A Parable

A young man was falling into it. In reality, it was falling into him. At first it was just a spark. Most sparks were quickly quenched by the mid-morning dew. The mid-morning dew was abundant. It was also cold outside. He was used to the cold. It was only warm sporadically. One spark, however, found a dry spot, lightly sheltered, in a place he didn’t take much notice of. At least he tried not to take much notice of it. He was a traveler and prided himself on his travels. This spot was near his home. Did he travel far and wide to avoid it? He wondered about that. Briefly.

The spark ignited. This surprised him. It burst into a consuming fire very near his home. It was very hot. Dangerously so. But he liked it. This surprised him. He had read about fires before. Big ones, like the one that razed Ancient Rome. He had read a lot. Secretly, he was intrigued by them. He wouldn’t tell people about that though. He would tell them about his travels. He was a traveler. He knew a lot about fires. He had never understood them though. This one started to burn his house. He was happy to let it burn.

 


 
This is a parable I wrote for my Narrative Preaching course. Parables speak of heavenly things through earthly things. We had three main principles to guide us:
1) tensive (it is and it is not)
2) effective (helps you come to knowledge)
3) ambiguous and uncertain

May it be so?

All the Light We Cannot See: A Homily?

Novels, or stories, are particularly helpful to teach us truths about different aspects of our human experience. All the Light We Cannot See is a recent novel written by Anthony Doerr. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015. The book is beautiful, filled with a rich and elegant vocabulary, making it incredibly pleasant to read, while also presenting to us a thought-provoking tale. In addition, it gives us insight into the theological virtue of faith.

Marie-Laure was a 6-year old French girl when she went blind. Her father, Daniel, was a very loving man, a locksmith, and a skilled woodworker. He treasured his daughter. The story is set in World War II as the Germans are about to invade France. Marie-Laure’s father was deeply worried about his daughter getting lost, so he built her an exact wooden model replica of the town. For hours and hours, Marie-Laure’s hands explored and fumbled over all the intricate details of the town. Through those many hours with the wooden model, she became keenly aware of the greater reality of her town, aware of all those features she otherwise would miss. Her father Daniel would then take her to different parts of the town where she would have to carefully walk finding her way home. There is a lot of visible light that Marie-Laure does not see. Throughout the novel, though, she finds a way to see into a deeper reality and truth than many of her non-blind friends do.

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Our world is fascinating. Yes, it is a world that is rational and follows certain scientific laws. Science is true and good. Our world has an intelligibility to it, accessible to our probing minds. At the same time, it is also a world that is deeply mysterious and enchanted. Contemporary physics has defied the modern expectations of a deterministic world. There remains a certain unpredictability, or openness, to our world. Any claim to the contrary lacks humility.

Our world is a reality that cannot be exhausted. What I mean by this, is that though it is palpably close to us, it is also utterly beyond our control. We find we are stewards rather than masters. Do we have the humility to acknowledge our human limitations?

I introduce these observations to make clear the correct relationship between faith and science. Science is good and true. However, scientism is a fallacy that is all-too-popular today. Scientism claims that science is the only way toward truth. Scientism reduces everything to the scientific mode of investigation as if that was the only mode. Scientism sets up science as an idol by making science as the true God. The major error we see with this is that it reaches science a step too far beyond its competence. There are many important questions that are properly non-scientific questions. Science only investigates the empirical world, the world of matter, material things. But doesn’t love have an immaterial aspect to it? Is love simply a certain mixture of pheromones and chemical bonds? Do we actually believe that? Or what about beauty? Does beauty have no greater reality than its atomic components? Further, you cannot scientifically prove science. The possibility of science must be proved my something other than itself, and this is where we enlist philosophy. Philosophy helps us to understand the nature of science, as well as the foundation for many other beliefs we hold. Philosophy shows us the truth is attainable through other ways of investigating reality: faith (theologically understood), art, and literature being three such ways.

