Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Theme: “Jesus said, ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it.’” (Matthew 16:18)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday August 23 2020
Life is messy. So are the places where it happens. It’s taken me a long time to realize and accept this truth. I wish I’d known it as a teenager. Wish I’d known it because I’d have been happier, not only more accepting of our domestic imperfections—a certainty when 8 people and assorted pets share a house—but I might even have been able to glory in our house’s frequent disarray.
All of this came back to me recently with a pop-up on my internet screen: “How to Fake a Clean House,” by Kathleen Squires. It sure could have been our house she was writing about! Let me share a few of her ideas:
“The Living Room: Reserve one side of sofa cushions to be shown to guests. Before company arrives, flip over the cushions to reveal good-as-new fabric. When guests are gone, flip them back. Rid the sofa of pet hair by wetting the fingertips of rubber gloves and gliding your hand over the sofa. The hair will stick to the rubber.
“The Kitchen: When the dishwasher is full and the sink is overflowing, stow dirty dishes and silverware in a stockpot and pull them out later to be cleaned. Cover up the lingering aroma of last night’s supper by boiling nutmeg, cloves, or cinnamon and orange peels in a sauce-pan on the stove.
“The Bathroom: Glide a sticky lint roller over the bath mat to pick up hair. Light a candle. Everything looks better (and cleaner) by candlelight. Mound cosmetics and hairstyling products in a container underneath the sink. In a pinch, pile them in the tub and close the shower curtain. Cross your fingers that guests don’t snoop.” ( www.realsimple.com/home )
When, at 18, I left home to enter our Holy Cross religious community, I was absolutely sure I was about to embark on a new life of perfect order, God-like cleanliness and freedom from anything resembling disarray. I was, of course, wrong. And worse, in the absence of dust-bunnies, I now turned a critical eye toward my brothers in community, people who professed to be on the road to perfection. What was wrong with them? Or the better question—what was wrong with me? Unhealthy perfectionism suggested a counselor; idolatry suggested a confessor.
Once I could accept the truth that only God is perfect, human messiness became more tolerable. I didn’t have to like it, but I did have to accept it. And the more I came to admit the messiness of my own life, the more accepting I could be of that in others. Indeed, not one of us is a completed project. We are all yet on the road, tumbles and scrapes sullying our appearance until, with our final earthly breath, we cross the threshold. And God’s first words won’t be, “What a mess you are!” but rather, “My, what a struggle it’s been for you to reach home.”
We are not completed projects. Nor is our church. Indeed, the church is a living, breathing organism still on the homeward road. In the gospel passage we hear today, Jesus addresses the first of the apostles: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) “I WILL build,” says Jesus. And that building is not yet completed. We are a church still under construction; what we will later be—what we hope to be, ought to be—still a dream on the horizon.
For sure, life is messy. So are the places where it happens. These days, while I laugh at my unreasonable childhood expectations of a show-case perfect house, I struggle to afford the church the same concession. Its foibles and failings are so much in the news, and as one of its official representatives, I often feel caught in the tension between what is and what ought to be.
I guess I need to remind myself often that we are all yet on the road—even the church—as tumbles and scrapes sully our appearance until, with our final earthly breath, we cross the threshold. And God’s first words won’t be, “What a mess you are!” but rather, “My, what a struggle it’s been for you to reach home.”