Homily for 4th Sunday of the Year (B), January 15, 2006
Rev. Joseph T. Nolan
The book of Samuel from the Hebrew scriptures, which you heard a few minutes ago, is too long and, in some parts, too disedifying for spiritual reading. But at least we heard great words today from the youngster preparing to be a prophet: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God does speak; we have not learned the art of listening. And listening to more than the scripture – listening also to what is said in great literature, art, music. What we hear at times is nothing less that the voice of the Holy Spirit – in other words, wisdom, truth, beauty. Exaltation. The presence of God.
Listening is so important that I devote the last chapter of my book to it. You notice I tucked in that phrase, “in my book”! Yes, finishing a book is like giving birth; you want the whole world to know about it. But no, it’s not in print, and you don’t have to rush me for autographed copies. Writing a book: listening as God speaks through so many authors in so many places. A challenge to “hearken unto the voice.”
Samuel’s calling as a prophet is, of course, linked to the gospel story of the calling of Peter as an apostle. As you well know, with the closing of our churches and seminaries, there are not many answering that call today. The shortage of priests, except in Africa and India, is worldwide. One reason they do not answer that call is because they cannot do what Peter did: get married. If you doubt that he was married read the opening chapter of Mark where Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. It is a bishop in Ireland, not just some far-out liberal, who said last month that celibacy for the priest should be optional. And the bishop who is spokesperson for the American hierarchy observed that no problems have arisen with the 200 married priests who entered the church after leaving the Anglican church, and now serve mostly in parishes.
But the need to make celibacy optional is not the main stress I wish to make today on these scriptures. Turn instead to St. Paul, who said wonderful things – long overdue. Such as what? About the body. He says, “The body is not for immorality; it is for the Lord.” Among the body’s powers is the one that expresses love and, in many instances, creates life. Just to say that almost sounds like blasphemy. Only God can create life, especially the crown of our whole evolutionary story, the human person. The child in your arms. You yourself. This is so exalting a share in divine power that it led the Hebrews to have rites of purification following childbirth. The church finally gave those up because they were so easily misunderstood.
Part of that misunderstanding goes back to Plato with his well-known view of the body as a cage imprisoning the soul. It is why he believed in immortality, and while we use that word, we believe in the resurrection of the body. The re-creation of what and who we are. The Hebrew approach is that the human person is a body who possesses God’s life. And that is true even before baptism. All life is God’s gift, and the body is the form of its expression. Look how often we use the words, “body of Christ.” It has no less than five meanings: the body he received from Mary, his risen body in a new state of existence, his glorified body in heaven. And two more: the bread the Holy Spirit will consecrate and you will receive at this mass. And the church itself – the body of Christ.
No wonder the apostle declares, “the Lord is for the body.” Yes, “and we are for the Lord.”
I have long felt that Catholics should in every case be married at the mass, because the eucharist expresses so well what is happening. Thus, the man to the woman, and the woman to the man, are really promising to live Christ’s own words: “this is my body given for you.” And remember, body for the Hebrew always means life, person.
Here are these thoughts in a poetic essay – much to think about.
The Creator fashioned us from mud and stars
and breathed God’s own life into our bodies.
We are physical beings – and while we delight in the fact
that we are also intellectual, aesthetic, spiritual,
this is not some upper story of our lives,
the so called better part of us.
We are a unity.
And throughout our lives we think, dream, eat, drink –
we touch, love, play, work,
hurt, die – in and through our bodies.
The challenge is not to ignore or despise the physical
but to transform it.
Thus, eating and drinking – any meal – can be an art,
and certainly a time of friendship.
Remember how they knew him – knew HIM –
in the breaking of the bread.
The gift of our sexuality is transformed by love.
Our work is creative – or should be.
Play is re-creative. Laughter is the sound of heaven.
And when we endure our own passion –
when our dying comes – we bear each other up,
and God raises us up.
Thus our love is blessed.
Our bodies our blessed.
Our lives are blessed.
And we are a blessing to each other.