I wanted to talk about excitement and adventure. What better way to spark interest in Christ’s mountaintop Transfiguration?

The Holy Spirit had other plans.

As I looked around at the retirees, farmers and accountants who had gathered to reflect on Sunday’s gospel, I realized that a homily based on mountain climbing would be a hard sell in this community. After all, their town was located on the plains of Texas.

When getting behind the wheel of a church bus, it helps to give it a test drive. As a retired priest and guest preacher for pastors on vacation, such test drives are more important than ever. So, in order to get a sense of the local community, I arrive on Friday evenings to meet with a prearranged group of parishioners willing to provide input, perspectives and illustrations for Sunday’s homily.

By the way, the Greek word, homileo, does not mean “teaching,” or even “boredom.” The word means “conversation.” Homiletic discourse, by its nature, arises from the day-to-day engagement between a shepherd, his flock and the story of God.

This is not to say that other kind of preaching, i.e. doctrinal, catechetical or personal testimony, lack importance. Indeed, they have a place in the life of the Church but that place is a classroom, retreat center or a parish hall. Homiletic preaching, on the other hand, unfolds in the vicinity of an altar where the joys and sufferings of a particular community are woven into—and become one with—the joys, sufferings, love and sacrifice of Christ himself.

Some years ago, after serving in a rural community for eleven years, it proved difficult to access “the lay of the land” in a suburban environment.  To address this concern, I initiated a “Take Your Pastor to Work” program. Immediately, I received invitations to shadow parishioners at their day-to-day jobs.

It was fantastic! I got to spend time inside a candy shop, the cab of a garbage truck and the cockpit of a med-evac helicopter. I toured a pathology lab and a juvenile detention center and shared lunch with employees at a boot factory…and the list goes on.

Most memorable of all was the fact that, in each setting, people were deeply appreciative, and somewhat surprised, that someone showed interest in what they did for living.

Now, back to the Transfiguration on the plains of Texas.

The reflection session opened with comments on the differences between work and pastimes in a flatland community compared to those of a mountain town, i.e. wind turbines, cotton fields and angus cattle as opposed to logging, snow skiing and elk hunting.

The reference to elk caused someone to mention the upcoming 4-H stock show at the county barn. When we circled back to the gospel passage, another person wondered if, on peering through the Gates of Heaven, the apostles heard angels singing in the background.

This brought a laugh and spurred another comment about music, namely, a new country album by Jason Isbell with a song called, “The King of Oklahoma,” a ballad about drug addiction in rural communities.

Silence settled upon the group. Eventually, someone changed the subject by asking why James, John and Peter got to see the vision while the other apostles were left out.

They looked at me. I shrugged and mumbled something about work schedules and low tide.

An elderly woman, who had been silent to this point, raised her eyes. “He touched their shoulders,” she said, then rubbed her palms. “Makes me think of receiving Holy Communion.”

Homileo:  Listen before you speak. Pray as you listen. And take off your shoes as soon as you arrive in town.

08 / 21 / 2023
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