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Photo by Judy van der Velden at Flickr.com
Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Saturday Evening, August 3, 2013
Liturgy for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Focus Text: Luke 12:13-21

Getting Acquainted

Today’s homily is somewhat of a book review on Richard Rohr’s latest “The Immortal Diamond – The Search for Our True Self.”  The title echoes a famous quote from Thomas Merton describing the true self as that part of us that came from God and is returning to God, which is “a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven.”

The book is of interest tonight as all three readings beckon us to consider the false self.  The first reading laments that at times our false self seems so pervasive that “all is vanity.”  Paul writes about the moral distinctions between the true and false self in the second reading.  Jesus in the gospel paints a picture for us of the false self to help us see this part of ourselves more clearly.  Fr. Richard warns us over and over again in his book that the spiritual journey does not get very far if we do not get to know our false selves.  So if, like me, you ever lose touch with your false self, today’s liturgy gives us a chance to sit down get reacquainted.

A Necessary Container

In the gospel, Jesus tells the story of a farmer having a great year.  He has a bumper crop and he is deciding what to do about it.  Since he took Economics 101 in school, he knew that when grain was plentiful the price went down.  So he decided to build more storage facilities and sell the grain later when the price was higher.  Smart guy.  His situation could be a case study in an MBA class.  Remember Joseph with the coat of many colors in Egypt?  He was a hero for doing the same thing.

Jesus, however, is not impressed.  The way he tells the story it sounds like the farmer and his warehouses were one (count the number of times the farmer uses the pronoun “I”).  He does not consult his family, his employees, his tribe or his God.  You get the sense that if you take away his warehouses there would be nothing left of him.  In Luke’s gospel Jesus is much more concerned about things that are not bad in themselves – family, status in the community, possessions, tribal pride, religious compliance – than he is about moral failings! It is the things we consider good that confuse us about our true identity.

When my eldest daughter was ready for school she had a show stopping head of thick blond hair.  She would always get comments in the grocery store and she learned to toss her head in just the right way to maximize the effect.  One day she brought home an exercise from school where the kids were asked by the teacher to identify a trait that made them special.  You can imagine the answers like “helpful to mom” or “kind to animals.”  I was mortified when I saw that Teresa wrote down “my hair.”  Rohr says that each of us build a container to present ourselves to the world- our body shape, our personality, our job, our reputation, our possessions, our special skills etc.  The spiritual journey begins in earnest when we know these things are just a container for the true self.

There is much news these days about Nelson Mandela as he enters the final stages of life.  His life story exhibits energy that is opposite that of the farmer in the story.  When he was a young man at the top of his game the government took away his job, but that did not diminish him.  They took away his family and he retained his dignity.  They took away his freedom, his books.  They took away his reputation and called him a criminal.  Although stripped of his “container” they could not reduce him, they could not affect him.  The dignity of his true self was still there year after year blazing like a diamond.

Naming Our Container

The reason our container is false is that it wants to be more than what it is – just a container.  Our containers can change many times in a lifetime, but who we are does not change.  Containers are necessary, they are just incomplete.  I think Richard’s book is particularly strong on this point – our container is not something to be hated, feared or avoided.  It just has to be named for what it is.

In order to name our false self we need somewhere else to stand.  That somewhere is home base, the true self.  We do not find it, it finds us.  Merton describes it like it like a door opening to the infinite at the center of our being that we seem to fall though.  Rohr explains:  “This door needs only to opened only once in your lifetime, and you will forever know where home base is.  You will henceforth be dissatisfied with anything less.”  I suggest to you that this is a main reason why communities like this exist:  to use word, action, song, relationship, ministry etc., to help each other recognize home base.

So let’s honor these texts from our tradition by sitting down and having coffee this week with our container, our false self.  Remember it will try to fool you.  Just call it by name.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

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