April 20, Easter Sunday Homliy
Let me begin with lines from a poem by Mary Oliver called, “Evidence”:
There are many ways to perish, or to flourish.
How old pain, for example, can stall us at
the threshold of function.
Still, friends, consider stone, that is without the fret
of gravity, and water that is without anxiety.
And the pine trees that never forget their
recipe for renewal.
And consider, always, every day, the determination
of the grass to grow despite the unending obstacles. (p. 44)
There are many ways to perish, or to flourish. We know that all too well, do we not? On a given morning, we climb out of bed and stand, unsure, at the threshold of another day. We stand before a choice: to let this day make us or break us; to atrophy or to grow in ways that wake us up, making us more conscious of the gift beneath our feet; more alive to God. Too often, however, we succumb to those thoughts and ways which keep life’s potential buried, our lives stalled “at the threshold of function”.
Or we can choose another approach seen happening in this morning’s Gospel as Mary of Magdala and those two other disciples run to the tomb. Together, they peer into its emptiness. Breathless, they stand perplexed at the threshold while it is still dark, and on a morning unlike any other. However, one of them—the “other disciple” who enters last, believes despite the emptiness; a challenge for us all.
We know “The rest of the story”. The emptiness gives way to presence; to Christ who holds in his Risen flesh the “recipe for renewal” we too easily forget; unlike those pine trees in Oliver’s poem.
Why emptiness this Easter Day where Jesus is nowhere to be seen? Because such emptiness is the threshold and path to God. Yet, how often we run from such emptiness, afraid to peer inside what exists in us all; an emptiness we futilely try to fill in ways that leave us dissatisfied; more dead than alive.
In his book “Risking Everything” Roger Housden writes:
I have known…those gray, restless days when life seems just to limp along. For all the beauty and love I have known, and still know, I sometimes wake up empty and frightened. (xi)
Today’s Gospel teaches us not to run from but toward the tomb and with courage to peer into what leaves us gray and restless, empty and frightened; not to remain there but that we might know in our own flesh the need for God; for the One who lives and alone understands such emptiness. There, in that place, at last, we begin to flourish and become more real: more alive to life and to God; less buried beneath the weight and anxiety of life that keeps us forgetting why we are here in the first place and where we are going. Too often, hope perishes inside us because we run from the place God has in mind for us. The Resurrection is our liberation in that it opens us towards a more determined path, leading beyond the “old pain” that, too often, keeps us buried and unfree.
Consider, always, every day, the determination of the grass to grow despite the unending obstacles.
In his book, “Reaching for the Invisible God” Phillip Yancey recalls being a member of a discussion group where each was asked to write an open letter to God. Years later, he came upon that letter and this is what he wrote:
“You sure don’t act as if God is alive”—that’s the accusation one friend made to another, and it has haunted me ever since, as a question. Do I act as if you—God—are alive?
Sometimes I treat you as a substance, a narcotic…when I need a fix to smooth over the harshness of reality, or to take it away.
So how do I act as if you are alive?
How do I love even one person with the love you came to bring…to believe in the possibility of change. How do I let you change me, to make me more like you? Or is that even possible?
Funny, I find it easier to believe in the impossible—to believe in the parting of the Red Sea, to believe in Easter—than to believe in what should seem more possible: the slow, steady dawning of your life in people like me…
Help me to believe in the possible, God.
Christ asks us to believe, not in the impossible, but what is possible and life-giving: the “slow, steady dawning” of his presence in people like you and me. Rising from death, Christ transforms the impossible into what is possible, revealing to all who have the guts and determination to believe that, in God’s eyes, we are meant not to perish, but flourish. In the Resurrection, death is robbed of its weight and we are delivered from its stranglehold. Does not nature, resurrecting each spring out from the deadness of winter, witness to that?
And consider, always, every day, the determination of the grass to grow despite the unending obstacles.
In our God-given nature, there lives in us all something imperishable; that cannot die made as we are in the Divine Image and Likeness. Yet, to arrive at such reality we must be willing to believe as did those first disciples, and while it was still dark: to hold fast, despite the emptiness, to the One who alone frees us from that deadening tendency inside that would rather have us perish than flourish; to atrophy rather than grow: more alive for others, more alive for God.
Christ, the Living One, wants to free us from such a defeatist, self-enclosed life; what Pope Francis describes as a “tomb psychology slowly transforming Christians into mummies.” But we must learn the importance of belief: like that disciple in the Gospel, who, despite the emptiness, sees and believes. He sees possibility and the graced potential of life because of faith and the tenacity to remember the words Jesus spoke; what He taught. Within the tomb and despite the surrounding emptiness, this disciple begins to connect the dots. Discipleship involves connecting the dots; to have in mind the larger picture and rest of the story.
Elsewhere in his book, Yancey describes such faith and how it makes a difference in the face of death. And he writes:
A nurse in a hospice described the results of faith evident at the bedside of dying patients. “I see a difference in how families with faith handle death. They mourn, of course, and cry; but they also hug each other and pray and sing hymns. There’s less terror. For those without faith, death is final; it ends everything. They stand around and talk about the past. Those with faith remind each other there will also be a future. (p. 21)
Our willingness to believe gives us a future and opens us to the possibility of hope; hope rooted in God and flourishing no matter what.
