YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
We mortals, with feet so often stuck in the mucky earth and hearts incessantly reaching for what lies above and beyond, seek God relentlessly in the experiences of our lives and in the creation outside of us. And while we seem naturally to look upward when searching for these eternal signs, there are those moments when our vision is directed below us, even under our feet, to see a beauty only a patient God could fashion. And in the discovery of that beauty comes the realization that God is truly everywhere and in everything.
Quite a few years back on a hot, humid August day in upstate New York, my sisters and I planned to descend several hundred feet to a subterranean world boasting a constant temperature of 52 degrees. One of the natural wonders of the northeast, Howe Caverns, near Cobleskill in Schoharie County, was a place we’d long planned to visit, close enough that it would be an easy day trip. Finally, on this sultry August day, we were going.
Pulling into the parking lot, I was a bit ashamed to see so many out-of-state cars, “foreigners” who knew what treasure lay here and who had come a long way to admire it. And we three, so close, just a 45-minute ride in fact.
Joining the group just boarding an elevator with Ryan, our tour guide, we descended to the underworld. Beginning our walking journey along winding footpaths, a subterranean stream gurgled beneath us and glazed stalagmites and stalactites came into view at every turn. A quarter-mile flatboat ride on the dammed-up stream and a single-file squeeze through 18-inch wide tunnels brought us to the end of the tour. Ryan then gathered our group within earshot as he delivered his scripted concluding remarks. He said, “It took approximately a year for a work crew to blast out this tunnel we’re standing in, and look what ugly scars they left in the rock face. Now look at the walls of that adjoining passageway. It took God millions of years to carve those rocks, and look at their beauty! I wonder what that says to us?” Herding us into the elevator, Ryan returned us to the surface.
In today’s gospel account, the disciples swarm around Jesus, stinging him with their harsh expressions of disbelief about what he’s just taught them. Who could accept this man who proclaims himself to be the very bread of life? Who would not mock a man who promises life forever to any who eat this bread? And as they buzzed and circled around him in angry derision, one man steps away from the rest to speak for himself. Simon Peter struggles above the laughter, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69) This one small voice of faith in a jeering crowd became the rock on which the church has been built.
Feet stuck in the mucky earth; hearts reaching for the above and beyond: we seem naturally to look upward in the search for God. Still, there are moments when we are drawn downward, beneath the muck and into mystery, to allow ourselves discovery.
My sisters and I left behind the warm sunshine to enter the cold and dark cave. In the shadowy beauty of the place, another cave came to mind, the cave where the body of The Crucified One was laid to rest. New life, eternal life, came forth from cold, dark rocks like these. Later, the church was established on the faith of The Rock, Simon Peter. And now, in that cold and dark cave, another voice was heard: “It took God millions of years to carve these rocks, and look at their beauty!”