Homily – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Fr. Luke Macnamara OSB

Wake up. Pay attention. Don’t let life pass you by. There is something wonderful in store for each of us today, but we need to awaken our senses to perceive and receive God’s gift. Séamus Heaney remembers how he captured a gifted moment in his life, one that might easily have passed him by, in his poem: “Had I not been awake, I would have missed it.”  For Heaney, the chimes of nature coalesced like a movement from a symphony awakening him to the wonder and possibility of life. This moment passed but was transforming and pivotal to his recovery from a stroke. The poem evokes not only the memory but that electrifying experience that sets him all a-patter. The poem was not a mere looking back to a historical episode of his life but about access to the energising force with which he henceforth continued to live his life.

Jesus’ words are a wake-up call: “See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” Too many of us slumber through life and miss God’s electrifying presence in our lives and all that he envisages for us. We too often settle for low voltages, when God has something much more ambitious in store for us. How might we overcome our severely limited vision of possibility and become open to the expansive outlook of God for us? The path of growth can be daunting but again Jesus points to some helpful ways in which we might become more open and less afraid of the great journeys God envisages for us.

The commandment of Jesus recalls the Exodus, when the Hebrews were to dress for action and have their lamps burning, ready to depart from the land of slavery in haste. This brief commandment evokes the whole Exodus experience, a daunting journey through the sea and desert and in the face of multiple dangers from the ravages of armies and nature. By dressing for action and lighting our lamps we prepare to take the great journey that God has planned for each of us. We do so in the knowledge that God has helped and delivered our ancestors of the Exodus against incredible odds. But if we examine our own personal stories, we will discover times when God has helped and delivered us in times of difficulty, perhaps the death of someone close, or a prolonged period of depression or addiction. Reflecting back, we begin to see how we never could have managed on our own without God’s help. Regular remembrance helps us to become attuned to how God works in our lives.

Remembrance is only the first step. It is good to give thanks for all that God has done for us in the past. The community of the book of Wisdom who remember the Exodus follow up the remembrance by singing hymns to God. Our giving thanks is a response to God’s work in our lives and joins us ever closer to him. Our active participation at the Eucharist is the climax of our act of giving thanks to God. We offer our whole selves through prayer, listening, responding, with Christ to the Father.

Finally, it is important to celebrate how God has worked for us in the past but also how he works for us here and now. The Hebrews in the desert had to prepare their own meal in haste before departing Egypt. Jesus promises that should we be ready when he comes, that he will gird himself and seat us at table and serve us. This he has done at the Last Supper where he washed our feet and gave us his body and blood. He invites us now to this banquet at his altar.

The Mass combines remembrance, thanksgiving, and celebration for our definitive deliverance from sin and death and through Jesus seals our union with God. May we prayerfully enter into this triple dynamic and become ever more aware of how God is present in our lives through the peaks and troughs, cognisant that the definitive Exodus, the victory over death and sin has been won for us. Let us be dressed for action with our lamps burning and so be ready to journey with God along the open path to life eternal.

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