With such hope in mind this Easter Day I cannot help but recall Father Tim Sauer’s words to the media following that tragic mudslide in Oso. He is pastor of Immaculate Conception in Arlington, not far from the sight. He said:
God never promised us if we followed him we would not have suffering, pain or death. What God promised is that He would be with us and that the imperfections of this world would not be the last chapter. What has happened to our beloved friends down valley is not the last chapter. The last chapter will be written by God.
A sneak preview of this “last chapter” is realized by the disciples when the emptiness and sad finality of death gives way to presence as they encounter Christ within the ordinary rhythms of life;
It is being experienced in Oso through the generosity and concern of people everywhere; through hearts rising to the occasion in spite of death;
It happens daily when we choose to flourish rather than perish; to believe in life’s possibility, in its grace, its mercy and in that “last chapter” rather than succumb to a tomb psychology and mummified existence;
And it is glimpsed whenever we’re willing to believe: to see with the eyes of faith and to “consider always…the determination of the grass to grow despite the unending obstacles.”
During Lent, I read “Proof of Heaven” by Eben Alexander; a neurosurgeon who underwent a near-death experience and miraculously survived e-coli meningitis which has never happened before. Before his experience he possessed little, if any, faith. When he returned to this life, he came back a changed man. It is a fascinating read.
Suddenly, he opens his eyes and shocks everyone. And he writes:
Sylvia shrieked. My eyes reminded her not of an adult emerging from a seven-day coma, but of an infant—someone newly born into the world, looking around at it, taking it in for the first time. In a way, she was right.
(My family) walked into the room and…almost fell over backward in disbelief. I was sitting up in bed, meeting their gaze with my own…
I had a peaceful, joyous smile. “All is well”, I said. “Don’t worry…all is well…”
Simply, this is the message of Easter Day; of the Risen One who lives and meets our gaze with his own as we peer into the emptiness. He, too, speaks to us joyously, peacefully, and says:
All is well. Do not worry all is well….Alleluia!
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
Our Lady of the Lake, Seattle
April 20, Easter Sunday; The Resurrection of the Lord
We are told to sing to the Lord a new song.
A song is a thing of joy,
and if we think carefully about it,
a thing of love.
‘Sing to the Lord a new song’.
‘But I do sing’ you may reply.
You sing, of course you sing, I can hear you;
But make sure that your life sings the same
tune as your mouth.
Sing with your voices,
Sing with your hearts,
Sing with your lips,
Sing with your lives!
Whenever we sing the ‘Lamb of God’ or chant the ‘Our Father’ during the Mass and I hear you singing, really singing, it lifts me up. I’m more alive; all of us alive as, together, we express a melodious hope reaching beyond the spoken word. In that moment, we become a thing of joy. When that happens, I momentarily lay aside my distracted mind like that shroud left behind in an empty tomb and sense something larger, greater; like resurrection. It is a thing of love.
This Easter Day and beyond, let us sing with our lives so that the Risen Christ might resonate within this wearied world and inside the hearts of us all.
Christ is Risen! Christ is truly Risen! A Blessed Easter to all!
Father Tim Clark
And Staff at Our Lady of the Lake Parish
April 13, Palm Sunday
I find it significant that Jesus lets himself be carried on the back of a donkey—this beast of burden and mount of the poor—when entering the Holy City this Palm Sunday. A journey at first joyous, then turbulent as it wends its way towards a sorrowful passion and trial: where the hosannas of a fickle crowd turn into death threats.
Yet his passion and self-emptying poignantly reveals his empathy with all our trials within a wounded nature we commonly share. Paradoxically, Christ’s journey unto death is a fathomless love story that leads to God. The 12th century Cistercian, St. Bernard of Clairvaux penned it this way:
For the trials of this present time is the way to life, the way to glory, the way to the Holy City…the kingdom of God.
Jesus lets himself be carried into Jerusalem. I’m reminded of another gospel passage where four people carry a paralytic to Jesus. With determined faith they remove roof tiles and lower their crippled friend before Jesus. It is such faith and the willingness to carry another that wins Christ’s attention and enables the man to walk. The Abbot during my Novitiate loved this passage because it reveals what monastic life and discipleship involves: a willingness to “carry the weaknesses of one another, whether in body or behavior” as described in the monastic Rule of St. Benedict.
As I put these thoughts together, I heard that the actor Mickey Rooney had died this past Sunday. And I remembered the film “Boys Town” in which he starred with Spencer Tracey (who portrayed Father Flanagan) and the well-known words, “He ain’t heavy, Father. He’s my brother.”
I’ve seen such willingness to carry another right here in this place, exemplified by the many parish volunteers who helped host our Winter Shelter this past February for the homeless, in conjunction with Union Gospel Mission; a great ecumenical effort and exercise in compassion.
As Jesus walked the roads of Palestine and knew first-hand our “footsore journey” he revealed how life is a journey and search for God in time; a search, heart-wrenching and wearisome at times, which Jesus experienced as he anguished over what had to be carried out, and while praying in the darkness of Gethsemane; a journey where we sometimes lose our capacity to walk and need to be carried. No matter. Was not Jesus carried on the back of a beast of burden? All that matters is to love and surrender ourselves to God and in service of others during this earthly life. This alone saves us and helps find our way. It is the way we carry out God’s will in life. For God’s will, simply, is the way of love: surrender carried out by our willingness to carry one another. Then, we imitate the One who carried the burden of our wounded selves by the weight of the cross that delivered us from death. The weight of which carries us towards God and into the paradise; the weight of love.
