Saturday, April 29, 2017

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging.” - A Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Third Sunday of Easter
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
April 30, 2017

By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes – Gandalf came by. Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, and in the most extraordinary fashion... “I am looking for someone,” Gandalf said to Bilbo, “to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” “I should think so – in these parts!,” said our Mr. Baggins, “We are plain folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.”

You might recognize these lines as among the first found in Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit. They give us our initial glimpse into the lives of these fascinating little creatures, showing them to be unadventurous, charming, and humble homebodies. They live, for all intents and purposes, the good life...their days are centered around food and family and farming. The Shire, where a great many of the hobbits live, is a beautiful and comfortable paradise...with picturesque green hills, calm streams, and rolling fields. It really is the land of milk and honey, a place where hobbits can easily have their six meals a day, throw their wonderful parties, and enjoy the simple lives they have carved out for themselves. Is it any wonder, then, that Bilbo would be so emphatically against Gandalf’s suggestion that he join him on an adventure? Why would he give up the comfort and predictability of his life only to run off into the unknown with an eccentric wizard and thirteen unkempt dwarves? No, Bilbo will not hear any of it. He is happy and content at home and will not budge for such a nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable thing.

Whether you’ve read the books or seen the movies, or even if you’ve only heard of them, we all know that Bilbo’s story doesn’t end is only just beginning. Gandalf the Grey, who is as wise as he is eccentric, pursues Bilbo relentlessly, not taking “no” for an answer. He knows that underneath the hobbit’s attachment to his home and his comfortable life is a flame – albeit a small one – that yearns for something more, for something greater. But Gandalf also knows that there is a fear in Bilbo that has prevented him from fanning that flame. Fear of the unknown, perhaps, or fear of danger, or fear of rejection, or fear of failure, or fear of loss, or an admixture of them all and more. This fear has kept Bilbo in his hobbit hole, ensuring that he live a safe, comfortable, and mundane ensures that he never play with the flame that flickers deep within so that he’ll never get burned. But where Bilbo is weak, where he is afraid, where he is complacent, Gandalf is there to offer him encouragement, to challenge him to greatness, and to fan the flame the burns in the little hobbit’s heart. Gandalf knows that there is a lot more in Bilbo than you can guess, and standing by his side, he convinces Bilbo to trust the flame, to take the risk, and to follow him on the adventure of a lifetime.

It took him awhile, but as he made his journey Bilbo came to discover that, simple though he was, he had the capacity for greatness. As he ventured out of the Shire and through Bag End, as he muddled on to Rivendell and into the Misty Mountains, as he wandered into Lake-town and ultimately to the Lonely Mountain and back again – encountering danger after danger, set-back after set-back, but also little victory after little victory – Bilbo’s small flame was fed and fanned, and his capacity for greatness began to translate into actual greatness. He found himself doing things he never thought himself able to do; he found himself saying things he never thought himself able to say; he found himself thinking things he never thought himself able to think. A passion began to burn and roar inside the hobbit, and when he made the decision to go along with it and to give into it, it made all the difference...not just in his life, but all-throughout Middle Earth.

It can be hard to trust the flame, the burning that we experience deep within ourselves...especially when we have layers of fear and complacency covering it up. We long for safety and security, comforts and pleasures; we, like hobbits, become content trapped in a lovely, picturesque world governed by fear because we feel it’s better than getting burned by the flickers of passion. But today, as Gandalf visited the uncertain Bilbo and called him out of his hobbit hole, Christ comes to us and calls us out of our fear. In His resurrected glory, in His almighty power, He stirs up the flames of passion deep within us...a passion for Him, a passion for holiness. He causes our hearts to burn, and He bids us to come along with Him on the adventure of a lifetime.

In our Gospel today, fear and uncertainty have captured the hearts of the two disciples who are on the road to Emmaus. They had placed all of their hope in the hands of that simple carpenter from Nazareth. Before their eyes He cured the sick, healed the lame, and raised the was so clear to them that He was the One Who had come to redeem Israel. He had just begun to fan the flames of their passion, when, just like that He was captured, sentenced to death, and crucified. It was over...everything was over and nothing seemed worth it. They decided, then, that it was time to leave and to get back to normal life. You can just imagine what their conversation must have been like as they walked along; they probably thought themselves fools and vowed never to fall for so ridiculous a thing ever again. They doused whatever flame was left in them and decided to trek back to a life concerned with worrying about the time and simply getting home for supper. But then they met the stranger on the road. They were as guarded against Him as Bilbo was against Gandalf at first, but the stranger knew that there was a lot more in them then they could even begin to realize. And in that instant, He began to stir their doused flames back to life...He set their hearts on fire and revealed Himself to them – in and through the simple breaking of bread – reminding them that they have nothing to fear, and He called them once more to Himself and to a life of holy passion. And then they went off and changed the world.

