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Homily for 11th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A, 2023

I would like to read you a quote that I think speaks to our readings today. It is from the French 20th century mystic, Simone Weil. Simone Weil writes:


All of the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity.

Grace is the only exception. Grace fills empty spaces,

but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it,

and it is grace itself which makes this void.


I think we can see the difference between the natural movements of the soul and those inspired by grace in our readings today. We hear a lot of different movements, both explicitly in the text and those in the background.


In our first reading, we have the people of God leaving Egypt, going into the desert, arriving at the mountain of the Lord. We have Moses ascending the mountain, and God talking about carrying his people on eagle’s wings.


We also have as the background to this story, the people getting tired of waiting for Moses, tired of looking upwards. And so the people begin gradually to look downwards, a gravitational pull but also a grave sin: choosing to reject the God in heaven, choosing to make their own god, something more manageable, an earthly god, a bull that eats grass, a golden calf.


In our gospel, we have the harassed and dejected crowds moving around chaotically like sheep without a shepherd. We have Jesus with a bird’s-eye view, seeing this mess of people. Jesus responding to this harassment, this dejection, this aimlessness, this hunger, by forming the Apostles. He calls the Twelve and sends them precisely to tend to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. His movement down is precisely the opposite of the people’s movement down. They move down and so become scattered. He comes down to get them, heal them and bring them up, form them into a people, the Church.


It is worth pondering this distinction between gravity and grace. If we think on our lives, I am pretty sure such a distinction will become familiar. There is something very familiar about being pulled down. It is hard to keep looking up. It is hard to keep our attention on the things of heaven. Going up the mountain is much more difficult than rolling down it.


We know this at moments of temptation. The evil spirit is always pushing the logic of gravity, is always pushing the logic of necessity rather than the logic of freedom. The evil spirit is always trying to get us to give up on grace. “You are going to end up at the bottom of the hill anyway, so you might as well give up now.” “There’s no point in fighting. It has to be this way.” “There’s no way out.”


Sin is always painted as the easier, natural option. And it is always against freedom. It sounds free. And it sounds easier, but it never demands anything of us. It never expects anything of us. It never has hopes that we will become anything more than we are. It feels light in the moment because it is always easier to give up. But as we all know, it is so very heavy later. Both in terms of guilt, but also in terms of reduced freedom. The spiritual inertia grows.


But there are other moments, moments of grace, moments where we do in fact soar on eagle’s wings. Moments when we are plucked out of time and space as though by an eagle, when we encounter an unlooked for beauty, an unexpected act of kindness, a word that turns the world on its head and makes us laugh out loud. Times when we put in that little bit more effort and were rewarded a thousand-fold. Moments of grace.

In fact, I came across this quote by Simone Weil quite by accident. I was completely captivated by a work of art, and when I wrote to the artist about it, he told me that he named the piece after this quote. However, the quote is not just about the distinction between such moments. I’ll read it again:


All of the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity.

Grace is the only exception. Grace fills empty spaces,

but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it,

and it is grace itself which makes this void.


In our first reading, God carries his people on eagle’s wings, to where? To the desert. In our gospel, where does God go to meet his people? Where they are harassed and dejected. And so these desert moments, these harried and lost moments, these too can be moments of grace. But only if we climb the mountain like Moses. But only if we wait on God’s Word. Only if we allow ourselves to notice our real hunger, the real void in our hearts, that God alone can fill.


This hope, this waiting, this effort: this too is grace. Everything is trying to pull us down. Everything is trying to get us to forget the present moment. Everything is trying to get us to move on, to find a distraction, to settle for the quick fix. The gravity of the spiritual life is telling us to pay only lip service to the sacrament of the present moment, and to settle for something less than God.


Let’s pray today that we can become more sensitive to the movements of grace in our heart, the updrafts of the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray today to trust in the grace that is always seeking us out. Let’s pray today not to let gravity define our lives. Let’s work hard at real freedom rather than cheap freedom, knowing that this is how God wants us to really soar.

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