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So, what do Marie-Laure and science have to do with faith? These help us show the role faith needs to play in our lives to live in the fullness of truth rather than with just a partial truth. Our life is necessarily incomplete without faith.  Faith is “the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). We see that the Lord, Our Redeemer, teaches us what is for our good.  “By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible” (Heb 11:3). God is the creator of the world. As the creator, He created us out of love and for love. He is not in competition wanting to limit us. Living the virtue of faith is living life to reflect these truths. Faith, as the evidence of things not seen, is making decisions in life with the understanding that we have a loving and merciful God who wants to give us deep joy. He desires our prosperity to be like a river and for us to have descendants as numerous as the grains of sand in the desert (cf. Is 48:18). Faith is to trust God.

Therefore, scientism is too small a worldview for us. It’s too small because it ignores the Creator who made science even possible. Science is true, but only part of the truth. Faith grounds our knowledge and elevates our scientific knowing. Faith answers the deeper questions that science cannot know, like the question of why life is worth living? So rather than putting God and science against each other, instead, let’s live with both God and science, with both in their proper place working in sync. Let God as our loving Father direct our life to show us what makes life worth living. Let’s also then thank God for the gift of an intelligible world, the fact that we have minds that can understand, and use science to be good stewards of this world.

Faith must be a gift from God. This means that we must pray for God to increase this virtue within us. As the Gospel of Mark tells us, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). We do have control of allowing ourselves to be open to receiving faith. We have the ability open or close our eyes to God. How much light are we willing to let in?

Faith is a form of vision that we walk our life by. Marie-Laure’s blindness allowed her to see more of All the Light We Cannot See. Yes, it allowed her a greater physical knowledge of her town, but as you read the book it appears to give her a precise moral insight as well. She understands all of reality in a more profound way than the other characters. Had she never been blind, she would have never known home so well. Her blindness required her to spend many hours exploring that intricate wooden-model. Do we spend hours in prayer exploring our world? Her blindness required her to grow in trust, and it was easy to trust her father because he loved her so much. Even with that fatherly love, though, being forced to actually walk home, while blind, those first few times, was difficult and scary. Faith requires us to trust our loving Father, just like Marie-Laure. It requires us to trust God and to spend many hours exploring the intricacies of our life and purpose. This means we need the sacraments. We need to receive Jesus often in the Eucharist. We need reconciliation. We need to heal our broken relationships with God and others. This means we need a prayer life. We need to schedule time each day to sit in quiet prayer, asking God for ears to hear and a heart that is soft. Lord, give me your eyes to see as you do; thin that veil between heaven and earth in my life. Lord, give me eyes to see All the Light I Cannot See. Lord, give me touch to feel the work you are doing in my life.

What if we had more than five senses? What if we could experience reality in more intense and varied ways? It would be nice to thin that veil between heaven and earth a little more, although we’ve all experienced it before, little tastes of heaven.  The virtue of faith does that for us. Faith thins that veil, giving us a more complete picture of how everything fits together in our life.

The Gospel today shows a generation that refuses the possibility for faith. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard’” (Matt 11:19). That generation was impossible to please. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t. We must not close our eyes like that generation. We must not limit our vision too much. For, what is Faith if not the gift of the vision of All the Light We Cannot See?

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*Based on the readings from Friday of the Second Week in Advent- Lectionary: 185
This was a practice homily assignment for my moral theology class. The focus was to encourage the faithful to grow in the virtue of Faith.

The Election and Loving your Enemies

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
-Matthew 5:43-45.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
-John 13:34-35

As a nation, we’re deeply divided. We’re deeply hurt. We’re scared. We’re upset. Whether Hillary or Donald won, this was going to be the result. The wounds were gaping before election day. We’ve been polemical. We’ve picked sides. We’ve demonized each other. We’ve slandered each other. We’ve lost our decency. Where do we go from here?

We are offered a major moral test. How we control our reaction, whether upset, angry, scared, excited, thankful, or triumphant shows a lot about our character. Individually we have the choice to work towards reconciliation or not.

Experiencing these emotions is good. It’s human. Electing a president has serious consequences for our society.  I am deeply nervous about some of the things Donald has campaigned for. I was also deeply nervous about some of the things Hillary campaigned for. Major disappointment was to come with either result. Now though, how do we react in a way that brings healing? Or do we dig in and twist the knife more?

This does not mean that we compromise our values and beliefs. If a true injustice arises during this presidency, we must conscientiously object. We must protest appropriately. Convictions are necessary. In doing this our task is to learn how to respectfully but firmly disagree. This is possible.