During Holy Week, let us follow Christ through the drama of the Triduum that the flow of grace might carry out within the hearts of us all the transformation and change Christ embodies in his own flesh.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
April 6, 5th Sunday of Lent
I took a good walk in the woods, watching the patterns of water in the quiet creek…thinking about life and death---and how impossible it is to grasp the idea that one must die.
I remember well the time I buried my first person. It happened in Edinburgh, Scotland while spending my Diaconate summer there and following my Ordination with 30 other classmates in Rome. I was assigned to St. Paul’s, a poor, blue collar parish—mostly Irish immigrants from the famines—located on the outskirts of the city known as Muirhouse. The parish was situated above the Firth of Forth, a body of water that so reminded me of Puget Sound. It was such a memorable summer, filled with firsts.
The pallbearers had lowered the simple, wooden coffin into the freshly-dug grave. Gravediggers stood by and leaned on shovels as they smoked and waited for me to get on with it so they could finish the job.
I recall there being no leak-proof vault as we find here; just the silent, gaping hole of earth into which the body was lowered by ropes. I found this approach to death more real; less cosmetic compared to ours. (The way Trappists bury is even more real! But that will need to wait.)
After the lowering and the recited prayers, I took a spade of earth from the pile nearby and cast it into the grave. It hit the lid of the coffin with a deadening thud that caught me by surprise. I’ve not forgotten that sound which spoke of death’s finality in a sobering, chilling manner.
“God does not make death”, Scripture tells us. Yet, death is an inevitable part of life within this death-bound, fallen world of ours. Even Jesus struggles with its grim reality as he weeps before the tomb of Lazarus his friend this 5th Sunday in Lent. Yet, he refuses to remain in its shadow as he steps beyond and orders them to remove the stone. With a voice alive with trust, Jesus calls his friend back into life thereby revealing within our incredulous world a love stronger than death. This is the resuscitating promise Christ offers when we are willing to listen to this voice that calls to us who, at times, find ourselves buried beneath so much and all that deadens life. Like Lazarus who’s given a second chance we, too, can find ourselves more alive when we learn to believe that no matter what, love not death has the final say.
Father Tim Sauer, Pastor of Immaculate Conception in Arlington, said it well when speaking recently to grief-stricken residents and survivors of that tragic mudslide in Oso near Darrington; words that capture the significance and meaning of the raising of Lazarus:
God never promised…we wouldn’t have suffering, pain or death. What He promised is that He would be with us and that the imperfections of this world would not be the last chapter. What has happened to our beloved friends down valley is not the last chapter. The last chapter will be written by God.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
March 30, 4th Sunday of Lent
In her book, “Seeking Life”—my spiritual read during Lent—Esther De Waal writes:
For a gift is not just given; it must also be recognized, claimed, received.
The Gospel passage this 4th Sunday in Lent (John 9: 1-41), a man, blind from birth, receives the gift of sight from Jesus; a gift that, too often, I take for granted. Yet, when I am willing to ‘behold’ life—a word, meaning: “To look, and look again”—I find myself more aware, more willing to recognize my ability to see as an amazing gift (even with contact lenses and Rite-Aid readers).
During my recent retreat at the Abbey in Oregon and following Compline each evening, the monastic community would gather beneath a woven image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to sing the “Salve Regina”. There I was, among my Brothers, clothed in habit and cowl—barefooted, in Birkenstocks—and feeling like I’d never left; caught up in that timeless moment. In 1531, near Mexico City, there was miraculously traced upon Juan Diego’s tilma the image of the Mother of God who appeared to him as a “mestiza”. She appeared dark-skinned like himself and speaking, not the language of the conquistadores, but his mother tongue: Nahuatl, the language of those blindly oppressed by Spain at the time. Over the years, the tilma has been studied by experts, some who say that, mirrored in the pupil of Guadalupe, is an Indian believed to be Juan Diego. I find that so consoling: that all of us are held in the gaze of God and never out of God’s sight. Mary reveals that we are, all of us, the apple of God’s eye.
Now, this man blind from birth recognizes such truth as his eyes are opened and sees Jesus as the “Son of Man; the Christ. This man is claimed by Christ while all those others disclaim this once blind beggar; some seeing him a sinner. Even his parents, out of fear, keep their distance, thus revealing the bone- chilling nature of fear.
He receives his sight after washing at the pool of Siloam. This is why the Early Church used this miracle as a catechesis on baptism, and why, today, we read this discourse in the presence of our Elect, some of whom will be baptized during the Easter Vigil.
The gift of baptism with its flowing waters of grace opens the eyes of our heart. So, this healing of the man born blind involves much more than a restoration of physical sight. The meaning is deeper. The heart must be touched so that we might learn to see as God sees; seeing “between the blinks” as the writer John Shea puts it.
