Fr. David’s homily May 1, 2016.
A Name, Face, A Voice
Last Monday, as I was driving home from visiting a parishioner at Duke Hospital, I recalled something I read years ago. It comes from an author I have always esteemed, one most insightful about human life. He writes: “At the age that I have now reached, the most valuable proof to me, the strongest witness in favor of Christian truth, is the visible presence of grace in certain people. Often, in the evening, I become conscious of the contradictions of my life while remembering the names and faces of people whom I have seen during the day.” “The visible presence of grace in certain people….” More aware of “contradictions in my own life while remembering the names and faces of people whom I have seen during the day.”
Visiting the sick is both a duty and a joy for me. I have said more than once that when you think you’re doing someone some good, the tables are invariably reversed and it’s you who receive. In this case it was a woman I have known for 8 years. I’ve worked along side her; she came to be my right hand. When I try to put our relationship into words, trust, honesty, even love comes to mind. I trusted her totally. Found myself at home with her family. She in her turn, I believe, loved me. Still does I hope. Now she’s sick. It’s hard to see someone you love and trust become ill. My faith is often tested, but no more than in this case. “Why do the innocent suffer?” “Where is God?” But then, driving home from seeing her, with the questions still questions : the most valuable proof to me, the strongest witness in favor of Christian truth, that Jesus is true, that Christianity is true, is the visible presence of grace in her. It happens every time I’m with her, but especially it happened this past week. I suspect there are just such people in your life as well.
In your life, you may raise questions about God, about religion, about life, about people, about yourself, but then you remember the face, recall the name, hear the voice of that person, and you can go on.Oh, the questions are still questions, the doubts still doubts, but you can go on. What has happened to you is that in remembering, that person becomes grace, becomes gift for you. And in remembering her face, recalling his name, hearing her voice, you are empowered to live more humanly. I believe that to be true. My experience confirms it. I suspect yours does as well.
It is also the message of the Word of God today.
Jesus is about to leave those he loves. It’s a touching time. They’ve lived closely with one another for 3 years, day in and day out. They’ve experienced great joy, great challenge, frequent acceptance from other people. But they’ve also faced great adversity, rejection, misunderstanding.
Through it all they were bonded by tender love. Now he’s leaving. They began to ask themselves:
“How will I get along without you? What will I do?” The cry of the poet Auden had to have been theirs:
He was my north, my south, my east, my west,
my working week and my Sunday rest,
my noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
for nothing now can ever come to any good.”
Jesus knows they will feel his leaving. He will feel it; he does feel it. And so he tells them not to be afraid. He tells them again that peace is his farewell gift to them. But how? How will they ever find peace without him? Why, they’ll remember his name, his face, his voice – it will live in them. That is the meaning of the Holy Spirit – that graced presence of a face recalled, a name remembered, a voice heard. When you need him most, he’ll come back. He lives in you; you live in him. For in remembering and recalling the face, the name, the voice, one recalls what is deepest in himself, in herself. And it is a deeper presence, a far deeper presence, than someone beside you physically. “I will love you…reveal myself to you…come to you and make my dwelling with you.” We have been gifted, you and I. We possess a treasure. It’s a face, a name, a voice.
But it is not only his face, his name, his voice, there are many faces, many names, many voices. Recall the face; remember the name; hear the voice. It happens perhaps at work, as the day gets tough, the hours long, not enough time for this project or that, and then one of those women, one of those men, one of those children, who has blessed your life, appears for: “At the age that I have now reached, the most valuable proof to me, the strongest witness in favor of Christian truth, is the visible presence of grace in certain people. Often, in the evening, I become conscious of the contradictions of my life while remembering the names and faces of people whom I have seen during the day.”
You gather for the Eucharist to remember, to embrace, to hear the Christ who lives in you. But you also come to remember, to embrace, to hear those faces, those names, those voices with whom you share life. So then, recall, remember, hear – now. But recall, remember, hear, this coming week, perhaps just once. It is the Spirit of Christ, the Paraclete, whom God has sent into your heart.”
David J. McBriar. F. Mauriac, Journal, t. 3 (Paris: Grasset, 1940), p. 45.. W. H. Auden, “Funeral Blues,” Tell Me The Truth About Love (New York: Vintage Books, 1994).
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Jesus [said to his disciples], “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.