Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, March 14, 2008

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)

“SOUL-SURFING” – March 23, 2008
Easter Sunday
(John 20:1-9)
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

A resurrection story from the writings of Catherine Moore:

“‘Watch out! You nearly broad-sided that car! Can't you do anything right?’ I turned my head toward the elderly man in the seat beside me, daring me to challenge him. A lump rose in my throat as I averted my eyes. I wasn't prepared for another battle. ‘I saw the car, Dad. Please don't yell at me when I'm driving.’ My voice was measured and steady, sounding far calmer than I really felt.

“Dad had been a lumberjack in Washington and Oregon. He had enjoyed being outdoors and had reveled in pitting his strength against the forces of nature. He had entered grueling lumberjack competitions, and the shelves in his house were filled with trophies that attested to his prowess.

“The years marched on relentlessly. The first time he couldn't lift a heavy log, he joked about it; but later that same day, I saw him outside alone, straining to lift it. He became irritable whenever anyone teased him about his advancing age, or when he couldn't do something he had done as a younger man.

“Four days after his 67th birthday, he had a heart attack. An ambulance sped him to the hospital while a paramedic administered CPR. At the hospital, Dad was rushed into an operating room. He was lucky; he survived. But something inside Dad died. His zest for life was gone. He obstinately refused to follow doctor’s orders. Suggestions and offers of help were turned aside with sarcasm and insults. The number of visitors thinned, then finally stopped altogether. Dad was left alone.

“I asked Dad to come live with us on our small farm. Within a week after he moved in, I regretted the invitation. It seemed nothing was satisfactory. He criticized everything I did, and I became frustrated and moody. Alarmed, I sought out our pastor and explained the situation. The clergyman set up weekly counseling appointments. At the close of each session he prayed, asking God to soothe Dad's troubled mind. But the months wore on and God was silent. I was tired of waiting for a God who did not answer. Something had to be done and it was up to me to do it.

“The next day I sat down with the phone book and methodically called each of the mental health clinics listed in the Yellow Pages. I explained my problem in vain to each of the sympathetic voices that answered. Just when I was giving up hope, one of the voices suddenly exclaimed, ‘I just read something that might help you! Let me get the article.’ I listened as she read. The article described a remarkable study done at a nursing home. All of the patients were under treatment for chronic depression. Yet their attitudes had improved dramatically when they were given responsibility for a dog.

“I drove to the animal shelter that afternoon. The odor of disinfectant stung my nostrils as I moved down the row of pens. Each contained five to seven dogs. Long-haired dogs, curly-haired dogs, black dogs, spotted dogs: all jumped up, trying to reach me. I studied each one but rejected one after the other for various reasons: too big, too small, too much hair. As I neared the last pen, a dog in the shadows of the far corner struggled to his feet, walked to the front and sat down. It was a pointer, one of the dog world's aristocrats. But this was a caricature of the breed. Years had etched his face and muzzle with shades of gray. His hipbones jutted out in lopsided triangles. But it was his eyes that caught and held my attention. Calm and clear, they beheld me unwaveringly.

“I pointed to the dog. ‘Can you tell me about him?’ The officer shook his head in puzzlement. ‘He's a funny one. Appeared out of nowhere and sat in front of the gate. We brought him in, figuring someone would be right down to claim him. That was two weeks ago and we've heard nothing. His time is up tomorrow.’ He gestured helplessly. I looked at the pointer again. The calm brown eyes awaited my decision. ‘I'll take him,’ I said.

“I drove home with the dog on the front seat beside me. I was helping my prize out of the car when Dad shuffled onto the front porch. ‘Look what I got for you, Dad!’ I said excitedly. Dad looked, then wrinkled his face in disgust. ‘If I had wanted a dog, I would have gotten one. And I would have picked out a better specimen than that bag of bones. Keep it! I don't want it.’ Dad waved his arm scornfully and turned back toward the house.

“Anger rose inside me. It squeezed together my throat muscles and pounded into my temples. ‘You'd better get used to him, Dad. He's staying!’ Dad ignored me. ‘Did you hear me, Dad?’ I screamed. At those words Dad whirled angrily, his hands clenched at his sides, his eyes narrowed and blazing with hate. We stood glaring at each other like duelists, when suddenly the pointer pulled free from my grasp. He wobbled toward my dad and sat down in front of him. Then slowly, carefully, he raised his paw. Dad's lower jaw trembled as he stared at the uplifted paw. Confusion replaced the anger in his eyes. Then Dad was on his knees hugging the animal. It was the beginning of a warm and intimate friendship. Dad named the pointer Cheyenne.

“Dad and Cheyenne were inseparable throughout the next three years. Dad's bitterness faded, and he and Cheyenne made many friends. Then late one night I was startled to feel Cheyenne's cold nose burrowing through the bed covers. He had never before come into the bedroom at night. I woke and ran into my father's room. Dad lay in his bed, his face serene; but his spirit had left quietly sometime during the night.

“Two days later my shock and grief deepened when I discovered Cheyenne lying dead beside Dad's bed. As I buried him near a favorite fishing hole, I silently thanked the dog for the help he had given me in restoring Dad's peace of mind.” (Excerpted from “The Old Man and the Dog,” by Catherine Moore)

On this Easter day, so insistent is God that we come out of the tomb that He’ll even use a mangy dog to lure us into the light.


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