To follow Christ from darkness into the light involves a willingness to look beyond differences and what separates us, one from another. To claim each other as ‘kin’, willingly recognizing the common nature we share. Before the opening session of Vatican Council II, Blessed John XXIII said (and I paraphrase) that we must ‘look to what unites rather than what divides us’. This alone, as I see it, has the power to release us from the blind-spot of sin, and awaken us to life and its gift.
During these days of Lent that remain, let us keep Christ in sight who wants only to stir to life the waters of baptism within us as we follow his lead and heed his voice. May we see…
Father Tim Clark
March 23, 3rd Sunday of Lent
Once upon a time, someone once said to a parishioner (in so many words) that ‘Father Tim keeps quoting that Merton guy!’ Well, ‘guy’, Merton has much to say in my estimation with words that fathom this search for God life is meant to become, as well as God’s own search for us within our predicament.
Recently, I read a passage from Merton’s journal the other morning; words that, like a key, unlock the exchange happening between Jesus and the woman at the well this 3nd Sunday in Lent; opening us to its meaning today. Merton writes:
Christ recognizes my poverty in His poverty. For I see myself through His grace. His grace is working; therefore I am on my way to being healed. O the need of that healing! I walk from region to region of my soul and discover that I am a bombed city.
(March 3, 1953)
When life’s in shambles and there’s “not a stone left upon another stone”, it is in that place where Christ is found; needed. Paradoxically, we discover ourselves in such a place and find a way out of the rubble; our lives “a bombed city.”
This happened to Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, when exiled to Germany for doctoral studies after his stint as Jesuit Provincial in Argentina; a time fraught with mistakes, and tumultuous. He now refers to those years and that sojourn as “a time of humility and humiliation.”
Something similar happened to Pete Carroll, now an NFL success story. Looking back, he sees his being fired as coach of the New England Patriots—a failure, when everything seemed to fall apart—as helping to discover in himself what he needed to face. That failure changed him for good, and taught what he brings to the game today.
Now, what does the Samaritan woman have in common with a pontiff and NFL coach? At first glance, not much. Yet, when we delve beneath the surface they share a common predicament. When she meets Jesus at the well, her life’s in ruins; her hope levelled. Shunned by the village, she is forced to fetch water at noon, alone. She carries within the broken cistern of her heart the wreckage of five marriages and the humiliation of it all. Into that situation Jesus arrives, sitting at the well and “tired from his journey”. At the well, he looks into the parched soul of someone tired of it all. I imagine he sees in her poverty something of his own; that would, at the end of his life and nailed to a cross, cry out in dereliction, “I thirst!” Because of such empathy, there begins to surface within this forlorn woman an awareness of the bone-dry recesses of her own soul she’s kept buried. No man has ever had this effect on her; who understands her need and this unquenched thirst inside her. Because of this surprising exchange, there begins to flow inside her a hope that springs eternal. She leaves, not only her water jar by the well, but a past with all its faults which has, providentially, brought her to Christ and to that greater want athirst in us all. Do we not see something of ourselves in her? Something of those failed attempts at life which have left us ‘high and dry’? Do we not see in Christ “tired from his journey” something of our tired want; “my poverty in his poverty”? If so, then we are not far from that life-giving exchange Christ is and that longs to come to life within us all.
This Lent, may the work of grace flow within us so that, with Merton we can claim, “I am on the way to being healed. O the need of that healing!”
Father Tim Clark
March 16, 2nd Sunday of Lent
The other morning, I read the following words in a passage from Thomas Merton’s journal:
Our sorry idiot life, our idiot existence, idiot not because it has to be but because it is not what it could be with a little more courage and care. (March 1964)
This word “idiot” triggered a humorous memory from my monastic past. I was working in the book bindery at the Abbey—one of our industries where, before books were digitized, would bind weekly 800-1000 books for such customers as Willamette University, Reed College and OSU to name a few. Nearby, Brother Gerald was checking over the finished books bound that morning and before shipping them out via UPS the next morning. Suddenly, and with arms thrown in the air, we heard him say, “Idiots! I live with idiots!” One of the monks had accidently collated a large medical journal incorrectly. Parts of it were out of sequence, and the Index sewn in upside down. This meant Gerald had to pull the book apart and correct it. Those of us who heard his ‘shout out’ had a good laugh over Gerald’s humorous handling of a frustrating situation.
Life happens, as they say. Yet, it becomes sorry and idiotic, upside down, out of sequence and without meaning when we live mindlessly: without attention and presence. How distracted I can be that I miss what God is saying through the ‘book of nature’ and story of my life? If only we could learn to be more present “with a little more courage and care”, mindful of the gift and potential that shines out daily—even within those dark struggles—seeking only our attention; wanting only to free us from the mindless meanderings that keep us ignorant and lodged within “our idiot existence”.
A way out is through the practice of the Examen of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This past weekend, the 1st Sunday of Lent and at my suggestion, parishioners Kent Hickey and Matt Barmore spoke at all the Masses on the gift of the Examen. They spoke so convincingly, rooted as they are in Ignatian spirituality. When Matt walked us through the practice of the Examen, the silence was palpable as, together, we listened with eyes closed. I was quite moved by the silence of our communal attention. This exercise has the wisdom to open minds and hearts to the presence of God in daily life, if only we daily put it into practice, preferably at the end of the day. To reflect on those five points of the Examen: 1) What am I grateful for today? 2) Where have I felt God’s presence? 3) Where have I felt separated from God? 4) Where do I stand in need of forgiveness? 5) What graces do I need? This way of praying and dialogue with God has the potential to make us more aware of God and to order my life, disordered as it is by ignorance and sin. It can so change us that we begin to believe God’s love and grace are enough.
