CADENCES OF HOME, IMAGES OF HOPE

Catholic Homily/Reflection on the 2nd Sunday of Advent - Year A
By Fr. Chito Dimaranan, SDB

One thing I love doing most is going up mountains (as I get older, these coveted mountains get lower and lower, I must confess). The best part, of course, is not the grueling climb up the peak. Neither is it going down from the peak. The best part is being at the peak, looking down and far in the fading horizon, or at least, looking down with ill-concealed sense of triumph at seeing the winding path one has traversed. On a clear day, or a moonlit night, the best yet is to extend one’s gaze in the undefined distant horizon, soaking oneself up in the oceanic feelings brought about by the breathtaking beauty of nature, conjuring up visions of yet better and greater things, as only the human spirit can do. There is something deeply awesome in being up a mountain on a clear day, looking towards the direction of one’s dreams and visions. Somehow, buoyed by the success of making it to the top, one cannot but wax hopeful. One’s perspectives change, and one senses stirrings of fulfillment and fullness. One is buoyed by heights, and encouraged by the possibility of homing into the very cradle of one’s brightest hopes.

Today, the good Lord turns engineer and road-builder, and, through Baruch the prophet during the great Babylonian exile, tells us to set our sights on the heights that is Jerusalem, from there to look down upon Bethlehem, to look down on the difficult paths traversed, and still being traversed by a people steeped in equivalent exilic circumstances. He seems to tell us (and the Jews of old), as did Frank Sinatra: “On a clear day, rise up and look around you …”

Our days may be far from clear in our times. Like Baruch’s Jerusalem days, ours may be wrapped up in the “robe of mourning and misery.” All we see may be nothing more than mountains, and depths, and gorges. As we go uphill in our struggle for meaning, our search for truth and salvation, our valiant efforts to “rid [the] dragons, and root out […] sin,” all we want to do at times may be to just “sit down by the rivers of Babylon, hang up our harps, and weep.” Like Magdalene’s, our eyes may be clouded over by tears, and like her, we may not see the gentle stirrings of home, and the soothing images of hope that today’s liturgy offers us.

There is precious little clarity in the minds of many people today. Even those of us, who, by virtue of their special vocation and call to ordained ministry, ought to be clear “transparencies of Christ” may also succumb to discouragement, despondency, and a gnawing sense of defeat. I do… time and disappointing time again. Just when you thought you have made a brilliant homily … just when you thought you have reframed the Christian teaching so well for people to understand – and accept with alacrity – you realize with utter disappointment that people invariably do their own reframing, their own filtering, and the gospel message ends up being watered down, its moral cutting edge blunted by people’s existential and current predicaments, and a complex set of entangled relationships, and unkept vows. In a mall-driven culture of “returns and exchanges,” allegiances and loyalties change as fast as commodities change hands (and as fast as they are discarded in this Styrofoam throw-away world). In the end, for most people, their “operational theology” takes the better of their “professed theology.” What they say and claim they believe in, is not necessarily what they live in practice.

Clear days may well be getting fewer and farther between in many places. When we behold a tired earth, groaning under the collective weight of people’s greed and insatiable desire for more and more luxury and comfort; when we realize that 3 per cent of the world’s population (that is America) use up 30 per cent of the world’s energy; when we see how the source of clean and safe drinking water is fast going the way of fossil fuels, and that it will soon dictate the course of wars; when we behold a terrorized world cowed in fear by misguided zealots who have succeeded to reframe cold-blooded murder and mayhem into martyrdom, and successfully hijacked religion to serve their sinister ends, our life may be likened to a “falling leaf, and no everlasting hills I see” (Christina Rosetti).

Last week, we reflected on the sore need for us now to “re-imagine our hopes,” using Brueggemann’s concepts as springboard. Today, we continue our “fresh readings” of these modern-day realities in the light of Scripture. Once more, we cast a fresh glance at the lack of clarity in our times, and allow the light of God’s Word, to lead us. Like Cardinal Newman’s famous prayer, we pause today and ask the Lord: “Lead kindly light, amidst the encircling gloom, lead Thou me on.”

The paths traversed by God’s people were not exactly bright. They were “led away on foot by their enemies.” They were “a people who walked in darkness,” like God’s people even now, even here. But we share in the same people’s destiny to “see a great light.” Baruch reminds us now, as he did the Israelites of old, that “every lofty mountain will be made low.” An engineer, a road-builder, and a bridge-maker all rolled into one will come and intervene with “mercy and justice.”

Our celebration today has to do with that road-building message of a God who has come, still comes, and will yet come. Our gathering here at Mass is an exercise at gaining a little more clarity, in order to banish the darkness of disappointment and loss of hope in the effectiveness of God’s promises. Our business agenda here today is to cure our shortsightedness, our blindness to the egregious Biblical fact that for people of faith, “the Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy” (Responsorial Psalm). Our thoughts today are focused on a people in exile, whose banishment did not push them to abject despair and abandonment of faith. On the contrary, it produced brilliant prophets like Baruch, with a hopeful imagination who “lifted their eyes to the mountain, whence comes their help.” Looking at the mountain as home, as goal, and as source of strength, they proclaimed: “Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.” From atop that vantage point of God’s fidelity and God’s love, at home in the presence of a God who does not abandon His people, they conjured up images of hope, buoyed up by the unflappable conviction that the “winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.” Through Baruch et al’s prophetic imagination, we are led to re-imagine our hope as a sense of moving toward home, getting closer to the pinnacle of our longing, which is ultimately God’s own desire and dream for us His sons and daughters.

Advent is waiting time. We talked about that last week. But Advent is also listening time – a time to be actively and fully engaged in hearing the Lord’s cadences of home in the stirring and bold proclamations of prophets like Baruch and St. John the Baptist. Advent is obedience time, if we understand the word obedience in its original Latin sense, which is “to listen,” “to hear the gentle call from the heights, to follow the homecoming invitation of a God who tells us today, as he told the exiled Israelites: “Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west…”

I end with a quote from F. Buechner (cited by Brueggemann, 1997) who speaks about hope as a “longing for home.” “We carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons us […] Joy is home, and I believe that the tears that came to our eyes were more than anything else homesick tears.”

Our eyes may be temporarily clouded over. We cry for what is, for what might be, for what could be. But we glory in God’s abiding presence behind this thick veil of tears. Between the “already” of His coming as man in Jesus Christ, and the “not yet” of our unfulfilled longings and dreams, our eyes are kept focused up above, from where comes our help, as we hear each other sing the gentle “cadences of home,” and see images of hope behind the mountains and depths and gorges that mark our way to the summit.

Comments

Reynor said…
Thank you Fr. for this wonderful homily. (I am sharing this with the visitors of Katoliko.org as the featured homily. You can find it here: http://katoliko.org/links/homilies/
)