Homily for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, 2014
This time of year is one of the most difficult for most of us, probably… Winter seems to grow more menacing in February. It is no longer merely a short passing season – no, it becomes a vast and oppressive foe, stretching across every horizon blotting out all recollection of happiness and goodness in life.
Maybe not that bad, but the long cold days do cloud the mind – we experience a kind of collective amnesia – as much as we miss summer, we forget what it is. We forget what it feels like to live in a climate that is not hostile. And I think that is what makes this time of year particularly difficult: it is not just that it is cold, but it is that we have forgotten that there is anything but cold.
And this same late winter dementia can afflict not only the mind, but the soul as well.
It can happen to us – perhaps we have not even realized it, we have slowly become acclimated – but the memory of God’s favor and his providential care, of the warmth of his love, it can grow cold. It is not only that we do not feel his presence, his warmth in our lives at this moment – but we may even forget what that is like, what it is like to live in the warmth of God’s love.
To be a bird of the sky – launching into the wind, soaring, cutting through the air, gliding through life effortlessly, the days passing beneath us, out of the reach of danger, the sun at our back.
To be a lily of the field – kissed by dew in the morning, transparent and open to the world, unafraid to be splendid, to be beautiful, to be loved and admired and doted on by bees.
How far away these memories of birds and lilies can seem in the first days of March – as mere fairy tales. As Christ speaks of his providential care to us this morning, perhaps we realize that we have made plans as if the Son cannot bring true warmth and joy to our hearts - that a kind spiritual winter will last forever. Maybe even subconsciously we started to believe that life in the Church, that the life of faith, is a cold life of penance and restraint, of austerity and privation, of sacrifice and discipline. Of stockpiling wood, insulating wall after wall, roof after roof, with adding oil tank after oil tank after oil tank. Making do. Our souls slowly and methodically buried beneath the soft walls of insulation, protected from the cold, locked behind closed doors, huddled around familiar sources of warmth. Restless, listless, wanting more.
And then we hear from our friends who have moved down to Florida, who have left the seasons of the spiritual life behind. “Why not bail out on the whole project?” they ask. Maybe we have taken trips down that road – when we felt we just couldn’t handle the cold any longer. But Florida is boring and flat. Yes, it is warm – but in a humid, sticky, cockroachy way. Fake. There is no ebb and flow, no depth to life. Nothing dies, but nothing is reborn either. It is easier – you don’t have to give up your Sunday mornings. You don’t have to remember, you don’t have to trust. Until the hurricane.
No – the soul is not made for Florida, for a flat, season-less, resort existence. Our life in Christ has seasons, seasons that can are meant to teach us to remember and trust, to sacrifice and love, even in the depths of winter. Seasons that show us that new life is born from sacrifice, that great beauty and goodness arise from ground that once seemed frozen and dead. That the cross brings the resurrection.
Christ reminds us of these things today – he heals our deep winter amnesia, reminding us of our hope, of summer, of his care and compassion.
“Remember,” he tells us, “what it is like to go outside in a t-shirt, to drive with the windows open? Remember the smell of soil that is warm and fertile, of flowers, of hot pavement after a thunderstorm, of a grill on a warm summer’s eve?”
“Remember, o soul, how I breathed life into you and set you on this earth, the gifts that I have given you, how you have received so much good from my hands? Remember how I upheld you and consoled you with my words, how I rescued you from the chains of your sins and nourished you with heavenly food?”
May we never forget the goodness of God, his providential care for us – even as we trudge through deep winter. May our prayer today echo the words of the psalmist: “Only in God be at rest, my soul, for from him comes my hope. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold: I shall not be disturbed.”
The cold will ebb away, this Wednesday we enter mud season, beginning with the cross smudged on our foreheads. The seasons are constantly in flux, God’s grace is at work in varied ways – there are seasons of consolation and of desolation, of challenge and of reward. But in all seasons may we remember and treasure and be upheld by the memory and the promise of the warmth, the beauty, the goodness of God’s providential care.