This is the homily I delivered at the closing mass of our 201l Assembly in St. Fidelis Church:
Last night I read through the evaluations on this Assembly 2011. They were all quite positive. But my reading of the various comments reminded me of what a diverse group we are and what diverse interests and “tastes” we have. Yet we all struggle together. There is a unity in struggling and striving. On the bottom line we are all striving and struggling to know Jesus, to follow Francis, and to love our brothers. We have an intense unity in our striving, and our struggling.
Once again we have celebrated Easter together as a province – this is perhaps the 34th time (once we held our Assembly during Christmas). Once again we have prayed together, eaten together, celebrated together, listened together…once again. And each time we do it, it is as though we are doing it for the first time. Each time is a time of beginning. Easter – in Mid-America – has become a time of new beginnings.
We heard Barnabas proclaim in the Gospel today that the apostles went back to their “old ways” as they went back to fishing in the sea. Perhaps they needed to satisfy their hunger, or earn a living. But something “new” happened as they went back to their old ways. They recognized Jesus. They knew him so clearly that they dared not ask, “Who are you.” It wasn’t the “old” Jesus who they knew so well before the crucifixion. It was the “new” Jesus, the risen Jesus.
All these Easter appearances of Jesus – these discoveries of the new and risen Jesus – are, as Pope Benedict says in his book, Jesus of Nazareth Part II, “shrouded in mystery.” When the apostles, and John in particular, say “It is the Lord!” – How did they see? How did they come to this recognition, this discovery? They came to see and to know from within, says Benedict. It is an inward recognition shrouded in mystery.
My brothers, is not this “discovery” or this “recognition from within” the gift that we receive from contemplative prayer? The gift of contemplative prayer is that it takes us from the Lord’s outward appearance and lets us see from within! Is this not what we have been striving and struggling with during this past year as we have attempted to raise our consciousness and our practice of contemplative prayer? Is this not what our Chapter 2010 wanted us to struggle with as we implemented our proposal on contemplation?
We see the bread and wine outwardly; from within we see Jesus’ body and blood. We see our parishioners outwardly; from within we see Jesus needing compassion and hope. We see a homeless person outwardly; from within we see Jesus who needs shelter. We see a penitent outwardly; from within we see Jesus asking for new life. We see a sick person outwardly; from within we see Jesus in need of healing. We see a prisoner outwardly; from within we see Jesus yearning for freedom and forgiveness. Yes, this is one of the most precious gifts of contemplative prayer.
Our Resurrection Mandatum is not only to wash feet, an action we learned on Holy Thursday and which calls us to see dirty feet. Our “mandatum” is to recognize Jesus’ feet in those dirty feet, to see Jesus from within.
We have talked – for a year now – about this gift and about Capuchin contemplation in general. We have talked about how it works. We have talked about how it should be done. We have talked about the obligations we have from our Constitutions to do it. We have talked, and talked, and talked.
Now, as we begin again – once again – let’s do it. Just do it.
And may God bless our beginnings…once again.
Charles J. Polifka, OFM Cap.