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Candor in homilies proves lasting.

The open doors and bright lights were welcoming. It was midnight Mass, 1972. I was alone. My roommates were with their families. Dinner with my parents had been festive but sad. My mother was dying of cancer. We knew it would be our last Christmas together.

The priest's homily that evening is etched in my memory forever. He talked about "The Velveteen Rabbit," a story of a stuffed bunny and how a child's transforming love made the rabbit "real." He spoke of how our relationships allow us to know God's love every day. He told us about his own need and longings. I cried along with many others.

At another Mass, 17 years later, a priest talked about his encounter with a homeless woman. She had no coat and was trembling in 20-degree weather. He hesitated and thought about giving her his overcoat. He knew he had two others at the rectory but, ultimately, he didn't give it to her.

He spoke about his later anguish, his guilt, repentance and God's forgiveness. He choked back tears.

He talked about different kinds of love and relationships. Those of us who worked with him knew he was struggling with his celibacy, his vocation and the need to be loved by another person.

The homilies that transform me and that I remember always seem to be like those two - simple words and heartfelt emotions. There was no complex theory, just the miraculous gift of another person's honesty.

Scott Peck, a psychiatrist, in his best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, identifies dedication to reality as fundamental to problem-solving and coping with life. What would a "dedication to reality" mean for all of us in the church today?

Are there real and imaginary visions of church that try to coexist? For example, we have the imaginary large parishes of diocesan statistics, but the reality of a smaller percentage of parishioners who are truly active, knowledgeable and contributing.

Do we have a real or an imaginary priesthood - a superhuman model of selflessness, celibacy and servanthood, or a reality of resignations, frustrations and dysfunctional behaviors? Do we have a real or an imaginary church - a church of base communities with a preferential option for the poor and a commitment to justice, or a reality of a hierarchy obsessed with image, control and authority?

The two homilists that so moved me are no longer in the active priesthood. For them, a dedication to reality meant painful choices. I still have their gifts - their words, their truths - and I am still transformed by them.
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Title Annotation:Starting Point
Author:Kniffin-Shattuck, Judith
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 18, 1992
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