve of the Second World War with the B-movie scenery unspooling behind them and the world collapsing around them. Ilsa throws herself back in her seat, exclaiming, "Oh, I don't know! You'll have to think for both of us!"

God's assistance of our abandonment to divine providence is mysteriously imprinted on us and alluded to by Jesus when he says " . . . just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." This is the same "must" of divine destiny for his crucifixion as for our baptism, and refers to the event upon which we must gaze for healing when ordinary hope fails. Therefore Jesus exclaims, "When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself" and "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, you will know that I am."

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