Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, September 04, 2009

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Mark 8:34)

“SOUL-SURFING” – September 13, 2009
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 8:27-35
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

Sometimes we lose our way. Everyone has had the experience. It’s just part of human nature. Consider the following story:

“As a bagpiper, I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man who had no family or friends. The funeral was to be held at a newly-opened cemetery in the remote countryside, and this man would be the first to be interred there.

“Not familiar with the backwoods area, I became quite lost. But, proud man that I am, I didn’t stop to ask for directions. I did arrive finally, but I was an hour late. I saw the backhoe at the ready with the crew nearby eating lunch. Neither the hearse nor the priest were anywhere in sight. I guessed they’d been long gone since I was so late to the service. Indeed, the prayers for the departed had been said, but I was determined to keep my promise to pipe this man into heaven.

“I apologized to the workers for my tardiness and stepped to the side of the open ground where I saw the vault lid already in place. I assured the workers I wouldn’t hold them up for long, but this poor homeless man deserved a proper burial, pipes and all. With their sandwiches still in hand, the workers gathered around. I played with all my heart and soul.

“At the skirl and drone of the mournful pipes, the workers began to weep. I played and I played like I'd never played before, everything from Going Home, The Lord is My Shepherd to Flowers of the Forest. I closed the lengthy session with Amazing Grace and then walked to my car.

“Just as I was opening the door and taking off my coat, I overheard one of the workers saying to another, ‘Sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I’ve never seen anything like that before, and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.’" (Original source unknown)

Yes, it’s true: sometimes we lose our way. In our wanderings we might even mistake an open gravesite for a septic tank installation. Indeed, to get lost is to be human. Even the first disciples of Jesus shared the experience.

In the gospel passage we hear today, we find Jesus asking the disciples what at first seems a casual question. “What are people saying about me,” Jesus asks. “Who do they say I am?” After an assortment of answers is proffered, the question becomes more pointed as Jesus asks them directly, “But who do YOU say that I am?” I imagine there was an uncomfortable silence until Peter gives the right answer: “You are the Christ.” It’s then that Jesus invites the disciples to continue their following of him even as he warns them that the price will be high. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Mark 8:34) As we know from the gospel accounts, the disciples do continue to follow, but often are they confused, misdirected, unperceiving; in short, they frequently lose their way. And so it is with us, 21st century Christians who may be as ardent in our desire to follow Jesus as those first disciples. It happened to me when a friend offered the invitation, “Take up your canoe and follow me.”

During the summer I’d been reading An Adirondack Passage, a travelogue written by Christine Jerome in which she documents her 226-mile canoe trip with her husband through the lakes of New York State’s Adirondack Park. The book was of particular interest because, during the summers of 1969, 1970 and 1971, I’d made a week’s worth of the same journey with a dozen friends. Though I was passably proficient at canoeing by the third summer, the first one was disastrous. Mostly because it was also Barney’s first time in a canoe.

Charlie, organizer of the trip and an avid outdoorsman, had invited a bunch of us more domestic types to go camping with him. Ignorant of what sacrifice this would demand, we friends readily agreed. Arriving at the canoe rental near Tupper Lake, we paired up, two of us to a canoe. I got stuck with Barney. Or, as he insists to this day, “I got stuck with Bob.” Anyway, neither of us had ever in our whole lives been in a canoe before.

After lugging a week’s worth of camping gear, cooking utensils and freeze-dried food from our vans to the 6 canoes waiting at lakeside, we divvied up the stuff before climbing in ourselves, a rower at each end of the canoe. Charlie and his seasoned mate took the lead, yelling back to the 5 canoes behind them, “Come on! Follow us!” We tried. Barney and I really did.

Kneeling in the fore and paddling incorrectly, mostly I became proficient at soaking Barney kneeling aft, each of my strokes showering him with a generous spray. Soon, after his four-letter epithets proved no deterrent to my errant behavior, he stopped paddling altogether. In defiance, I did too. Then we realized the other 5 canoes were so far ahead of us that we risked getting lost. Panicking, we both began to paddle feverishly in an effort to catch up. No good. Barney and I had lost any semblance of teamwork as we each dug deeply into the water from the same side of the canoe. We overturned in a flash, Barney and I bobbing in life jackets as all the gear we’d stowed either sank or floated away. Screaming for assistance, the other 5 canoes returned to assist us, aware that the week ahead would be a tough one for all of us because of the mishap.

The short ending to this tale: as a result of the gear Barney and I had caused to sink or float away, a few of the week’s meals consisted of scavenged fresh water mussels instead of a freeze-dried entrée. Also, we had to make do with large green leaves when we otherwise would have been using toilet paper. It was a difficult week.

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Mark 8:34) And so we do while allowing for human nature’s predisposition to getting lost. A misdirected bagpiper; a floundering canoe: it’s us on the way home.

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