My soul came apart like an empty jar. It fell overwhelmingly, down the stairs. Dropped from the hands of a careless maid. It fell. Smashed into more pieces than there was china in the jar.
[I found this short poem on page 263 of The Education of the Heart - edited by Thomas Moore, Readings and Sources for Care of the Soul, Soul Mates, and The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, Harper Perennial, 1996]
"I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable."
Anne Morrow Lindbergh [1906-2001], Time, February 5, 1973
Picture on top of Anne Morrow Lindbergh - photographed at her home in Darien, Connecticut in 1956
"Character isn't inherited. One builds it daily by the way one thinks and acts, thought by thought, action by action. If one lets fear or hate or anger take possession of the mind, they become self-forged chains."
Helen Gahagan Douglas, speech at Marlboro College, 1975, A Full Life, 1982
INTRODUCTION The title of my homily for this 31 Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, is, “Public Me - Private Me.” In Act 1, scene 4, line 250, of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Lear asks the question, “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” How would you answer that question? Who can tell you who you are? My first answer would be: me. I can tell myself who I am. Next: who is the one person in my life - that can answer that question? Who is that person who really knows me - who is not scared to be honest with me - who is not scared of my reaction - who has sat with me in my inner room? And one spouse elbowed the other spouse. If there is no other - I would think that’s a very scary way of doing life. I love it that Jesus asks others at various times in the gospels, “Who do people say that I am?” DR. MEER I was at Walters Art Museum in Baltimore on Thursday - my day off - and I came around a corner and there was this painting entitled, “Dr. Meer.” It stopped me. There are lots of paintings and statues to see in an art museum. Some stop us. If I was in charge of an art museum, I would put STOP signs here and there. There was Dr. Meer with a skull - a bone skeletal skull - in one hand - and his other hand is pointing to the skull. [Cf. picture on top.] It was a painting by Rembrandt Peele from around 1795. Dr. Meer emigrated from England to Philadelphia in 1793 and lost his wife to Yellow Fever - and was even close to death himself. He ended up caring for people in various outbreaks of Yellow Fever that plagued Philadelphia in the 1790’s - several thousand dying in 1793. We know that Yellow Fever hit people because of mosquitoes - especially in warmer places than Philadelphia - down south, South and Central America - and Africa. We know that it killed Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos in New Orleans in 1867. As I stood at that painting of Dr. Meer for a while - I thought of all those statues and pictures of saints who have a skull in their hand or at their feet. As I stood at that painting for a while - I wondered what others would wonder as they stopped at this picture. As I stood at that painting I remembered a sculpture that did the same thing to me when I spotted it in a big art museum in Vienna, Austria in 1984. I came up to it. It was the sculpture of three woman. At first I saw the statue of a young lady, beautiful - perfect figure. Then as I moved around to the next side there was the same woman - middle aged - older. Then there was a third image of that same woman as an old lady - sagging and bent over. “Ouch!” It was a STOP sign! It hit me big time. Life. I was 44 at the time. In that Vienna museum, I saw some seats off to the side. I went over and slipped into one of them - hoping not to be noticed. I sat there and photographed each person’s face with the camera of my eye - and I wondered what went through their minds and hearts as they saw those three statues - one sculpture - of one woman. Public Me. Private Me. FUNERALS As priest I have a great view of faces - here at Sunday Mass - at a funeral - at an eulogy. As people in benches here in church - you have a great view of the priest’s face? Do you wonder what’s going on in the mind of the skull of the priest? What’s going on in people’s minds and hearts? Public face. Private soul. Years and years ago I remember going to Father Pat Lynch’s brother’s funeral in Brooklyn, New York. I’m not sure how old his brother was when he died of melanoma - perhaps 29 or so at the time. I’m sitting there off to the side praying for Pat - but also watching faces of young people - fellow workers and friends of Pat’s brother. What were they thinking? What was going on inside their minds and hearts? Was it their first experience of death? Was it their first experience of term limits? Public Me. Private Me. What’s going on inside of me? TODAY’S READINGS If you were part of the crowd