In the Gospel this 2nd Sunday in Lent, Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James and John. Suddenly, the luminous mystery of His nature is revealed before their eyes leaving them, mysteriously, amazed and afraid. He is “the One”, the meaning every heart seeks. This Mystery continues to shine out within our most ordinary lives and is perceived when we learn to pray and live with attention; to see life and others with “rinsed eyes” as Merton put it. Daily, Christ waits for us and can be glimpsed when we ‘exercise’ our faith, simply spelled out in the Examen. Christ peers through “the latticework of our lives” wanting only to liberate souls within a world often ignorant and enamored with itself. Yet a world, nonetheless, saved and loved by the One whose light reaches out to all.
This Lent, and with those three disciples on the mountain, may our eyes be opened; more awake and present to life, to the One who lives.
Father Tim Clark
February 23, 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I believe it was Gandhi who said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” These words sprang to mind as I pondered Jesus’ words from St. Matthew’s Gospel (5:38-48) this 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time; a passage that continues his teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other one as well.
Offer no resistance. To live life without that knee-jerk need to retaliate and strike back makes no sense to many and strikes some as a bit masochistic. This teaching from the Sermon on the Mount is often overlooked. For centuries, we’ve turned a blind eye to its challenge. Let’s face it: Jesus’ words defy logic when looked at rationally, for such words spring from the illogical nature of Divine Love.
Monika Hellwig, a Catholic theologian who taught at Georgetown for years, sheds light on this rather radical notion of Jesus:
To realize God’s Reign…requires gestures of reconciliation that seem to run counter to common sense and prudence. It requires the overcoming of anger, hostility and suspicion in others not by retaliation and restraint of their power to act, but by a kind of de-escalation or defusing.
(“Gladness Their Escort”, pp. 90-91)
Jesus’ teaching is redemptive in that it offers an alternative that frees us from the blindsided, vicious cycle that traps so many within resentment and that instinctual need, lurking in most of us, to strike back. Such retaliation changes nothing, really. Instead, it deadens hope and the possibility of change.
Surprisingly, Governor Jay Inslee has taken a step toward such an alternative when recently deciding against executions while governor. There was “no light bulb moment”, as he put it. Simply, he felt that “It’s not right”; that “There’s no evidence it deters murder.”
This unforeseen decision, however, did not sit well with citizens who called it “shortsighted”; “irresponsible and disgraceful”; a “blatant disregard for victims’ suffering.” What is your reaction?
Cardinal Walter Kasper said that to follow Christ demands “a break from the status quo.” Our lives ought to look differently; lives offering alternatives that liberate, and that redeem us from imprisoning mindsets and behavior. As followers of Christ, we are “Called to be good as God is good.” (Hellwig) The Christian life is not about “making sense”. Rather, it’s about loving as God loves us, saints and sinners alike, with a love that sees something of who we are in the other.
Fr. Tim Clark
January 26, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our life is a journey, and when we stop moving, things go wrong.
At a General Audience in the Vatican, a young student told the Holy Father that he was “searching…to be faithful”; that he was having difficulties and doubts, and wanted help “in my growth” as he put it.
Pope Francis responded, not by telling him to ‘pray, go to Mass and keep the commandments’. Instead, he responded with words that respected the honest question of this young student; words I find wise and insightful. Pope Francis said, in part:
Walking is an art…walking is precisely the art of looking at the horizon, thinking about where I want to go, and also coping with the weariness that comes from walking…there are days of darkness, days of failure, and some days of falling…Get up quickly, immediately, and continue to go on.
In the gospel of Matthew (4:12-23) this 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we see Jesus “walking by the sea of Galilee” (my emphasis) as he calls his first disciples to follow. Jesus knew the ‘art of walking’ and was quite familiar with its weariness. He knew all too well days of darkness and failure; days of falling. Because he experienced our “footsore journey” (Buechner) Jesus is able to empathize with all that we face on this walk which is our life. Yet, Jesus teaches us, through this art of walking and way of discipleship, to keep our eyes fixed upon God, seeing everything “against an infinite horizon.”(Rahner) In other words, we must not lose sight of the destination to which we are headed, no matter what.
Jesus knew in his own flesh what we experience: the temptation to throw in the towel and give up when the wearied darkness of life overwhelms; when it seems like we’re walking in circles and getting nowhere. Yet, we are urged to learn through his example not to give up, and to trust because, “When we stop walking, things go wrong.” All that matters is that we not give up, but keep putting one foot in front of the other. From personal experience, I’ve come to see that there is no viable option. I cannot not walk if I hope to, one day, arrive.
I find it significant when calling his first disciples Jesus does not call them individually. Rather he calls pairs of brothers. Again, Pope Francis addressed to that young, doubting student words apropos to this:
But also: it is terrible to walk alone, terrible and tedious; walking in community, with friends, with those who love us: this helps us. It helps us to arrive precisely at the destination where we must arrive.