Christ is our brightest light. Christ Jesus invites us to love our enemies. He invites us to pray for those we disagree with- to pray for those we hate. I invite Democrats to pray for Donald Trump. I invite Republicans to pray for Hillary Clinton. Lord, we’ve been plagued with ugliness and animosity this election season. Bring healing. Bring unity. Lord Jesus, I pray that Donald Trump will be a good public servant. He has a major task ahead of him. I pray that he will be a president for all Americans. I pray that he surrounds himself with virtuous men and women and that they truly will work for the common good. I pray for Democrats, Republicans, Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and the Unborn. I pray that all people in America can feel safe and welcomed. I pray that we recognize and treat all people with their God-given dignity.

Put on then as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility gentleness and patience.
-Col 3:12

Jesus Christ has given us the lasting example. Let us pray for each other, especially the ones we don’t want to pray for.

In Christ,
Joseph Sevcik

On Death

I’ve never been with a person when they die. I’ve never been there for the final breath. It’s an occasion that I’ve thought about many times before. One of those ephemeral times when we rest from our ceaseless activities and collide with the reality of death. Our gaze forced to contemplate mortality.  A moment where time stills. The air a little denser than normal. Emotions emanate a bit easier. Tears, even if not from sadness, flow. It’s a time of purging, and hopefully a time of peace. It’s a moment where we cast off spectacle, standing exposed.

And at the same time, its utter reality is mystical. We experience the metaphysical, the true fullness of nature. Supernatural – above nature. Faith gives us assurance, but the chasm still percolates with mystery. I just finished Anthony Doerr’s novel, All the Light We Cannot See. In it a character notes that visible light, the light that we see, only makes up a very small portion of all the light that exists. More reality exists than what is just visible. The mystery of death puts us face to face with this fullness of reality.

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Last week my grandma’s brother Roger passed away. A few nights ago my grandpa’s brother Ken passed away. They were both good men, and I’ve always respected and enjoyed seeing them, even if it has only been in brief spurts growing up. Their passings have given me a few reflections over the past few days.

My mother and I were sitting in Ken’s hospital room the morning of his last day. We knew Ken was going to die soon. It was surprising he hadn’t passed the previous night. This 94 year-old man had lived a full life, with roughly 4 times the memories and experiences that I’ve had. [And I think I’ve been around for a while]. He’d fallen in love, raised a family, experienced war, grown old. He outlived 99% of his friends. Everything that he’d ever experienced climaxed to this one final day, and I was one who got to share it with him.

Ken couldn’t talk. He was fairly unresponsive. But, he knew we were there. We greeted him as we entered and sat near his bed. And then my mom reached out and grabbed his hand, holding it tenderly. She told him that we love him, that he’s been a blessing to our family, and that God loves him too. The power of a simple touch conveyed a depth of love words couldn’t express. It was tender and simple, compassionate and natural. A capacity I can grow in.

We started to pray the rosary with him. We’d say it aloud and he’d listen, holding my mother’s hand. And though he was mostly unresponsive, he could still squeeze her hand. After we finished the first decade he reached up and grabbed my hand, holding it as we continued to pray. I’m probably definitely one of the least touchy guys around, [I generally hate hugs at the sign of peace] but in that moment it was right, it was powerful, it was perfect. Holding Kenneth’s hand was an experience of Jesus’ love. Overwhelming love. On a man’s last day on this earth, I got to experience a part of it with him. Fortunately, that’s a gift in the priesthood that I’ll get to share with countless others.

In this Year of Mercy in the Church, I understand a little deeper why visiting the sick is such an important corporal work of mercy. One that I haven’t had too much experience with yet. I appreciate the role doctors, nurses, and others have to play in this ministry. I appreciate the power of love that I see my mother demonstrate so well, especially with her care for my grandma. I think about the loneliness that so many face, as they prepare to face death, and the importance of us sharing that journey with them. I’m also grateful for God’s mercy and love in my own life, and for Jesus not letting death have the final word.

Finally, I appreciate God’s gift of sadness. Tears of a joy from a life well lived. When things are worth crying about, things are worth living for.

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