Monday, June 21, 2010

Father Fink's Homily and Our Big Event!

Dear Friends,

We are just soaring after a successful first conference. Thank you all so much for your generosity in attending and sharing the day with us in the midst of so many other commitments and challenges in all your lives. We are beyond grateful for your presence at the conference, and for your enthusiasm, which inspired us greatly. As our gift to you, I'd like to share the text of Msgr. Charles Fink's homily so you can enjoy it yet again. For those of you who were not able to join us, we will have all the recorded talks for sale very soon, including the homily and Msgr. Peter Vaccari's talk [which he chose not to give so that Pat Gohn could expand her presentation]. Those who registered for the conference will get a reduced price on purchasing one or all of them. Pat Gohn graciously recorded everything for us and is hoping to do a full recording of Fr. Peter's talk, as well. So, here is the homily by our beloved friend and mentor, Msgr. Charles Fink. Enjoy, and God bless you all! We'll be in touch!


Homily at Catholic Writer’s Mass
June 19, 2010, Seminary of the Immaculate Conception
Huntington, NY 11743

Isaiah 55:6-11 1 John 1:5-7 John 1:1-5, 14-16


The first chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion, the prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, bears a striking resemblance to the opening chapter of the Book of Genesis and has some affinity to the Prologue of John’s Gospel. It’s a magnificent portrayal of creation, but the key instrument in fashioning the world is not the Word, as in John’s Prologue, rather music. God, Illuvitar in Tolkien’s telling, proposes a musical theme to the angels and invites them to weave harmonies of their own to embellish the original theme. Unbeknown to them, the harmonies they weave, or the disharmonies in the case of Melkor, the Satanic angel, turn out to be musical renderings of realities played out in the history of the material world: They are, in effect, blueprints and foreshadowings of creation’s future. The things that stand out in Tolkien’s creation myth are God’s absolute mastery over all the music, and, therefore, all creation, and His patience and generosity in permitting lesser beings than Himself to share in the work of creation.

Later in life, in a very different genre, a short story called “Leaf by Niggle”, Tolkien returned to the theme of how beings infinitely less than God are enlisted by Him to participate in the making of things they have little or no idea they are contributing to. Here, however, the central image is not music but art, and the art doesn’t figure in the making of the material world but rather the Kingdom of Heaven.

Niggle is an amateur painter, obsessed with painting pictures of trees, and leaves in particular, with which he gets so hung up that he never finishes his work. He has a vague sense of what he’s striving to put on canvas but seems never to be able quite to achieve it. In the end, he dies and, after passing through a rather purgatorial rehab, is taken to a country side where he is free to garden and bicycle around, enjoying the scenery. One day he literally falls off his bicycle in astonishment at what he sees. It’s the trees and leaves and scenery he’d been struggling all those years to paint, now perfectly realized right before his eyes. The voice of one of the overseers of this splendid landscape is heard to say that it’s been named “Niggle’s Parish by the Bay” and that Niggle’s “picture” has proven a wonderful refreshment for many a person continuing his journey to the Shepherd in the distant hills.

We’re here today to celebrate the Word of God and the Word made flesh, to be enlightened and nourished, comforted and challenged by that Word, to become what we are called to be, namely little words, radiating the light of the one big Word, through our lives, our prayers, our service, and, yes, our own miniscule words. And what I want to suggest is that, just like Tolkien’s angels and humble little Niggle, we have been enlisted by God to participate in the creation of a great work. Our work may not be great, either in terms of value or scope, but that doesn’t matter. Our imperfect work will find its place in God’s completed masterpiece.

Cardinal Newman, soon to be beatified, said something similar:

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed
some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my
mission—I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the
next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my
place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another,
as He could make stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this
great work. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while
not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments, and serve Him in
my calling.

The angels in Tolkien’s story of creation had no idea initially that their music had any purpose beyond being a harmonic counterpoint to God’s great theme. Only later did God show them how their harmonies (and disharmonies) were played out in a different key, so to speak, in creation. Niggle never dreamed his trees and leaves had any lasting value, that they might have a permanent and essential part to play in some much greater scheme of things. He only discovered their true purpose after he died and had passed through the initial stage of his purgatory. Newman writes, “I have my mission—I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next,” meaning, among other things, I take it, that I may never understand in this life the full significance of what I do and how it contributes to the Kingdom of God, but I will understand when faith gives way to vision, and I see God face to face and in Him see all things as they really are, in all their interconnectedness and in their true meaning and purpose.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. You and I are made in the image and likeness of that Word, each of us, in his or her own right, a little word, speaking and writing yet smaller words. But the purpose of all words, we as individuals, and the words we speak and write, is to show forth the splendor of the one great Word, which is Christ. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Words that do not shed the light of Christ only serve to deepen the darkness.” Only one steeped in or enamored of darkness could possibly see our service to the Word and to the Light as an unnatural constraint. The Word we serve, the Light we spread, is infinite in its glory and grandeur. The only limits to the variety of ways we can communicate it are truth, beauty, and goodness, and these are not limits at all.

Whether the medium in which we work is music, art, or the written word, for that matter, whether it’s mothering, medicine, plumbing, or collecting garbage, we are all part of a great story, and we all have an essential assigned role to play. We wouldn’t exist otherwise. It’s not important that we comprehend our place in the scheme of things perfectly, only that, as best we can, we serve the Word and radiate His Light, performing our assigned task as our way of serving, helping others along the way, trusting that our few notes, or leaves, or words will be taken up by the Master Musician, Artist, Author, and woven into a masterpiece the likes of which no eye has seen, no ear heard, nor the mind of any, save God, ever even imagined.

Praise God for His Word. Praise the Word made flesh. Praise the Word made known in scripture and given to us in the Eucharist. Praise Him for counting us worthy to share in His wonderful plan of creation and redemption. God keep us true to our calling, the service of the Word made flesh.

Msgr. Charles Fink
Director of Spiritual Formation
Seminary of the Immaculate Conception
Huntington, NY

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