We cannot make this journey alone, and why we need the Church and her sacramental life. There, we encounter the Living One who accompanies us on this walk, this life that leads to God who is “the journey and the journey’s end.” (T.S. Eliot)
Father Tim Clark
January 19, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question. “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.
--Pope Francis, interview in “La Civilta Catolica”
This past Sunday, I was with my sister Anne as, together, we visited Mom and, together, fed her. During our conversation, she brought up the situation at Eastside Catholic High Scholl and the resignation of the vice-principal and swim coach, Mark Zmuda due to his civil marriage to another man this past summer. Piqued, my sister, a woman with strong opinions, finds the situation unjust, and a clear example of the “double standard”. “If that’s the case,” she said, “they need to remove any teacher in a Catholic school who is using contraception or who has been divorced and remarried without the marriage blest.” I could only agree, though I’m not privy to all the details on this difficult and thorny issue. I mentioned that “hands are tied” right now, so what else could have been done? Yet, Anne makes a valid point. Perhaps the situation could have been handled differently. I thought of our parents who, in the 1960’s and beyond, dissented from church teaching and practiced contraception while practicing their faith: good Catholics who loved the church, yet saw their decision, that I learned about years later, as morally necessary.
As I mull over this painful decision and messy situation, what has me most concerned is the ‘lens’ through which Mark Zmuda has been perceived. With the light of Church teaching as guide, we zero in on his sexual orientation and civil marriage and see nothing more, it seems. It is this way of seeing that strikes me as limiting and lacking in context. Like every other person, Mark is far more than his sexual orientation; this ‘given’ within his personal life. Did not segregation laws in this country carry out something similar: focusing only on the color of a person’s skin and nothing more? When we choose to view others through such a lens we see only the surface and not that deeper mystery inherent in all. We fail to see with that gospel vision Jesus espouses on nearly every page. We must begin with the person and see the person in context so as to avoid the pitfalls of a one-dimensional approach. That seems to have happened at Eastside Catholic and happens within the Church-at-large when dealing with these complex, moral issues today. Look, again, at the Holy Father’s words:
Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.
Such accompaniment rarely is clear sailing, nor made with black and white certitude. When lived with integrity and depth, much of life is uncertain, and an experience with a mysterious God “who writes straight with crooked lines” much of the time. That is why we must accompany one another with respect, acceptance and mercy.
The decision regarding Mark Zmuda does not seem all that merciful, nor does it set his situation in context. To me, it “misses the weightier matters of the Law”, as Jesus puts it. It focuses only upon one aspect of his life. As I said, he is far more than his sexual orientation. From what I’ve heard, Mark was an effective vice-principal and coach, very much liked by students and faculty. His presence had a positive impact. So, this decision only cripples the Church’s authority in the eyes of many—young people, especially— already lacking in trust due to the humiliating sins that have marred the church in recent years.
In the Gospel this 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus is recognized as the “Lamb of God” by the Baptist when he’s willing to see Jesus for who he is, though there was a time when he did not see, nor know him. The word “behold” found in this passage means, “To look, and look again.” May we learn to behold each other and so consider each person, not through a lens that limits, but in a way that accepts each other as God’s own; a God who never rejects nor condemns what His hands have made, but endorses each person with love.
Father Tim Clark
January 12, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Following Christmas, I began reading Philip Yancey’s book, “Reaching for the Invisible God”; a good read. In chapter 13 he writes:
Toward the end of his life, Henri Nouwen said that prayer had become for him primarily a time of “listening to the blessing.” “The real ‘work’ of prayer,” he said, “is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me.” That may sound self-indulgent, he admitted, but not if it meant seeing himself as the Beloved, a person in whom God has chosen to dwell. The more he listened to that voice, the less likely he was to judge his worth by how others responded to him or by how much he achieved…
He sought the radical freedom of an identity anchored in a peace “beyond all human praise and blame.” (p. 166)
This idea of prayer as “listening to the blessing”; “to the voice that says good things” helps fathom what occurs in Jesus at the Jordan River and described in St. Matthew’s gospel on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord:
And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
I am reminded of other words, apropos on this feast and penned in the 12th century by St. Bernard of Clairvaux who said, “This voice still speaks, even if no one is listening”:
May I suggest, then, that you prick up the ear of your heart in order to hear this inner voice…to hear God speaking within?
Even when this voice goes silent in the darkest hours of the Passion, Jesus finds the bare-boned willingness to cling to the memory of the voice that washed over him in the Jordan and that revealed a nature and goodness anchored in God. We share in this by our baptism; by the sheer gift of existence, for Christ now “holds all things together in himself.”
Like Jesus, baptism asks that we leave behind the ‘terra firma’ of our certitudes and logic and allow ourselves to wade towards the mysterious depth of God’s will: to ‘take the plunge and get wet’ as the writer Anne Lamott describes it. What keeps us afloat within life with its unfathomable demands is the willingness to listen to this voice that still speaks. Because there lurks within us a fallen tendency to attune ourselves instead to those other, darker voices that keep God at bay; voices that feed in us a ‘lie’.