when the Prophet Malachi spoke in today’s first reading, would you turn to look at the priests’ faces when Malachi says, “They don’t listen. They don’t take the Word to heart. They have turned aside from the way. They have caused many to falter. They show partiality in their decisions. They break faith with one another. They have violated the covenant of our fathers”? If you were part of the crowd that day when Jesus said what he says in today’s gospel, would you have immediately looked at the faces of the scribes and the Pharisees? Jesus said they don’t practice what they preach. They lay heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. Jesus said they love places of honor at banquets - seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation, ‘Rabbi’.” Today's gospel that talks about not being called a "father" triggered a memory for me. It was the 60's. I’m standing on the front steps of our rectory on 3rd Street - Most Holy Redeemer Church - Lower East Side of Manhattan. I’m standing next to this old priest. He was probably younger than I am now - but he was old. I was 27 years of age at the time. A young kid comes walking down the street and says to the old priest, “Hi Father” and to me, “Hi Andy!” The old priest says as the kid gets past us, “Do you allow that? Someone to call you by your first name?” I don’t know what I answered other than, “Whatever.” I didn’t know the kid. He might have been in the 8th grade in our grammar school where I taught religion every Monday morning. But it didn’t really make any difference to me - then or now. That was my name. Well, this old priest says, “I’m going to tell the provincial about this.” I have no clue if or what I said next. This old guy was a good preacher and on Sunday morning when I was about to begin preaching I would hear a window in the church squeak open. It was a window to a house chapel that was up there - that opened into the church. I knew that night - if he had a scotch in him - and he saw me reading the paper or watching TV, he would tell me how I should have preached the sermon. Public me. Private me. Public you. Private you. I still have a few of those early sermons. “Oh my God!” Last Sunday I got up to the hospital to visit Carol Probst - who often came to Mass here at St. Mary’s - Sundays and weekdays. I walked into her room and she says, “Hi Andy!” It was a wonderful greeting. It was a wonderful visit. One daughter was there and one son and some grandsons. I was happy to see her smile and catch her and say a few prayers. I hadn’t seen her in about a month - when I had chatted with her for a moment before a Mass. It was nice to be called by my first name. Most people call us, "Father". I understand all that. It will be an honor to do her funeral tomorrow morning. It will be an honor to visit her family and friends at Taylor’s this afternoon - and hear some of the stories - and I’ll pray that I pull together something for a homily - a sculpture and painting of her - with words and images. Public me. Private me. Public view. Private view. CONCLUSION As priest, when I read today’s gospel about not being up front and not getting titles and all that - and the call to be humble - as humble as a naked human skull - and the call to be servant - I laugh - because that’s what I learned from Jesus. I sense that to be a central message and theme of Jesus. I sense at times that’s why Jesus held off his public self till he hit around 30 - and learned what he learned - in the inner room of his own being. I sense that Jesus laughed every time he went to the marketplace and the synagogue - not a cynic’s laugh - but the laughter about life that is part of humility. Did you hear that last sentence in today’s gospel: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted”? In the meanwhile we better laugh and cry and spend good time with our private self - in the inner chapel of our skull - in good silent drives in our car - in good walks with ourselves - down our inner roads. In the meanwhile, hopefully we have someone to answer the King Lear question I mentioned in the beginning of this homily. King Lear asks, “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” In the play the fool answers, “Lear’s shadow!” The shadow knows.... Our shadow knows .... In the meanwhile, it’s almost Halloween. Hopefully the kid in each of us enjoys the kid inside ourselves - that we sneak a piece of candy or two - realize we’re all wearing masks - we’re all playing “Trick or Treat,” and besides having a skull inside us, we all have a saint inside of us that’s dying to get out - probably long after this All Saint’s Day.
"I am four monkeys. One hangs from a limb, tail wise, chattering at the earth; another is cramming his belly with cocoanut; the third is up in the top branches, quizzing the sky; and the fourth - he's chasing another monkey. How many monkeys are you?"