Saint Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, once said, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” In other words, let God stir up His grace within you and then go with it! If we let go of our fear, we can be stirred up into greatness, and that can make all the difference in our dark world. Fear may give us a comfortable life, but it will also prevent us from living to the full, causing us to hesitate in responding to the Lord’s call to greatness. We pray today for the grace to leave our complacency and our fear behind – as the disciples did – to practice our Catholic faith deliberately and bravely and wholeheartedly, and to follow Christ on the adventure to salvation, allowing Him to use us – His quite little fellows – as instruments of His grace and love in this wide world. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Have Mercy on Us and on the Whole World - A Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Second Sunday of Easter
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
April 23, 2017

When I was a kid, it was a firmly enforced rule that the majority of the time I had to be outside. Unless I was doing homework, sleeping, or eating, it was expected that I would busy myself outdoors. This was especially true when my cousins would come over. The adults would sit inside, drinking coffee and talking about boring things, and the kids would be outside running, exploring, and having a blast. Some of our activities were relatively peaceful, like hopscotch or riding bikes, but most of the time we just did downright stupid, if not dangerous, things. Like the time we thought it would be a good idea to play exterminator with a large wasp nest we found in the woods…or the time we decided to catch snapping turtles with our bare hands…or the time we rode in wagons down a really steep hill. There were many cuts, bruises, and broken bones as a result of our shenanigans, but all these experiences were formative and, in the words of my grandfather, “they built character!” One thing we did, though, would form me in a deeper way, though I wouldn’t have thought so at the time. We played a game called, “Mercy!” The game involved two people joining their crisscrossed hands, each trying to inflict pain on the other by straining their wrists. When one person couldn’t take the pain anymore, they would cry out, “mercy!” The other person would let lose his grip and, by showing mercy to the person in pain, become the winner. We could certainly look at such a game and say it was just boyish nonsense and that it taught a barbaric notion of winning. And while it might be true that in order to win you had to cause your partner physical pain, you could only really be declared the winner by letting up. It’s a subtle distinction, but a definite one…victory comes about by showing mercy.

Today, the Second Sunday of Easter, is Divine Mercy Sunday. In the year 2000, Pope St. John Paul II declared, in accordance with the wishes of our Lord manifested to St. Faustina, that the Sunday following Easter would be especially set aside to celebrate the gift of mercy that flows from the Divine Heart of Christ. Today we do just that…as we continue to bask in the joy of Easter, in the joy of Christ risen from the dead, we meditate on the great love of our God and we beg Him to continue pouring out His mercy on us and on the whole world. But what’s going on here? What are we celebrating and what are we asking for? We just finished celebrating a whole year dedicated to mercy...but what do we really know what it is that we are praying for today? We hear the word “mercy” so often…at Mass, in our devotions, in Elvis Presley’s songs, and even in childhood games. It’s such a simple word, but its meaning is extremely deep.

The word “mercy” comes from the Latin word misericordia – itself a composite of two words, miserum, which means “sad” or “compassionate,” and cor, which means “heart.” A merciful person, one who has mercy on another, allows his or her heart to be overcome with compassion when encountering another person’s distress. And this is where the rubber meets the road. The word compassion literally means, “to suffer with.” It’s not an emotion, it’s not a disposition, it’s not just being a nice person and feeling bad for someone…having compassion, being compassionate, means a readiness and a willingness to enter into another’s suffering, to be there with them, and if it is possible, to bring them some alleviation and healing. When we do this…when our compassion translates into action, we engage in true mercy.

For those of us who follow Jesus Christ, mercy really is the name of our game. We have been made the receivers of God’s mercy, of His Divine Mercy. By taking on flesh, our very humanity, and nailing it to the Cross, our Lord entered into our muck, into our distress, into our sinful world and in His innocence He suffered not just with us, but for us. And as He hung lifeless on the Cross, having accomplished this greatest act of mercy, blood and water gushed forth from His pierced side, showering His Church with the very means by which this mercy would be able available to us until the end of time: through the Sacraments, and most particularly through Penance and the Holy Eucharist. By calling out to Him in our distress in the Sacrament of Penance, our Lord unleashes upon us the floodgates of His mercy…absolving us of our transgressions, restoring us to life and to wholeness, and bringing us back the freedom we long for. And with our sins forgiven, we then approach the holy altar and feast upon the Lord’s gift of Himself, His own Body and Blood. He shows us what mercy really is and that it always involves the total gift of oneself.

But if we have asked for the total gift of God’s own self through the mercy of Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen from the dead, we better be prepared to live this mercy out in our own lives. Being nice and pleasant doesn’t cut it. Coming to Mass on Sunday doesn’t cut it. Going to confession every once in a blue moon doesn’t cut it. We could do all of these things, and must be do them, but our Lord is clear: the measure with which we measure out will be measured to us. If we ignore the distress of others…both their bodily and their spiritual distress…then what right do we have to approach God and ask for the gift of His mercy? If we are not willing to suffer with and to soothe the sufferings of the least among us, then we have failed to love as Christ commands us and the kingdom of God, He promises, will be taken from us.

These are stark words to speak in the midst of our Easter joy, but we have to get serious about what our Lord’s resurrection means. It is His triumph over death and over sin…it is the triumph of His mercy over humanity’s strife. We are called not only on this Divine Mercy Sunday but every day of our lives to be participators in the triumph of the Risen Lord’s gift of mercy. This means that we engage in the corporal works of mercy…that we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And it also means that we engage in the spiritual works of mercy…that we instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, and pray fervently for the living and for the dead.

Mercy springs forth from love…it cannot come from anywhere else. And the love that we are called to is robust, and powerful, and meaningful only when it ceases to be emotional and becomes sacrificial. The Lord offers to each of us the gift of His mercy, born from the love He had for us on the Cross. In our distress and in our weariness, as we call out for Him to enter into our misery with us and to bring us healing, He calls us in return to be in-tune to the bodily and spiritual distress of those around us. Today we pray for the grace to respond willingly, lovingly, and sacrificially to these cries so that we might be a continued manifestation of the Lord’s gift of mercy to the whole world.