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PreachMarch 25, 2024
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In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God often makes Godself known through sound: be it a voice from a burning bush, a resounding clap of thunder or the blast of a trumpet. “God is revealed through sound,” affirms Ed Foley, O.F.M. Cap. “I think of a homily as sound theology,” he adds, “it’s acoustic engagement.”

When preparing to preach, Ed, the Duns Scotus Professor Emeritus of Spirituality and a retired professor from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, first writes his homilies word for word in poetic form. Then, he meticulously annotates his manuscript, like a conductor’s score. “One of the things you learn in conducting is, when you open up a score, there are 3,000 notes on a page. You can’t see everything, so you mark your score,” he says. “So I marked my text: Where’s the crescendo, where’s the pause, when do the trumpets come in?”

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Practice extends beyond the art of the homily permeating life itself. It is, perhaps, a vital Christian practice as we enter the Easter season of Christ’s resurrection. “The followers of Jesus practiced resurrection,” Ed says in his homily on “Preach” for the Mass of the Day this Easter Sunday. “Their dogged commitment to living an Easter spirituality and pass it on from one generation to the next, usually at great cost, is why we stand missioned to practice resurrection again today.” 

Ed is convinced that “preaching is a performative form of theology.” If a presider neglects to prepare the delivery of the words they are assigned in the liturgy, no matter how routine they are, their words will “become sort of spiritual Ambien,” lulling people to sleep. “The way you’ve got to [engage people] is [through] the voice,” he affirms. “I try to practice this; this is an auditory sonic ministry.”

But, even though prudent preparation is necessary, there must always be enough room to veer from the script when you’re standing in front of a congregation.

“Improvisation is not shooting from the hip. We learned this from people, from standup comics, improvisation is taking what somebody gives you and doing something with it. It’s preparation,” Ed says. “The text is not the performance, just like a script is not a play a score is not music.”

Scripture Readings for Mass of the Day on Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord

First Reading: Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Second Reading: Col 3:1-4
Gospel: Jn 20:1-9

You can find the full text of the readings here.

A Homily for the Mass of the Day on Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord, by Ed Foley, O.F.M. Cap

One might presume
    that a responsible homilist
charged with the daunting task
of preaching the most important feast of the Church year
would prepare for this awesome ministry
by poring over the readings and ritual texts
        consulting appropriate biblical and liturgical commentaries
        constructing a meaningful interpretation of the mystery
        And then look for ways of assuring us that if we live well
            Resurrection is our undeniable and well-earned future.

While that chronology makes sense to me
    it seldom works out that way in the winding path 
that typically characterizes my homily preparation.

    One contributing factor is that, having taught 
        and preached this feast for five decades
        the biblical and liturgical text 
        are familiar and trusted friends. 
    More crucial for me, however,
        is that the solemnity of Easter proclaims a mystery
        that is larger than the feast and extends well beyond today
            a mystery not simply focused on the future
            but rather relentlessly confronting the present.

Let’s be honest: mysteries cannot be explained though many try
    from well-intentioned homilists to fool hearty theologians.

    In his novel Saint Francis, author Nikos Kazantzakis
    puts this Easter reflection on the lips of the poor man of Assisi

    “every year at Easter I used to watch Christ’s Resurrection
    all the faithful would gather around his tomb and ... 
    weep inconsolably, beating on the ground to make it open
    and behold, in the midst of lamentation the tombstone 
        crumbled to pieces …
    Christ sprang from the earth and ascended to heaven.

    There was only one year I did not see him resurrected; 
    that year a theologian of consequence, 
        a graduate of the University of Bologna came to us
    he mounted the pulpit and began to elucidate the resurrection 
        for hours on end;
    he explained … until our heads began to swim
    and that year the tombstone did not crumble
    and I swear to you no one saw the resurrection.”

    Ouch! Good thing I am neither a theologian of consequence
        nor a graduate of the University of Bologna.
    Rather, I am a believer like you
        who struggles to embrace the incomprehensible
        to live in the midst of ambiguity and too much suffering
        and is still willing to wager my faith on the resurrection.

        Or in the words of my sainted mother, after we buried Dad:
            “it had all better be true.”
            Like her, I am counting on that.

Recently I have been reading a provocative biography 
of Albert Einstein.

    if you know anything about his personal life
    you might not think that this subversive genius
    is an appropriate reference in an Easter homily
or any other for that matter.
    He was a professed religious non-believer
        did not accept the idea of life after death
        and commented, “one life is enough for me.”

Still, I find Einstein a refreshing guide
    when contemplating mysteries:
    something he single-mindedly did his entire life.

What fascinates a non-scientist like me
    is that he tackled the mysteries of physics 
essentially through mind-experiments
    as there existed at the time no equipment or laboratories 
        that could empirically prove his theories.

    At the age of 16, he imagined chasing a beam of light:
        scientific daydreaming that contributed immensely
        to his theory of relativity.
    Then there were all those thought experiments
        about rapidly moving trains
        and elevators accelerating through space.

What is most astounding for me 
        is that such exercises of the mind
        required virtually no new empirical data. 
    Einstein largely excavated what was already known
        Imaginatively rearranged it 
    and voila – astounding truths were revealed.

