HOMILY – 10 SUNDAY [B] 2018
My camping days are long over but I have great memories of summer nights under canvas at scout camps and on family holidays. But for all the fun and adventure that filled those days we knew they had to end. It was the tent that made that obvious. The tent was just a temporary shelter. It wasn’t our home.
St Paul makes this observation too, describing our life on earth as “tent-dwelling”. The time will come, he says, for our tent to be folded up and taken home. Linked to this is the image given in the first reading (Genesis) of God’s conversation with the “man” and the “woman” in the garden, and their consequent denial of responsibility: It wasn’t me who did wrong, they both say.
Camping out, under the canvas of God’s creation, excited by the new and fresh environment and the freedom given them to explore and discover, they mistakenly act as though they have permanent control rather than being only temporary residents. Their failure to appreciate that everything they have is on loan; that they should be giving thanks rather than taking liberties, leaves them vulnerable to being manipulated, used and, ultimately, destroyed.
Let’s take another image. This one comes from a British palliative care specialist, Dr Kathryn Mannix. She points out that there are only two days with fewer than 24 hours in each life time: the day we’re born and the day we die. They sit like bookends astride our lives. One is celebrated every year, yet it is the other that makes us see living as precious. [With the End in Mind, p.4]
Within those two shortened days we pitch our tent. We are free to explore, to relate to others, to build friendships, to be part of a community, to use the natural world around us for our benefit. We are not free to destroy one another, or ourselves, or the world around us; and, like good campers, we must try to leave the campsite in better condition than when we arrived.
What does it take to see living as precious? If you’re like me, it probably takes a few mistakes, going down a wrong path or two, or letting pride dictate behaviour. A 17-year old is starting a painting apprenticeship next month. He said on radio this week he’d be in jail by now but for a training programme for troubled youth. He suddenly sees living as precious. I baptised a seriously ill woman in hospital last Thursday. I don’t know why I didn’t accept this gift before, she told me. Everything is so much clearer and more beautiful now.
We are tent dwellers, between two bookends of incomplete days.
Living is precious.
See it that way.