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Friday, August 03, 2007

“Jesus said, ‘Be like those who are waiting for their master to return so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.’” (Luke 12:36)

“SOUL-SURFING” – August 12, 2007
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Luke 12:32-48)
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

“According to ancient tribal legend, a Cherokee Indian youth must participate in a harrowing rite of passage before he is considered an adult. The ritual prescribes that the boy’s father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone. The boy is required to sit on a tree stump the whole night without removing the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He cannot cry out for help to anyone. And if he endures the night, he is then considered an adult. He must also solemnly promise not to tell the other boys of the tribe about this experience, because each lad must come into adulthood on his own.

“The blindfolded, abandoned boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Some human might come upon him and do him harm. The wind blows the grass, and sometimes the very earth shakes, but he sits stoically upon the tree stump, tempted to remove the blindfold but resolute in his sacred promise, for he knows this is the only way to become an adult.

“Finally, having spent the horrific night alone with his terrors, the dawn prepares to break, its first rays penetrating the weave of the blindfold, blackness turning bright. Exhilarated, the boy removes the blindfold to discover that his father has been silently sitting right next to him on a nearby tree stump. The father has been at watch throughout the night, protecting his child from harm.” (Original source unknown)

Surely, this Cherokee tribal ritual finds translation in every culture, the transition from childhood to adulthood expressed in a multitude of ways: my first job flipping burgers at McDonalds; getting my driver’s license even after demolishing a curbside mailbox; leaving home at 18 to join a religious community. So many markers signified a lessening reliance on my parents, more reliance on myself. It was exhilarating and terrifying, not so unlike spending a howling night in the forest sitting on a tree stump.

Now, so many years later, I find myself still sitting on a tree stump in the night woods with the wind howling all around and the ground sometimes shaking beneath me. When still a gawky teen, I’d thought the transition to adulthood would be it. A plateau would have been achieved, and that would be it: smooth sailing right up to the Pearly Gates. Boy, was I wrong! Why, I can trace my whole life by the tree stumps I’ve occupied. The great unknown continues to loom, and it’s to this reality that Jesus speaks in the gospel passage we hear today.

Addressing his disciples, “Jesus said, ‘Be like those who are waiting for their master to return so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.’” (Luke 12:36) While Jesus is surely admonishing his followers to be ready for the moment of great human transformation when soul will leave body for heaven, even more, I think, is Jesus advising them to be ready for the daily entry of God into their lives. Indeed, God’s desire to be part of our lives is an ongoing dynamic. To use the gospel imagery, God stands knocking at our door all the time. Our only choice is this: do we let Him in or do we leave Him outside knocking? Do we invite Him to sit beside us on the tree stump as the night wind howls and the earth shakes beneath us, or do we tough it out alone, thinking we’re adult enough not to need Him?

A month from now, on September 15th, Fr. Basil Moreau, the founder of our religious community, the Congregation of Holy Cross, will be beatified in Le Mans, France. During the many years of preparation for this historic moment in our community, those studying Fr. Moreau’s life and writings have marveled at the strength of his faith as he battled to assist church and society in recovering from the devastation of the French Revolution. More trying still were the internal battles within our infant congregation, Fr. Moreau villainized and eventually ousted from the community before his death in 1873. A man of deep prayer throughout his life, it was during his most severe trial that a portrait emerged.

Kneeling in the chapel late one night, his soul close to despair, Fr. Moreau begged God for direction as obstacles seemed to thwart every attempt to establish his new community. Copious tears fell from his eyes as his desperate pleas met only silence. Finally, as if to arouse God Himself from lethargy, Fr. Moreau arose, ascended the altar steps and knocked upon the door of the tabernacle. “Is anyone in there?” spoke his despair. “Is anyone in there?” And indeed, the history of our Holy Cross community attests to the unspoken answer from behind the tabernacle door: “Yes, I am in here. I hear you and I am with you.”

Jesus said to his disciples, “Be like those who are waiting for their master to return so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.” (Luke 12:36) Sometimes it’s God knocking on our door, hoping to be admitted to our company. Other times, as with Fr. Moreau, it’s us knocking on God’s door, hoping to be admitted to God’s company. Either way, that rap-rap-rap is the confession that we’re sitting all alone on a tree stump in the deep forest, the wind howling about us, the earth shaking under us. Rap-rap-rap we bang upon the door with the silent prayer, “Please come sit beside me, there’s plenty of room on the tree stump.”

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