Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I am conflicted about beginning a blog.

The life of a parish priest in Maine is fairly full - there is much to do.  Furthermore, the Internet is full of various voices sounding off about all kinds of things.  Is there really the need to add another to the fray?  There is a degree of presumption in thinking that one's unedited and unscrutinized words are worthy of publication, digital or otherwise.

Yet, a number of people have asked whether they could access homilies online.  And perhaps the most compelling of reasons I have entertained lately is that much of what needs to be heard and said by a Catholic priest does not seem to have a suitable forum in normal parish life.  There are Catholic themes that simply do not lend themselves to the pulpit.  When preaching at Mass, the priest's task is to reflect on the scripture for that given day, and to do so in a manner that will aid the spiritual, intellectual, and moral development of the specific congregation before him.  This intrinsically limits what he says in a number of ways.  First, he must strike a general tone so as to be at least somewhat comprehensible by most of the people who hear him.  Second, he can't go on for too long, lest he lose their attention.  Thirdly, when preaching he speaks with an authority linked to the Gospel just proclaimed, requiring that his words be more than mere opinion or musings, but have a certain seriousness and pastoral aim.
Finally, the homily is not conducted in our time as a dialogue - there is no give and take, no opportunity for questions, objections, or rebuttals.  It cannot and should not take the form of a conversation.

And so a blog.  Why Sparks and Stubble?
The book of Wisdom promises us that one day the souls of the just will dart about like sparks through stubble, and I have always found the image to be beautiful.  There is freedom and a joy in the spark that wends its way through stubble.  We are meant to seek that joy and freedom even now as we await redemption - to give witness to the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. 

Another level of meaning for the title refers directly to the writings on this page: that some may be sparks of insight, but there will also be much stubble.  It is an admission right from the start that much of what I think is stubble - young thought, not well aged or mature reasoning.  Yet my hope is that there may be found some sparks of wisdom or knowledge among these lines, gleaned from some passage or painting, that will be of use to the reader. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

"What Are You Doing the Rest of your Life?"

Homily from the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2012

I was remembering this week that the time when I was discerning whether or not to enter the seminary was accompanied by a soundtrack.  Not really a soundtrack, but a song – an old jazz tune: “What are you doing with the rest of your life.”  Not sure if you’ve ever heard it – my mom often liked to sing it when I was getting into trouble.  It is actually a love song, but the first sentence, combined with a beautiful, haunting melody, spoke to me as I was trying to figure out what to do next in life.

Actually, the song kind of haunted me.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask the question, “What are you doing the rest of your life.”  Plenty of my peers were not – and not only my peers, but plenty of people of all ages seemed to be avoiding the question.  On quite a number of occasions I was told that I thought too much. 

This week past has been the national week of vocation awareness.  And our readings for this weekend lend themselves to the theme of vocation as we hear the account of Samuel’s call and of the calling of the first disciples.

So what do these readings offer us who are entrusted with responding to Christ’s invitation to follow him in pursuing a vocation?  How do they guide our reflection on this very critical aspect of the Christian life, the life of our Church? 

In the Gospel Jesus asks those who are following him a question: “What are you looking for?”
It is a question that is not all that unlike “What are you doing with the rest of your life.”
A question that gets right to the heart of things, that requires soul searching in order to answer.
And while there are a number of things that should strike us about the story of Samuel’s call, the first is that he was sleeping in the temple.  He was waiting, he was listening, soul searching: seeking to understand life, himself, God, what to do in life.

And this searching that we see in the first disciples and in Samuel was motivated by a deeper insight, based on two important principles.  It was motivated first by the conviction that what we are made for, and what will make us happy in life, is knowing God and doing his will.  And so what is of the utmost importance, especially when you are young, is that  you seek first the kingdom of God, that you search out the Lord. 

And the second aspect of the insight of these disciples was that God and his will are not self evident. 
It’s not like gravity or simple addition – you can’t figure God out on your own, you can’t figure out his will for you on your own.  Certainly there is a capacity for God, we are made to be in union with him – but his ways are not our ways, nor are his thoughts our thoughts.  St. Paul asks “Who has known the mind of God, who has been his counselor?”  Who could have imagined a God who would enter time and space wrapped in swaddling clothes and save us from our sins by dying on a tree?  And furthermore, even if such insights were self-evident, the desire, the perseverance, the sacrifice required to live according to them, to seek Christ where he may be found and above all things: that is entirely beyond our natural ability: it requires grace.

Those who we watch searching for God in our readings today understood these things: that we are made to seek God and his will above all things and that we cannot do that on our own.
And of all the things that our children need to understand in order to respond to a vocation, to be open to a vocation, it is this core insight.  How do we teach them that?  By singing songs to them? 

Yes and no.  I think it means, to a large degree, the simple willingness to entertain the question “What are you looking for?” “What are you doing with the rest of your life?” and the engagement in real conversation about God and his will.

Now for some reason, there is often the impression that such an open ended question as “What do you seek?” or “What are you doing the rest of your life” is an intellectual question – that it is abstract and not a question that the common person would or should have.  That it is a question for the philosopher, not the butcher or the baker or the candlestick maker.

But that’s not true.  It’s not merely a philosophical question; it is a spiritual question, and maybe even more fundamentally, it is a human question.  And yet many of our brothers and sisters in this world don’t seem to be asking it.  In fact, they might look at you funny if you do.  But is there really any more important question to ask each day as a human being?  It is precisely what makes us human – that we don’t merely survive life like an animal, but are able to reflect on life and on God and on those around us so that we can love.

Any follower of Christ will be asked by him the same question that he asks the first disciples in our Gospel today: “What are you looking for?”  “What are you doing with the rest of your life?” 
The revelation of God in Jesus Christ requires soul searching, requires introspection, requires a faith that seeks to understand, as much as we are capable, the God who loves us. 
Christian faith is not merely about doing good, it is first and foremost about seeking the source of all goodness with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.
Love requires the seeking of the beloved, and faith, which is the love of God, requires a seeking of God, a seeking to know him and to follow his will. 

I am convinced that this is the true culture of vocations: not a culture where the priest is placed up on a pedestal or where we continually ask our young people about whether they have considered a future in the priesthood or religious life: but a culture where the people and their priests spend their days seeking God and his will above all things, trying to love him with their whole heart, mind, and strength.  That is the culture that we need to work to build: a culture unafraid to ask real spiritual questions and engage in serious searching for God above all things.