Monday, May 5, 2014

What Are You Discussing as You Walk Along?

Homily for the 3rd Week of Easter, 2014

We live in an information age – we have so much information at our fingertips.  And we collect it, we sort it, we manage it.  So much social information, so much technical information – when you think of all the stuff that we have to keep track of today – how much information daily life demands of us.

How many jobs now really are heavily occupied with collecting, managing, and using information?  Probably the overwhelming majority – and it doesn’t matter which jobs – from the doctor’s office to the Walmart counter – so much of what we are doing comes down to processing information.

“What are you discussing as you walk along?”  Our Lord’s question breaks through their discussion of worldly information and events.  It derails their conversation and stops them in their tracks.

Their response is not particularly respectful.  “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?”  Basically: “Have you been living under a rock?”They take for granted that of course everyone would know about what they are discussing – everyone is talking about it!

But our Lord is not put off.  He presses them:
“What sort of things?” he asks.

His question makes them step out of the immediacy of the conversation, the immediacy of the information, and reflect.  And notice that when they do they reveal that they have gotten it dead wrong.

“Oh, how foolish you are,” Jesus tells him.  He pressed them a little for an explanation, and they did not really know the answer.  They knew the information, but they didn’t know the answer.  They knew the what, but not the why.

And aren’t we vulnerable, in our technological age, to the same weakness – more vulnerable!
We are so used to collecting and managing and using information.  But do we know what it is for any more?

I find this all the time in pastoral settings – a simple why question upsets the whole cart of apples.  A couple comes for a marriage prep meeting.  “So why do you want to get married?”  Uhhhh….   No idea.  “It’s what you do?”  “We love each other?”  Yeah, well I love my sister, but I’m not going to marry her!  Later on in our meetings we talk about children and I ask “So why do you want to have children?”  Same thing…  “It’s what you do?”  “I like kids?”  Well than go work at a daycare!

Now these are some basic questions!  And there are hundreds more like them.  “What defines a human person?”  “Does human life have a purpose?”  “What is a successful human life?”  “What brings fulfillment in life?”  “Why is it important to learn about the world?”  “Why should people do good and avoid evil?”

But you know – you ask these questions and you get a weird look – you disturbed their conversation along the way.  “Well of course everyone knows what brings fulfillment in life!”  “Okay, what?”  “Um…you think too much!”

Think too much!?  Since when was it thinking too much to ask who we are and where we’re going?

I’m convinced we need to start a new radio program.  Instead of Catholic Answers, we can call it Catholic Questions.  It seems that no one is asking the most basic, fundamental questions in life.  Instead, we are amassing worthless piles of information and then making people feel like social outcasts if they don’t know about it.  “What? Are you the only person in the country who doesn’t know the latest about: fill in some sports or entertainment or political flash in the pan -?”

“Oh how foolish you are.” Christ says to our culture.  “Walking along talking about all these recent happenings and you don’t even know who you are or where you are going.”

Now Peter was no fool.  After his abject failure in the face of the cross and restoration in Christ, he had done some serious soul searching.  And one thing is clear: he had figured out who he was and he where he was going.  He belonged to Christ and he was following him.  Listen again to his words to us in the second reading today.  “Beloved: conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.”

Reverent conduct in the presence of God means asking him questions, seeking his will.  If our identity is rooted in him, then it makes sense that we would be trying to figure out what that means.  Faith is not so much a clear understanding of God, as it is a way of life seeking to understand him.  It is not nearly as important that we teach our children all the Catholic answers as it is that we show them how to ask Catholic questions.  That we show them what faith seeking understanding looks like.

“What are you discussing as you walk along?”  Jesus poses this question to each of us today.  On your way home in the car.  This evening around the dinner table.  On the phone with a child living out of state.

“But Father,” some might say, “Isn’t that a bit much?  This isn’t a monastery.  Lighten up, have a beer.  How ‘bout those red sox?”

How about a beer and red sox and spiritual conversation?  Spiritual conversation does not need to be contentious or heavy.  It can be light and enjoyable and enriching to everyone.  I think most people yearn to speak with friends about the things that matter to them.  Healthy spiritual conversation happens quite naturally if we are not afraid of questions that get to the heart of the matter, questions prompted by faith seeking understanding.  We have a natural desire to know who we are and what we are made for.

I see this played out every day on facebook.  There are all these personality quizzes that people fill out.  “What kind of flower are you?”  “Which star wars character are you?”  And we give these add companies all kinds of personal information just to get some program to make some pronouncement about who we are.  “You are a daisy.” Great.

We are made to ponder the bigger questions, not just survive each day.  Our culture, our families, need and yearn for real discussions about the meaning of life, not just the facts of life.  Indeed, when we break through the facts and talk about what really matters, when we seek to understand the God who made us and walks with us, we find great joy and fulfillment.  What did the disciples say: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

What are you discussing as you walk along?


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