Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Cultivation of Saints: A Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
Solemnity of All Saints

November 1, 2015

The Cultivation of Saints

The longer I live in the County, the more agrarian my outlook is becoming. I pay closer attention to the seasons. I’m interested in how the crops are doing. I get concerned about the ratio of sunlight to rain during the growing season. And I’ve been reflecting on why this is the case. I’m not a farmer, so I have no immediate or economic stake in the well-being of our farms, but there’s something wholesome and satisfying and fulfilling about driving through the countryside and seeing how it all happens. Every time I see a farmer out in his field, or a tractor driving slowly on the side of the road, it’s a simple but touching reminder to me of how God brings about great things in small ways. A simple seed is planted in the soil…it’s watered, fertilized, grown, and harvested out of the ground, giving us the food that we so desperately need to survive. It’s amazing to me just how good and how masterful of an artist God is…He’s created this world not only with such order and efficiency, but also with such great beauty. The warm bread that adorns our dinner tables first adorned the landscape as amber waves of wheat. The heaping pile of mashed potatoes first graced the country side as beautiful and vibrant blossoms. Even our steaming broccoli first colored the horizon with its deep hues. And all of this beauty, all of this goodness, it all starts as a tiny seed planted in the ground. For those of us with eyes to see, the land, the soil, unlocks a great Mystery of our God, the Masterful Artist that He is, and how He arranges the universe and orders all things for His glory and our sanctification.

Today, in the shadow of another successful harvest season, with barns and stomachs full of God’s bounty and ready to endure the trials of winter, the Church places before us an important feast day: that of All Saints. Today we commemorate all of those many men and women throughout time who have graced the land and hearts of us all with their simple beauty and sanctity. We recall today not only those who have been officially raised to the altars by canonization, but all of those – known and unknown – who figured out that the sole and full meaning of life is to live for God in Christ. They are the living wheat who adorned the fields of humanity and the grains willingly crushed to become bread for the spiritually hungry. In their simplicity, in their goodness, in their truthfulness, in their humility, in their joyfulness, in their sufferings, and in their holiness, they have shown us, as Fulton Sheen so often said, that life is worthy living if it is truly lived in Christ. For two-thousand years, countless men and women – fathers, mothers, children, aunts, uncles, priests, sisters, bishops, teachers, blacksmiths, bakers, seamstresses, rich, poor, young and old – have heard the call of Jesus Christ, and in their own way according to their own state, heeded His call and followed Him to their eternal homeland. They are the true salt of the earth and the light of the world. They have borne so much fruit for mankind, feeding us and nourishing us with the fruit that God’s grace produced in their own lives. But like anything that bears fruit, these holy men and women did not fall from the sky…they were planted, cultivated, grown, and harvested from the ground.

Typically when we think of the saints, we tend to imagine them as they are so often depicted in art…pristine, other-worldly, and unreachable. We ask ourselves how we could ever be as pure as St. Thérèse of Lisieux or as innocent as St. Maria Goretti. We find it impossible to think that we could have as much strength as St. Catherine of Sienna or as much courage at St. Louis, King of France. We tell ourselves that we could never be as detached as St. Francis of Assisi, as eloquent as St. Mark, as wise as St. Thomas Aquinas, or as humble as good St. Joseph. And yet every time we tell ourselves these things, every time we place the saints on unreachable pedestals, we cheat ourselves out of a proper understanding of what holiness is, what is looks like, and how it is attained. We forget that all of these holy men and women started off as we all do…as small seeds. We forget that they, like us, sprout up out of the soil, grow, and bear fruit only by the means of the light of God’s grace. Every single one of us is planted by God in the same soil and every single one of us is called to great holiness. We might never have our pictures unveiled in St. Peter’s Square, we might never be given a feast day or remembered throughout the Universal Church or given the title “saint” – but we can, and in fact we must, strive to be counted among the throngs of holy men and women known by God, who have fought the good fight, and who have attained the blessedness of His Kingdom.

The holiness of all the saints is an organic holiness…it didn’t fall from the sky, it didn’t just appear in them, it was built up over time in their souls by God’s grace and their resolve to cultivate it. The virtues that they attained – faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance, courage, humility, patience, modesty, chastity – they all began as seeds to be nurtured. Their acts of love – simple or great – didn’t come from nowhere…they were the fruit of these virtues and the result of much sacrifice. This kind of holiness, when it is discovered, can unleash such great power and beauty into the world. By God’s grace this holiness is not reserved to a select few…it is available to us all. And it all begins in the ground.

For our part, following the example of all these holy men and women, we must focus now on cultivating the soil in which we find ourselves. We must allow the sweet dew of God’s grace to seep into us, allowing our roots to grow strong and deep. We must allow Christ to feed and fertilize us with His Body and Blood, giving us the nourishment we need to withstand the harsh and bitter conditions we sometimes have to endure. We must allow the Holy Spirit to prune us when we grow in ways we ought not and allow Him to weed out whatever it is that prevents our good growth. We must allow our Lady, the Queen of the Saints, to protect us with the mantle of her motherly care. And we must call upon and look towards the example of all those holy men and women who have grown out from the soil in beauty, truth, and goodness, and who have provided so much fruit for the Lord’s harvest.