Now at this point, some of you might be wondering 
    if I am suggesting that resurrection is a mind experiment
    similar to those that brought Einstein to the theory of relativity:
        the simple answer is no.
    Resurrection is not a mind experiment
        but I do believe it is a heart experiment: 
        an idea from Einstein himself.
When reflecting on his vocation he wrote:

“The state of mind which enables [one] to do work of this kind ... is akin to that of the religious worshipper or the lover; the daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart.” 

    This heart experiment we call Easter was birthed
in the early community
        bequeathed to us through the scriptures 
        and rebirthed over the centuries 
        through rituals and symbols, frescoes and chants.

In it, the community took what they already knew
that their Rabbi was anointed with God’s spirit
        he went about doing good
        was a source of healing and enlightenment 
        and was unjustly executed on the jib of a tree
    as Peter well summarizes in the first reading.

In the wake of that violent execution
the resilient Spirit of the Only-Begotten
which had confronted them for the 3 years 
he walked among them
    re-possessed their hearts
    prodding them to fresh believing 
that he was risen from the dead:
    something none of them witnessed.
Yep, Renaissance paintings to the contrary
no one witnessed the rising of God’s Son:
a point underscored in today’s Gospel
    replete with tales about an apostolic foot race
    an empty tomb,
    rearranged burial cloths
    and little understanding.

What is strikingly absent is the Risen One.
Simply put, Jesus never shows up
    though Easter has already dawned.

While not exactly a spoiler alert
    in the Easter tales unfolding over the next 7 weeks
    the Risen Christ IS revealed 
but only and persistently through personal encounters:
•    With Mary of Magdala in the garden
•    Then the apostolic fraidy-cats hiding in the back of the Jerusalem Hilton
•    Surprising the couple that had resigned from discipleship and was returning to the abandoned fig shop in Emmaus
•    Brilliantly culminating in the beach picnic with demoralized Peter, trying to recover the art of fishing which he obviously had lost.

    This dynamic of encountering the Spirit of the Risen Christ
        not only ignited the original heart experiment we call Easter
        but fuels its enduring power. 
    And it endures because Resurrection and Easter
        Are siblings but not synonyms.
    Christ’s Resurrection was a once and for all event.
    Easter, on the other hand, is not a date on the calendar
        but an abiding spirituality lavished upon us in Baptism
        when, as Paul reminds us, we were raised with Christ.
    The enduring mystery of Easter is that we can still encounter
        the Risen Lord. 
    Welcome to Eucharist!

In his unsettling “Manifesto” 
    Wendell Berry raised his prophetic voice against all things
        that disable us from encountering the Risen One
and alienate us from our baptismal legacy. 
    He rails against all those un-Easter tendencies when writing: 

… every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what we 
have not encountered we have not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

and in a final summation, he bluntly advises: Practice resurrection.

The followers of Jesus practiced resurrection 
    and their dogged commitment to living an Easter spirituality
    and pass it on from one generation to the next 
– usually at great cost –
 is why we stand missioned to practice resurrection today.

Unfortunately in this moment, it seems there are 
too many who prefer practicing crucifixion played out in 
the starvation ravaging across the Sudan & Congo
    the violence rampaging across the streets 
        of Ramallah and Chicago 

Thus I fear that without our commitment 
    to metaphorically practicing resurrection
to extending the Easter through our embodiment 
        of the justice vision 
and dignity affirming spirit of the Risen Christ

Then Golgotha will only amplify
the innocent will continue to be annihilated 
and the easter mystery will fade into a nostalgic memory.

Richard Powers’s novel Bewilderment 
    features 9-year-old Robin
        the warm, kindhearted son of a widowed astrobiologist
        who suffers from several neurodivergent conditions.
    His mental deterioration is a descent into hell.

    In an effort to keep him off psychoactive drugs, 
        the father turns to an experimental neurofeedback treatment 
        to bolster Robin’s emotion control; 
    The twist is that this treatment uses a scan of his 
deceased mother’s brain, her preserved emotional state 
        to enable Robin to recover his well-being. 

    The neural mapping of his Mother’s emotional legacy
        not only calms her son but recreates him, 
rescues him from emotional hell
resurrects his well-being.

        the lead neuroscientist notes:
Well-being is a virus. One self-assured person at home in this world can infect dozens of others. [Who] Wouldn’t … want to see an epidemic of infectious well-being.

Today’s Eucharist is not an exercise in neural- but in Jesus- feedback
that summons us to embrace the “Jesus virus”
    to recalibrate us
for practicing resurrection in a world
    too often hell-bent on crucifixion. 

In his poem “Easter Communion,” 
Gerard Manley Hopkins
cajoles us to “Breathe Easter now.”

Our prayer this solemn feast is that with expanded lungs,
we might inhale the intoxication of the Easter gift
and exhale it through our relentless resurrectional practicing 
so that the Easter mystery becomes an epidemic
    of grace, and hope, and peace 
for the glory of God, and the salvation of the world,
Through Christ, the Risen one, forever and ever. 

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