(Homily given 10.30.11, on the occasion of the 4th anniversary celebration for Holy Redeemer Catholic Community, Fort Wayne, Indiana.)
Today will be the briefest homily I have ever given, so don’t doze off or you’ll miss the
whole thing. On this 4th anniversary of the founding of Holy Redeemer Catholic Community, in this week when I was first ordained to the priesthood and had my hands bound—literally—to the chalice that would contain the Blood of Christ, the one I would use for the rest of my earthly life, and in this week when the Gospel reminds of us to be
humble as we walk with God….I feel the time is long overdue when we need to discuss something of utmost importance.
We need to talk about monkeys.
There’s a great short story I read called, “The Monkeys Not Seen” and it’s the true story
about a Southern grandfather who had a pet monkey which he kept in a cage under
a magnolia tree. Kids from all over northern Florida came to see this monkey, and there was one young boy in particular who lived some 80 miles away who had never seen a monkey, but desperately wanted to. One day Grandpa received a heartfelt letter from the boy in which he expressed his burning desire to see a live monkey. So, Grandpa
drove down to the city of Carrabelle on muddy roads in his old Model A Ford to
fetch the boy and bring him back to see the monkey.
The boy sat in the rumble seat, and the roads were rough. They got as far as Tallahassee,
and the boy got car sick. He got really sick, vomiting over the side of the car repeatedly. Finally, he was so dehydrated and exhausted that Grandpa felt he had no choice but to turn around and return the boy to his home. He never did see the monkey.
But, the author Bailey White writes, “For the rest of his life, he haunted the docks and
the bait shops of Carrabelle, a pale, wraithlike creature with fluttering hands and a radiant look in his eyes, telling anyone who would listen to him about the time he almost saw a monkey.”
The truth was that the monkey was NOT at all friendly. In fact, he was mean, and scruffy,
and had a pinched little face that would hiss and spit whenever a stranger got near him. But in the boy’s imagination, he was a glorious creature with flashing eyes, shimmering fur and a tail that could do almost anything. Perhaps he even imagined that the monkey would have reached through the cage and touched him gently on the cheek. Bailey White
concludes, “The very best and finest monkeys, the monkeys that bring you the purest joy – those are the monkeys you must never see.”
You and I need to deal with the real world, but we need the image of a perfect monkey as
well. I don’t know how long I’d last if all I had was the real world where we constantly struggle with limits and road blocks and uncooperative people, maybe even evil or corruption. We need to hold in our hearts the image a perfect world where everything is reasonable, meaningful, peaceful, trustworthy and in order. That’s what inspires us. If you’re like me, it seems that every so often I get a taste of it. There are moments when God feels very near and all is well.
In 2007 there were a handful of people present in this church for the first Mass
offered in a new kind of Catholic parish. We didn’t know what the heck we were doing. I didn’t realize then that I would lose all my Roman Catholic friends, that the priests with whom I was friends and with whom I had worked for a decade would avoid me in public, that the Diocese would attempt, behind the scenes, to have us evicted from this place. I simply trusted that the God who had been calling me to priesthood since I was 8 years old would somehow make this project of His work out exactly the way it was meant to. I prayed only that I would have the humility and courage to get the heck out of God’s way—and that is still my prayer! I was naive then, and starry-eyed about the future of this parish. I am STILL naive, still starry-eyed about this ministry and my vocation, but I have come to know that there are times when I am called to face my own personal, dirty, mean old monkeys. I have also come to believe that , through grace, they can be cleaned up and tamed, because I also carry within me the image of that perfect monkey.
Holy Redeemer Catholic Community was born because a few people believed in the truth
that Catholicism cannot be reduced merely to an institutional structure, that the principles and teachings of Vatican II were worth fighting for, worth being persecuted for, worth proclaiming despite the objections of those who want to turn back the clock and pretend the Council never happened. For many forward-thinking people who are waiting for the day when the People of God make decisions for their church, when women and men are treated exactly the same, when the sacrament of human love is respected in all its myriad forms, that day is today. We have in our minds the perfect Church and
every time we gather, we humbly sing the truth of our vision, the truth of what
the Church ought to be everywhere. The truth is the truth; it’s as simple as that. As I tell my students all the time, standing up for truth, attempting to live the truth is a potent power that has rocked foundations, changed society, and transformed the world. People have given their reputations, their livelihoods, and some their very lives in the quest for truth, and my prayer for all of us gathered here today is that we will step up and choose to create a parish that will continue to create lasting changes in people’s lives right here and now.
It’s time to let that monkey out of his cage.
r Catholic Community.)