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Lynch School of Education

Homily: 'Move From Surreality Back to Reality'

Fourth Sunday of Easter | April 21, 2013
Church of St. Ignatius Loyola
Homily by Rev. Joseph M. O’Keefe, S.J.
Director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality
Boston College

I have been on this earth for 3,159 weeks.  And I have never experienced anything like the week that we just went through, my 3,160th week.  How to describe the week that was?

In today’s Boston Globe “Ideas” section, columnist Ben Zimmer captures the experience with a word I have recently used often and that I have often heard from others.  The title of his piece is: “How Surreal.”   Zimmer recalls that the word comes from the early twentieth art movement with which you are familiar, called Surrealism.  He writes,  “Surreal is no longer merely an aesthetic:  Now, we turn to it most often when our mundane day-to-day experiences of life seem to move into some other dimension that our rational minds cannot account for.”  He goes on,  “When there are no words, ‘surreal’ ends up as a proxy for more complex, inchoate emotions that are difficult to verbalize.  ‘Surreal’ says:  I saw it, but I don’t understand.”

The week that we just endured, the week that made us fearful, sad, and baffled - surreal:  “I saw it, but I don’t understand.”  As Christians, how do we come to understand what seems incomprehensible?  How do we fathom our inchoate emotions?  I suggest that we take time to engage in the prayer that is at the heart of the Ignatian experience.

I suggest that, as we move back into real time from surreal time, we take time to do an examen of this past week, that we invite the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, and that we play back the tape in our heads.  The first images that will probably come to mind are the horrific ones – scattered limbs, scarred lives, horrified looks on faces, terrified children, weirdly deserted streets, text messages from frightened friends and relatives across the world.  Yes, scenes of desolation indeed.  But you see, our lives are a mix of desolation and consolation.  We need to face our desolations head on and with courage, we need to learn to deal with the harsh realities of the world of 2013, we need to bring perpetrators to justice and we need to protect our loved ones, but we also need to look for consolation. When our faith in human goodness has been challenged and our innocence lost, we turn to God.  In the midst of darkness, Christians look for the glimmer of light.

Where is the glimmer of light?  In some ways, with hindsight, I wonder if God hadn’t been preparing us for this surreal week.  All of these events have taken place during the Easter season, when we collectively ponder the meaning of the resurrection.

I want to take you back to a “real” week – three weeks ago Saturday.   When the ancient announcement of Christ’s resurrection was proclaimed in this church, with only the dim glimmer of candles, faint light in the darkness, the deacon proclaimed in the exultet, “The power of this holy night dispels all evil and restores lost innocence.”

This surreal week has, in many ways, robbed our city of its innocence.  At Easter, God promised to restore it.

I want to take you back to last Sunday, when we were still in real time.  Our gospel echoed the sheep/shepherd metaphor that we hear again today.  To paraphrase, Jesus said to Peter, “If you love me, feed my sheep; if you love me, tend my lambs; if you love me, be a good shepherd.” Earlier that week, on Thursday April 11, I was deeply moved by the awarding of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Rev. Emil J. Kapaun, an Army chaplain who died a prisoner in the Korean War for his lifesaving ministrations to his fellow prisoners. I vividly recall watching the interviews with his fellow soldiers, now men in their eighties, who spoke through their tears.  Father Kapaun’s example of self giving changed their lives. Mike Dowe, one of the veterans recalled the scene when Father Kapawn was being led away to his death.  He said, "Father Kapaun told everyone to stop resisting and not to 'fight them on my behalf.' I was in tears," Dowe continued, "And then he turned to me and said 'Mike, don't cry. I'm going where I've always wanted to go. And when I get there, I'll be saying a prayer for all of you.” Another veteran commented that bringing up memories of Chaplain Kapaun was “like trying to swallow a baseball.”  How blessed we are when human goodness chokes us up and brings us to tears.  In his eloquent comments during the award ceremony, President Obama called Kapawn, “a good shepherd in combat boots."

During this surreal week, we have seen horror, we have felt the fear, and we have lost our collective innocence.  But, and this is so crucial and I cannot emphasize it enough, we have seen good shepherds in our midst, good shepherds in combat boots, good shepherds in running shoes, good shepherds in nurses’ shoes, good shepherds in flipflops, good shepherds in high heals, good shepherds in wing tips.  We have seen the bystanders who chose not to run away from danger but run into danger because the sheep were wounded, and fearful, and lost.  My friends, these are the exact images that dispel all evil and restore lost innocence.

It is time to move from surreality back to reality.  It is time to adjust to a new normal.  As individuals and as a civic community, how do we regain our innocence?  How to we come to realize anew that life wins out over death, that love conquers hatred, and that hope displaces despair?

At Easter, we remembered that Christ’s resurrection put death to death.  At the Ascension, we will hear again Christ’s promise to be with us forever.  And at Pentecost, we will welcome into our midst God’s Holy Spirit, our Advocate and our Consoler, who will remind us of all our consolations.

Today, hearing God’s word in our midst, let us remember our mothers and fathers in faith, the first Christians about whose history we have been rehearsing once again in the Acts of the Apostles.  As we just heard, that even the midst of persecution and terror,  “the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

Today, hearing God’s word in our midst, let us remember God’s promise, that when all is said in done, when this weary world comes to its end, when you and I have come to the last week in the number of our weeks, when we have, like the elect we hear about today in the Book of Revelation, survived the time of great distress. Let us remember the promise that we, and especially those who suffer from violence and terror, shall not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike us, for the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd us and lead us to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

--Office of News & Public Affairs