21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Fr. Chris Wadelton

Homily – 21 Sunday OT – August 27, 2017

Like many of you, you probably grew up with National Geographic magazine was a family treasure.   I was captivated by the stunning photography and wanted to visit the amazing places and colorful cultures around the world.  I knew that paging through the magazine would probably be the closest I would ever get to experiencing those people and places. As the son of a Photographer and a once aspiring Photographer myself, my dream job would have been to work for National Geographic and travel the globe capturing those amazing places on film.

Jim Brandenburg was one such NG photographer.  For more than 20 years he traveled to all parts of the world capturing the beautiful landscapes, magnificent historical places and colorful cultures.   He was on the road and away from home 60% - 70% of the time.    In the late ‘90’s Brandenburg says that he “lost his passion” for photography.  He said he was “empty”.  He needed something to re-kindle the love of nature and photography that got him started in the first place.

And so he embarked on a sabbatical of sorts from the magazine and began a self-directed project close to his home in Northern Minnesota.  He decided to limit himself to just one click of the shutter per day. He would capture 90 days on three rolls of film (remember what film was?).

Think of the challenge for a photographer that was used to travel the world shooting all the film he wanted and then having to choose only 10-20 photos from the 20,000 – 30,000 pictures he had taken.  One photo per day?  What if he took a photo early in the day and something better came along later? What if he waited all day and didn’t find anything and then began to loose the light at the end of the day?   His challenge was to begin to see all beautiful photos that were right in his own backyard.   And, then to be satisfied with what he saw.

Two years later one of the National Geographic editors was visiting Brandenburg in his Minnesota home and saw the photos and heard the story of how they came to be. The editor was impressed with the story of his journey and the photos captured.  His photos became the lead article in National Geographic in November 1997.  It was the largest collection of photos by a single photographer ever published in one issue.

When it comes to our relationship with God, like Brandenburg sometimes we loose our passion and feel empty.  We need something to rekindle the love that we once had.  We need a change of perspective to begin to see the beauty all around us – and in us - and be satisfied with what we see.

I used the line with the school students this week that it’s better to search for God with a mirror than with a flashlight.

St. Augustine kinda captured this thought when he famously wrote: “my heart is restless until it rests in you.”  He was sincere in what he wrote, even if he was pathologically restless.   He was sincerely searching for Love and for God.  Eventually he found them in the most unexpected of all places, close to home - inside of himself.  God and love had been inside of him all along, but he had hadn’t been inside of himself.  Like the country singer Johnny Lee says: “He was looking for love in all the wrong places.”

In this lies a powerful lesson:  When we pray, we don’t pray to make God present to us. God is already present everywhere.  We pray to make ourselves present to God. Author Sheila Cassidy once put it colorfully when she wrote that God is no more present in church than in a bar, but we generally are more present to God in church than we are in a bar.  The problem when we loose our passion and feel empty is not with God, but with us.

Sadly, this is also true with the beauty and richness of our own lives. When we feel our lives are dull and boring and unimportant, too often we look for beauty, and love, and grace somewhere else.  In reality it is overflowing within the ordinary moments of our lives.

Bounty is there, but we aren’t.    I don’t say this judgmentally, as if to suggest we are being spoiled little children who don’t appreciate what we have.   We are not always aware of the beauty and richness around us because of this innate restlessness that St. Augustine talks about.   Because of tiredness, distraction, anger, obsession, wounds, and hurts and resentments, or whatever the list may include.  Too often we are not enough inside of ourselves to appreciate what the ordinary moments of our own lives hold.   And so we begin to think our lives are impoverished, dull, boring, and not worth putting our full hearts into.   The challenge for us is not to find what is fulfilling on the outside, but what’s on the inside.  

It’s better to search for God with a mirror than with a flashlight!

St. Augustine was lucky enough to recognize this and found the closeness of God that he was looking for inside himself.   Sometimes we are lucky enough to find this and other times our lives must be radically threatened or taken from us before we realize how rich our lives already are.

Imagine if everything were taken away from you and then given back…how would that change you?   The author Victor Frankl wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning, which chronicled his experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp.  He wrote about a personal experience of being clinically dead for a few minutes.  He reported that when he was revived by doctors and returned to his ordinary life, everything suddenly became very rich: “One very important aspect of post-mortem life is that everything gets precious, gets piercingly important. You get stabbed by things, by flowers and by babies and by beautiful things-just the very act of living, of walking and breathing and eating and having friends and chatting. Everything seems to look more beautiful rather than less, and one gets the much-intensified sense of miracles.”

It’s better to search for God with a mirror than with a flashlight.

The secret to finding beauty and love in life is not to search for them outside, but to recognize that they are already present.  The beauty and abundance of life comes knocking, but too often we’re not home.  Like the young St. Augustine, we are away from ourselves, strangers to our own experience, looking for something to give us meaning, when it is already inside of us. The trick is to come home.

Photographer Jim Brandenburg found amazing scenes in his own backyard when he took the time to stay home.    When we stay home and look around, or look in the mirror what do you see.  Do you see a mirror that needs to be cleaned or do we see Love and Life and God peering back at us?