Homily 5 June 2004 (2 Timothy 4.1-8; Mark 12.38-44)
Feast of St Boniface
1. Encourage through all patience and teaching… put up with hardship… and fulfill your ministry. In these words to Timothy, Paul includes all the elements of a holy preaching: encouragement, patience, hardship and fulfilment.
2. Encouragement: The word means ‘to put heart into,’ or ‘to comfort.’ It is also one of the readings for the feast of St Dominic, who was described by his companions as ‘the best possible comforter’ and encourager. To encourage does not mean to simply pat another on the back but rather to put into the other one’s own heart.
3. In the same way, the Patience that Paul speaks about is not a ‘putting up with another…,’ but rather suffering with the other, being com-passionate. As Pere Congar witnessed: ‘We have no word which offers meaning to peoples’ lives,, unless we have been touched by their doubts and glimpsed the abyss.’ It is just this compassion that was the cause of Dominic’s tears: ‘What will become of them…?’
4. The feast of the martyr, Boniface, reminds us of the Hardship that is involved in preaching. My own patron, St John Chrysostom, said, ‘It might be possible for a person to love without risking danger, but that is not the case with us.’ When the Dominicans in Bordeaux gave asylum to Moroccans in their church, one of the bishops complained, ‘People go to church to pray, not to put their lives at risk.’ A strange comment from a Christian! We go to church, we receive the eucharist, precisely in order to put our lives at risk! As Pere Congar said: ‘To be a preacher is to bear within our lives that distance between the life of God and all that is furthest away, all that is alienated and hurting.’ And our brother, Pierre Claverie, just before his assassination in Algeria, said he believed the place of the church, the place of a Dominican, today, is on the lines of brokenness in our world, the lines that divide rich from poor, North from South, Muslim from Christian. And for this, he was willing to give his life.
5. Just such an example of Fulfilment is given in today’s gospel, in the contrast between the Scribes, those masters of words without deeds, in whom there is no truth, and the poor widow. St Francis told his brothers, ‘Preach always, and when necessary, use words!’ Ther widow’s preaching is powerful because she gave ‘all she had.’ That means she had nothing left! Like Paul, who felt hjimself ‘being poured out.’ It is perhaps about Paul and the widow that Meister Eckhart speaks when he says: ‘She who seeks not her own in anything, dwells in God and God dwells in her. That person delights in abandoning all things.’
6. This is the fulfilment that comes from emptying, from ‘giving all we have,’ from ‘being poured out,’ from ‘delighting in abandoning all things.’ This is the best preaching. We can encourage others – give heart to others – only if we have first given our whole heart, everything we have, to God. And then the heart we give to others is God’s own heart.
7. God help us to be such preachers!
Fr. Chrys McVey OP