Yancey describes such voices as undermining hope because they want us to believe that “we are unworthy, we have failed, we fall short.” Such is the ‘lie’ we succumb to time and again and that sinks us, leaving us unmoored; adrift. In Christ, God has decided to ‘take the plunge’ and fix his heart on us for good. Such desire wants only to buoy us within life’s turbulence; its joys, fears and hopes.
On this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, may there surface within us the willing desire to listen to the blessing we are, in spite of the clay feet of sin. Let us wade towards the One whose heart is open to us, like a Father; who sees us all as Beloved and whose voice still speaks to anyone willing to become silent within the flow of life and listen to that voice, awash in love.
Father Tim Clark
December 25, Christmas Day Homily
In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God.
In the beginning: these three words call to mind the first words of scripture, in the Book of Genesis. By borrowing these words and using them at the beginning of his gospel, the evangelist John wants to impress upon us that, in Jesus’ birth, God is creating something new.
By this birth, God speaks—as God did in the beginning—irrevocably. God speaks a word that remains;
a Word without which “nothing came to be”. A Word, like light, that shines in the darkness; that darkness has not overcome.
In the beginning was the Word…
What is the meaning of this Word God speaks and that becomes flesh in the birth of Jesus we celebrate today?
Recently, I read “Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic” by Nora Gallagher. At one point, she explains to her father why she writes. Allow me to quote the passage here:
Writing, I said, was the way I made sense of my life and discovered what I was thinking…Writing is certainly a voyage of discovery. It is sometimes a shipwreck.
I tried to find the right word, I told him, for the thing it signified. The right word is like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that perfectly slips into place. The right word leads to the next word and makes things and ideas spring to life. The wrong word…deadens and destroys. In the beginning, John’s gospel says, was the Word. (pp. 48-49)
The right word is “like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that perfectly slips into place.”
My friends, Christ is the right Word, a timely Word and missing piece which holds things together. While Jesus walked this earth and sojourned within our footsore journey, his words puzzled some—especially the religious authorities—yet found a receptive home in the hearts of so many more. Hopefully, such words—provocative and life-giving—find a home in us as well.
For Christ is that Word who makes sense of life; who helps piece together our jigsaw existence, leading us on—“grace in place of grace”—though we can’t see the whole picture much of the time, nor understand what is happening, or why.
Christ is that Word become flesh, who slips into our world to save us from those wrong words that distort minds and twist hearts; words that deaden and destroy.
We remember Christ’s birth, not like some sentimental repast—though the mystery of his birth has been sentimentalized to the point that it misses the point. We remember Christ’s birth to let that Word, born of God in the beginning, inside our own skin so that we might speak this Word by our lives; a Word making sense to those who trust; that pieces together our scattered existence when we dare to dream that all find a place in Divine Love; Love that excludes no one and embraces all by the mystery of this birth.
If Christ’s birth ever hopes to be delivered from empty sentiment and to make a difference within this puzzling world of ours, then we must become the Word. That is the challenge of this birth.
St. Teresa of Avila captured this well in words when she wrote:
Christ has no body now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.
Centuries ago, one of the Patristic writers—St. Augustine, perhaps?—said that each of us is a word spoken by God that God speaks into existence at our beginning.
Paradoxically, this does not mean there are many words; only one Word that God continually speaks and through whom we, though many, are one. All of us, with our uniqueness and gifts, express in a variety of ways this one Word Christ embodies. Christ is that revealed Word which offers meaning and makes sense of this voyage of discovery we make together.
Since his pontificate began, Pope Francis has spoken words that have puzzled some, yet have shed light and offered hope for countless others. For many, inside and outside the Church, Pope Francis is speaking the right word at a crucial time, and within a world—and sometimes a church—that has a penchant for uttering rash and judgmental words; wrong words that only deaden and destroy; words not born of God.
When asked about the Church he dreams about, the Pope responded that what the “Church needs most is the ability to heal wounds” and likened the Church to a “field hospital”. “Heal the wounds,” he said. “Heal the wounds. You have to start from the ground up”;
A pope who said,
God accompanies persons and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.
A pope who said that those who shepherd the Church ought to “have the smell of the sheep about them.”
A pope who said, in response to the puzzling nature of human sexuality, that
If a person is gay, seeks God and is of good will, who am I to judge?
A pope without the red shoes, without pretense; who refuses to be sequestered within Vatican walls and out of touch; who knows well in his own flesh, as did Christ, the press of the crowd and their thronging need. To my eyes, Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air, revealing the mystery of the Incarnation in a deeply human and compassionate manner.
Recently, he had a birthday, turning seventy-seven. To celebrate, he did something I found amazing and which makes the birthday of Christ we celebrate down to earth and accessible, void of sentiment and utterly real.
On his birthday, the Pope invited three homeless men—one with his dog in tow—to Mass, with breakfast following. “Actions speak louder than words” as the adage has it. Pope Francis walks his talk.
In this morning’s Gospel, we hear the stunning promise of Christ’s birth:
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
On this Christmas Day and in the months ahead, may we live out this Word Christ embodies, a Word which, above all, is a word of hope and of mercy. Christ is that Word making sense of life with its puzzling nature; a correct word which holds life together and without which nothing came to be. When we are willing to live this Word, the pieces fall into place, and the world slowly saved from those wrong words which only deaden and destroy.
