Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Gaze of Christ (Sunday homily)

The other day, I was looking up some passages of Scripture; 
and I pulled off my shelf a bible, which I bought many years ago. 
And when I found the passage I was looking for, 
I looked in the margin, and saw some notes 
I wrote there many years ago, on a sermon I heard, 
about a passage in which God said, “seek my face.”

The Protestant pastor, whose sermon I listened to, 
was a man named Clyde Miller. 
And he asked: why does God want us to seek his face? 
And he made several points:

First, because that’s not what we naturally or necessarily do. 
Instead, we avoid seeking God’s face. We give a nod and move past. 
Seeking God’s face takes effort.

Second, because God wants to communicate with us: face-to-face.

And, third, because “who we keep an eye on is our role-model;
 what we keep our eye on is our goal.”

And then a few days later, I looked at today’s Gospel. 
Notice what Zacchaeus does: he wants to see Jesus. 
He climbs a tree, which isn’t an especially easy or dignified thing to do. 
He really wanted it!

And, notice, of course, 
that Jesus really wanted to see Zacchaeus as well!

Let’s pause and picture that scene. 
Zacchaeus is clambering up the tree. 
Even once up the tree, 
it might not have been easy to find a good perch.
And then he waited, while Jesus came closer.

Then when Jesus reached the spot, “he looked up.” 
Zacchaeus was gazing down, and Jesus met his gaze. 
Isn’t that a wonderful thing to consider?

That kind of encounter doesn’t happen that often. 
Parent to child; friend to friend; lover to beloved. 
Only certain times are we ready for it, ready to be that open.
But God wants that encounter with every one of us. 
If we are willing to risk it, we can meet his gaze!

Of course, what I’m talking about is prayer. 
But I mean more than the ritual, the form of prayer; 
I mean the very heart of prayer, which is an encounter with Jesus; 
my gaze, meeting his. 

The heart of prayer, the heart of faith, 
is that meeting, that openness, 
when in whatever words, or even in no words, 
Jesus calls, as he called his Apostles, as he called Zacchaeus:
I want to be friends with you! 

And we meet his gaze, and respond: 
Yes! Jesus, I want to see you, know you, serve you, and love you! 
When we seek his face, his gaze, and he seeks ours, 
anything can happen. That spark lights the fire within us.
In your pews you’ll see cards. 
As we did a year ago at this time, 
in anticipation of Advent and Christmas, 
we have an opportunity for everyone to grow in our faith. 
And if you look, you’ll see the topic is prayer.

Prayer is a tricky thing: we think it’s easy, but it’s hard; 
we think it’s hard, but it’s easy. 
It’s both as easy and as hard as meeting the gaze of Christ, 
and letting him look back at us.

As was the case last year, 
the material we will be looking at is available online. 
And we’ll also set up some discussion groups, 
because a lot of folks find that is really helpful. 
It’s a way to meet people, so if you don’t know many people, sign up! 

It’s a way to sort out questions. 
And a lot of folks sign up for the group 
because it keeps them accountable, 
and it kind of forces them to review the material. 
Sort of like having a workout buddy who knocks on your door at 6 am, rain or shine!

So, this is an opportunity. It won’t cost anything. No obligation. 
And you can use this any way you want. 
Look at the material on your phone, 
or during lunch at work, or sometime at home. 
Look at some, not the rest. Take what you want.

Come to the discussion groups if you want – or not!
Create your own group with family or friends.
This is a resource and a tool; make the most of it.

Prayer is something a lot of folks would like to be better at, 
but aren’t sure just how to do it. 
I hope this helps. 
So, if you want to, fill out the card and return it in the collection, 
this week or next. 

Now, let’s notice something about Zacchaeus. 
Gazing at Christ, who gazed back, changed everything. 

It gave him the courage to become a new man. 
He was a tax-collector; which sounds bad enough in our time, 
but in those days, 
it meant he helped the Romans rob and exploit people. 

Zacchaeus needed to become a new man; 
but conversion means more than just saying, “I’m sorry – are we good?” 
That’s cheap grace. 
All the people who had been threatened and robbed by Zacchaeus
wouldn’t be good with just an “I’m sorry.” And Zacchaeus knew it. 

So he is moved to do something radical: 
he gives away half his fortune, 
and make generous reparation to all those who he wronged.

There are times in our lives when we need courage 
to take a huge step, a huge risk. 
Perhaps, like Zacchaeus, it is in admitting a wrong 
and making it right, even at great cost.

As you know, there are businesses around the country 
who are being pressured to give their endorsement 
to so-called “same sex marriage.” 
There are pharmacists and doctors and nurses 
who are under growing pressure 
to distribute contraceptives and abortion drugs, 
and now, drugs to help people kill themselves. 
It takes great courage to stand up to these pressures.

When young women think about the religious life, 
young men about the priesthood, 
what gives them the courage to take that step? 
It is meeting the gaze of Christ.

Thankfully, you and I don’t have to wait for that. 
At this and every Mass, Jesus is lifted up – 
as once on the Cross, now he is lifted up upon the altar. 
And, if we are properly prepared, spiritually, 
we approach him, and he enters under our roof in the Holy Eucharist.

Seek his face. Seek his gaze. Today. Now.

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