Do you prefer homilies to be inspiring? Or unsettling?
“The Heart of Nuba” is a film I was invited to see recently while at a business conference. I agreed to attend, though had no idea where, what, or who Nuba is. I had never heard of it before.
Now, having seen the film, I won’t soon forget it. Nuba is a mountainous area in Sudan that contains a group of people deemed inferior by the government there. And so they are being exterminated through starvation and almost constant bombing.
There is a hospital there served by a largely volunteer medical staff, including one Dr. Tom Catena. Today, Dr. Catena is the only remaining doctor at the Mother of Mercy Hospital which serves an area of 750,000 people. A few years ago, the hospital, upon the insistence of humanitarian organizations, the government and the Catholic Church was ordered evacuated due to the ever present danger. Dr. Catena, who studied at Brown University and then attended medical school at Duke University, provides medical coverage 24/7 to between 300 and 350 patients in the hospital, many of whom are bombing survivors. And many of those survivors are in rough, rough shape.
At one point in the film, Dr. Catena is shown touching people who are suffering from leprosy, people who are not used to being touched, who only know what it is like to be constantly avoided… who crave to be in contact with others. He hugs them, as brothers and sisters. As children of God.
He mentions in the film that when the time came to evacuate the hospital, he realized that leaving would have implied to the people of Nuba that his life was more valuable than theirs. He does not believe this is the case, and so he stays. He serves.
One of the Muslim chiefs there said: “He is Jesus Christ here.”
“The Heart of Nuba” might just be the most inspirational film I have ever seen. It moved me incredibly. It also challenged me. It made me think about my life, my choices, my contributions… and how I value my own life compared to those around me. The film unsettled me.
Today, we consider and we celebrate John the Baptist. A man whose life inspired… and unsettled. He foretold of one coming, greater than himself, a savior. He also told people to prepare, to repent. Inspiration. And challenge.
I recall when I was in the diaconate formation program, one of the instructors said that the preacher’s primary task is to make known the enduring of love of Jesus to those who hear the Gospel. I also remember hearing a few years later an American bishop say that the homilist who does not leave the congregation feeling unsettled is doing them a great disservice.
Well… there’s a pretty big difference between being inspired and being unsettled. So… which is it?
I’d like to suggest that we need both. That Jesus fundamentally came here to demonstrate that as lost sheep, he will always be the good shepherd looking for us. He also tells us that we must sell everything we own to be a disciple, to pick up our crosses in order to truly follow him.
So… why do we believe? Why do we come here to Mass? Why do we pray? Why do we receive the sacraments, the Eucharist?
If it is to feel the enduring love of Jesus only, then I think we are missing something.
If we seek comfort and consolation only, then I think we are missing something.
If we want being Catholic to be easy, to have our views accepted, to live a life free of complications only… then I think we are missing something.
If we want to be left alone, if we would like to get on with our lives without the call to serve getting in our way only, then I think we are missing something.
Truly missing something.
Let’s be disciples in a world that desperately needs them. I find the prospect of that to be truly inspiring. But I wonder if I am up to the challenge. And that unsettles me. How about you?