Today, we give God thanks for all of His manifold blessings and we ask for a continued out-pouring of His grace into our lives and hearts, that one day, when our labors are complete, we too might be counted among those who feast for all eternity at the banquet of Lamb.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Story of Bartimaeus and Our Experience of Poverty: A Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

October 25, 2015

Two years ago as I was walking in downtown Washington, D.C. headed to the metro station, I saw a homeless woman sitting on the sidewalk. She wasn’t begging for money or anything, she was just sitting there surrounded by what few possessions she had. It’s a common and daily part of life for those who live in Washington to encounter the poor like this, but there was something about this woman that moved me. I walked over to her, knelt down, and told her that I didn’t have any cash to give her but that I would be more than happy to bring her anywhere and buy her as much food as she wanted. As I was saying this, my own pride and self-satisfaction just completely inflated. I began thinking about what a Good Samaritan I was being, about how Christ-like I was to stop and offer this poor woman a meal. I had my collar on and so it immediately entered into my head that this little act of selflessness on my part would serve as a great witness…here I was, engaging in the New Evangelization, following the example of Pope Francis, being a loving and caring Christian. But as I was talking to her she looked at me and said, “Who said I was hungry?” And she started to cry. I stared at her and she stared back, her eyes piercing through my soul, and her heart began to speak to my heart. I thought that I stumbled upon some charity case, upon a poor woman who just needed someone to get her a meal…but the reality is, I stumbled upon a living, breathing, journeying, hurting, hopeful, sorrowful, joyful, frightened, uncertain, beautiful, loveable woman…a human person…just like any of us…just like me. This realization nearly brought me to tears right there on 20th Street in DuPont Circle. So I sat down next to her, realizing that her true poverty, her wants and her needs, was ultimately not very different from my own, and we started talking. She told me about her life, how she ended up on the street after her boyfriend had abused her, and how she felt completely discarded and unwanted by society. After a bit more time, and a lot of listening, I gave her a hug and as I was getting ready to head on my way it occurred to me that I didn’t even know her name, and so I asked. “Tracie,” she said, “with an –ie.” In this short encounter, this woman – Tracie – taught me more about humanity, about the Christian life, and about myself than I could have ever imagined.

In our Gospel today, we hear of another encounter: the encounter between Jesus and the poor blind man, Bartimaeus. The account that St. Mark gives us is moving…Bartimaeus, blind and marginalized, hears that Jesus is coming and begins to cry out to him. The passersby are embarrassed by such a display and try to shush Bartimaeus, who only cries out all the louder for Jesus. This grabs Jesus’ attention – who is being swarmed by a sizeable crowd – and He asks for Bartimaeus to be brought to him. Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants, Bartimaeus responds that He wants to see, Jesus restores his sight and they all go on their merry way. We’re sort of left with a nice warm feeling as we hear a nice story about the nice Jesus helping another person in need. But there’s more going on in this Gospel passage than meets the eye, and that’s where my own encounter with Tracie comes into play.

When I saw Tracie sitting on the sidewalk, I saw a poor person who deserved my pity and whatever food I could give her. When we hear of Jesus encountering the poor, we usually think of Him taking pity on them and fulfilling their temporal needs: food, health, etc. But the story of Bartimaeus shows us that the “poor” – as we so often and easily call them – are so much more than that. They are more than just poor people with afflictions…they are people just like the rest of us. Like you and me, each one has a story to tell and a past to share; like you and me, each one has a future to think about, to worry about, and to hope for. And like you and me, each one has needs that far surpass the things of this earth…like the need to love and to be loved, the need to forgive and to be forgiven, the need to hear and to be heard…the need to be shown mercy, the need for faith and hope, and the need for the gift of God’s grace.

Notice that when St. Mark introduces Bartimaeus to us, he immediately tells us his name and where he comes from. This man, this poor blind beggar, is Bartimaeus, which in Hebrew literally means the son of Timaeus. He is someone’s child, a unique person, his own man, and so much more than a charity case. When Jesus encounters him, He immediately knows what’s going on in this man’s life. He knows he’s blind, he knows he’s poor, he knows he’s downtrodden, but the Divine Son of God Who knows all dignifies this man by asking him what he wants. “Master, I want to see,” Bartimaeus replies. Perhaps this was the first time in his life anyone ever asked him what he wanted. No doubt, in his poor state, people threw scraps of food at him. No doubt, in his poor state, he was shown various acts of kindness by well-meaning people. But had anyone ever dared to see beyond his poor state and to see in him a living, breathing, journeying, hurting, hopeful, sorrowful, joyful, frightened, uncertain, beautiful, loveable man? That’s what makes his encounter with Jesus so incredible…Jesus didn’t see a poor blind man, He saw Bartimaeus. And because He saw Bartimaeus and not a poor blind man, He was able to offer him so much more than physical sight. Creator and creature, God and man, Jesus and Bartimaeus became one with each other that day, and the result was faith, love, and eternal life.

As I was riding back on the metro after my encounter with Tracie, I realized how easily and often I have objectified the “poor.” At times I’ve given them food or money, but what I didn’t give was the risky gift of my own love, of the love of God that dwells in me. Tracie didn’t want from me what I was willing to give her…Tracie wanted and needed from me precisely what I so often hold back. And she held me accountable for that. She begged not for my money, but for me to dare to see her as she really is.

The goal of the Christian life, after loving God, is to see ourselves and each other as He sees us: in truth. He is constantly calling us to look beyond appearances, to lay aside our stereotypes, and to gaze upon His people with the same mad, passionate love that He has. It’s not enough to do good things or to be kind towards people or to write checks for charities or to volunteer at homeless shelters…He calls us to radical, selfless love. This means daring to encounter the Tracies and the Bartimaeuses of our lives and to give them our love.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was once praised for the extraordinary work that she and the Missionaries of Charity were doing to alleviate poverty and to improve the lives of the poor of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was annoyed by this praise, not because of her humility, but because it demonstrated an inadequate understanding of her work. She said, “I am not a social worker. I don’t do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the Church…Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus. The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”

Today, as we approach the fount of love that springs from this altar, we pray for the grace to listen carefully in our own lives to the cries of Bartimaeus, of Tracie, of Christ Himself present in His people. And we pray for the grace to be able to see them as they are and to be seen by them as we are, to love them as they are and to be loved by them as we are.