Father Tim Clark, Pastor
Our Lady of the Lake Parish
Seattle, WA 98115
December 24, Christmas Eve Homily
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
This question with its probing words was recently posed by Pope Francis; words written, not from some ivory tower within the Vatican, but fleshed out from his own experience for, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires he “was known to sneak out at night and break bread with the homeless, sit with them on the street and eat with them as part of his aim to share the plight of the poor and let them know someone cared.”
How can it be that it is not news when the homeless die, but news when the stock market loses points?
It is this kind of ‘news’, sadly, that grabs the world’s attention much of the time; where money markets, position, and what we possess seem more real than the reality of God. Yet, Christmas past, present and yet to come announce a rather different kind of news: proclaimed by an angel who, like some luminous, falling star in a night sky, startles fear-struck shepherds huddled in the dark with the
Good news of great joy for all the people…
About an infant newly born; why's this news? What can this mean, these words heard Christmas after Christmas, that sound in one ear and exit the other; words which no longer grab the attention of an incredulous world; a world intent on what seems more tangible, more real like iphones, and Facebook…anything to distract us from the inner plight we sometimes experience: where I find myself in darkness. No different, really, than those shepherds when the angel grabs their attention with words born of light; that change the direction of their lives as, in haste, they leave their flocks behind to see this sight, this news of a homeless infant in a manger which was nothing more than a feeding trough for animals:
You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
The message is like some clue that contestants on television’s “The Amazing Race” hastily tear from an envelope and that, initially, leaves them stymied as they make their way.
Yes, the angel’s message is a clue that hints at how God now chooses to move within this spinning world of ours: in disguise. No different, really, than that bishop—now pope—who would sneak out at night to break bread with the homeless. To share their plight and let them know someone cares. This, my friends, is the good news of the Incarnation that happened once, and happens still.
It is such news the world needs, so often out of touch and forgetful of God. It takes a swaddled infant—what is helpless and small—to bring us back to earth and close to what really matters within this driven, calculating age of ours. This news within our sometimes clueless lives is what we need to hear; news that is vastly more important than any stock market; news that God, in whom we live, move and have our being, was willing to become flesh and embrace our human condition. It’s beyond words, really, and cannot be logically understood for such news brings to light the illogical nature of Divine Love.
You who are parents, did not the birth of your child forever change you? Holding your daughter or son for the first time and swaddled in your arms, did you not feel close to something miraculous? Falling in love with your child, did you not—perhaps for the first time—sense yourself close to something bigger; to God?
If so, you’ve begun to master the clue and glimpse with the eyes of faith why God would choose to become small in infant flesh: because it has the power to move hearts. The news of Christ’s birth, revealing the human face of God, has the power to save us from ourselves when, like a newborn, we hold close the Mystery and take it to heart.
In her most recent book, “Stitches” Anne Lamott writes:
What a paradox: that we connect with God, with divinity, in our flesh and blood and time and space. We connect with God in our humanity. A great truth, attributed to Emily Dickenson, is that “hope inspires the good to reveal itself.” This is almost all I ever need to remember. Gravity and sadness yank us down, and hope gives us a nudge to help one another get back up or to sit with the fallen on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity. (pp. 18-19)
And Lamott continues:
When we agree to (or get tricked into) being part of something bigger than our own wired, fixated minds, we are saved. When we search for something larger than our own selves to hook into, we can come through whatever life throws at us.
“Larger” can mean a great cause, a project of restoration, or it can mean a heightened, expansive sense of the now…
Larger can mean a six-pound addition to the family—nothing is larger than a newborn… (p. 91)
In the birth of Jesus, we become part of something bigger and much larger. A birth that saves us from our “wired, fixated minds” when we allow the mystery of it all to captivate and change us so much so that we begin to live out of a hope that helps “one another get back up” or that sits “with the fallen…in solidarity.”
Christmas reveals that we need the eyes of children and of the poor to see the ‘clue’ that hints at the meaning hidden in Christ’s birth: when heaven is wedded to earth with “the skies sparkling like diamonds.” For children and the poor naturally sense their need for God. For them, God is real and no fantasy nor opiate.
The Divine Birth we celebrate, this dawning of light, wants us to see the face of God as well as something of ourselves in the other; to see in the One born for us no distant God, but one who is close, who is flesh, who is where we are. For each of us, with our uniqueness, our differences, quirks and givens are not all that different, really. All of us are ‘kin’: sisters and brothers children of God because of Bethlehem’s birth; all a divine trick, this clue in flesh.
When we allow such vision to have its time, then the elderly and homeless dying of exposure will grab our attention and be seen as far greater news than any stock market point.
Such vision alone saves us, bringing to birth within the hearts of us all Christ who walks this earth even now: who lives in our flesh and within all that is, like a clue to be deciphered and found.
In her book “The Reed of God” Caryll Houselander writes:
What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood, our daily life—our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking , working and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows—to God.
My friends, on this Christmas night let us hasten, with the shepherds, to Bethlehem; to that place of birth now happening within the ordinary and every day. Like them, let us believe in the light, beheld in the infant born of God and swaddled in smallness and in need, like a clue. Let us see, revealed in it all, something of ourselves. For such a birth and such light is good news. Its hope nudges us to believe in the light of