The following homily was given at St. Patrick church in Kansas City by Father Justin Hoye on August 4-5 for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
In the middle of Shakespeare’s Henry V, recounting a piece of the Hundred Years War, two armies – the French and the English – are preparing for battle and are camped so near to each other in the night, so close they can hear the neighing of their opponent’s horses. The English army is cold, tired, hungry and on the road. “The poor condemned English, like sacrifices, by their watchful fires sit patiently and inly ruminate the morning’s danger and their gesture sad…” They grumble among themselves that they have been brought out here to die, fearing they are outnumbered. The French, on the other hand, are nourished, excited and feeling strong. “Proud of their numbers and secure in soul, the confident and overly lusty French…” is how Shakespeare describes them. Shakespeare’s chorus at the beginning of this scene echoes over the stage the reality of the English camp overwhelmed by the confidence of their foe: “Now entertain/conjecture a time/when creeping murmurs and the poring dark/fills the wide vessel of the universe.” [Repeat]. What a haunting thing Shakespeare invites us to ponder: to entertain in our minds the possibility of the wide vessel called the universe, filled not with light or love or laughter, but the universe brimming instead with poring dark and creeping murmurs.
That moment of encampment in the dark, with the hungry English and the confidently fed French, mimics what life is like for so many of us in our day to day encounters. We are battle-weary from the events of the day, like the English, and we hunger for some good word. Sometimes we are met with other Englishmen who are as hungry and disillusioned as we are. Other times, we can hear the French – disturbingly close by – seemingly nourished and alive with confidence and bravado, and wonder why history seems to be on their side.
All of us experience moments in life where it feels like the words in Henry V are our words: our universe is not filled with the stuff we long for but with a haunting void: poring dark; creeping murmurs. One feels alone in the vastness of their universe, feeling not friends and companionship, not guidance and support, but misdirection and disorientation, hearing not the voice of comfort but sensing an environment filled with rumors and innuendos, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is a wretched place to be. Is there anyone here who has not found themselves in the English camp, held hostage in their universe, hungering for a word of life, but overrun with creeping murmurs in the dark?
In Shakespeare’s play, King Henry V responds to their despairs by moving quietly, incognito, through his own English army, offering words of encouragement. “O now, who will behold the royal captain of this ruined band, walking from watch to watch, tent to tent… For forth he goes and visits all his host. Bids them good morrow with a modest smile, and calls them brothers, friends, and countrymen.” Do not listen to the murmurs. The darkness will eventually fade away. You too will find your hunger pains abating. This is what God is doing in today’s readings, and what he is doing for us even today: moving through our camps, foreseeing peace, assuring us that our time in the darkness, in the wilderness, will not be for naught.
Jesus does this by offering the bread of heaven, that bread which once sustained the Israelites during their sojourn through a desert wilderness. And now, even more emphatically, this bread from heaven will be something so much more intimate, sacrificial, transformative. In the next few weeks we will hear that this bread that “gives life to the world,” is Christ’s very own flesh and blood.
Still, we are tempted to lose heart and return to a former way. This is St. Paul’s concern in the second reading. He is aware of the creeping murmurs of the community that simply don’t fit with their identity as followers of the Christ. “You must no longer live as the Gentiles do…” he exhorts. Your lives must look differently than what the rest of the world’s looks like. Moreover, your life today must look different from your previous life. You have a former way of life, a place that you have abandoned because it wasn’t a healthy place to be. It is the Egypt of the Old Testament; a place that we sometimes long for because it’s comfortable, and yet know that we should not go back to because it would simply enslave us once again.
I, as pastor, cannot control the creeping murmurs and poring dark that you are likely to encounter in the world – newspaper headlines, and tv reports and glib remarks from friends or colleagues – that makes one wonder why we have agreed to this sojourn. I can, though, encourage and remind us that the creeping murmurs and poring dark need not cripple. There is One who moves from “watch to watch, tent to tent… with cheerful semblance, sweet majesty, that every wretch pining and pale before, beholding him, plucks comfort from his looks…” This One moves not just in our day, but has met the discouraged and disheartened throughout human history, stirring souls not to gaze backwards but to keep moving ahead toward new life.
Our community of faith is not one that denies the creeping murmurs and poring dark in our world – the troubles and anxieties that can seem like a chronic chorus harping in the background. Rather than deny, our faith in One who moves from watch to watch, tent to tent, allows those dark murmurings to be kept in check.
For those who don’t know, Shakespeare’s Henry V ends with peace: the French and the English reconcile. Creeping murmurs and poring dark give way to feasting. The One who moves with such ease from camp to camp has brought about victory in spite of the hunger and anxieties. Might we remember this when creeping murmurs and poring dark berate us. The One who moves among us, rousing us onward, is preparing us for the feast.
By Rev. Justin Hoye is Pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City.