Homily for March 7, 2010

Father Tom’s Homily
3rd Sunday of Lent
March 7, 2010

Today’s first reading from the Old Testament Book of Exodus tells about a turning point in the life of a young shepherd named Moses.
In the desert he caught sight of a burning bush that was not consumed by the fire. When he approached it, a voice called out from the bush, “Moses, Moses.” He was told to take off his shoes, because it was a holy place.
It was God calling Moses to a special ministry on behalf of a people held in slavery in Egypt.

This dramatic encounter with God became fixed in Moses’ mind from that day forward. Time and again, the memory of the burning bush and the voice strengthened his resolve to remain committed to a most difficult calling to liberate slaves from their masters. It seemed like an impossible task.
The burning bush and the voice brought a powerful sense of the presence of God that he never forgot. With this story in mind, others who have an unforgettable encounter with God tell of their burning bush experience.
But first, let us take a look at the burning bush.

What ever happened to the burning bush that was untouched by the fire?
In the 4th century, a small community of monks came to the site of the burning bush to establish their monastery. They called it the Monastery of the Burning Bush.
The monastery was established at the base of a tall mountain that was said to be the location of the famous bush. The name of the mountain is Jebel Musa or Mount Moses. It is surrounded by endless miles of harsh desert. The fact that any bush would even exist in such a barren place is almost as remarkable as it’s resisting the fire.

Several centuries after it was founded, the monastery was renamed the Monastery of St. Catherine. She was a well-known Egyptian martyr who was buried near the base of Mount Moses. Tradition says that her remains were buried within the premise of this ancient monastery.
About two dozen monks live in the monastery today. They claim that a six-foot bush growing alongside their chapel is the authentic burning bush that has been growing in the same spot since the time of Moses.

A scholar/explorer has written about his visit to the monastery several years ago. He described the world’s most famous shrub as a an enormous bush with large dangling branches like a weeping willow.
He notes that the plant is an unusual wild raspberry plant of the species rubus sanctus, which is translated the red, holy one. He also writes that very few of these can be found in that area of the world.

The scholar says that when he first saw the plant, he was startled to see an out-of-date fire extinguisher located nearby. It seems to be the prank of one of the monks who suggests that it may just start on fire again.
The monk who cares for the bush said that because of the sometimes fickle desert climate, he occasionally uses water and fertilizer on the holiest bush in the world.
It is obviously prized by the monastery. The caregiver monk says, “You can’t be too careful.” The same kind of caution should be used in nurturing the passionate commitment that a burning bush experience causes.

What about other stories of burning bushes?
Young Mary’s burning bush experience was her conversation with an angel in the humble cave where she lived with her family in Nazareth.
Paul’s burning bush experience happened when he was thrown from his horse as he travelled on the road to Damascus.
The woman in today’s gospel who came to the well to fill her water jar, had her heart filled with God’s presence. It was her burning bush experience of God.

In modern times, Dorothy Day’s burning bush experience came with the birth of her daughter Tamar. Later Dorothy wrote, “No human person could receive so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child.”
“With this,” she said, “came the need to worship.” It was as if God was born into her life with the birth of her child. It became a turning point in her spiritual journey.

Thomas Merton has written about an experience that changed his life. He went to Mass at a church in New York City. Admitting that he didn’t believe or understand or even belong there, Merton said he left the church after Mass and it was as if he had entered a new world.
He had a sense of God’s presence and realized that “God was there for love of me – and what was I in his sight?” As a result, Merton eventually became a Trappist monk and one of the most influential spiritual writers of our times.

For a self-proclaimed agnostic British TV personality named Malcolm Muggeridge it was his encounter with Mother Teresa.
In 1970, he was sent by BBC to do a documentary on Mother Teresa. He found her at work with the poor in the slums of Calcutta.

He writes in his book, Something Beautiful for God, “I will never forget that little lady as long as I live…The face, the eyes, the love…It was like being in the presence of an angel. It changed my life. I have not been the same person since.”
Muggeridge attributes his conversion to Christian faith to his encounter with the little nun from India.

God seems to like to surprise us in the midst of our very distracted lives. Moses was curious about a burning bush. What a tragedy if we pass by our burning bush surprises and miss life-changing encounters with God.
Like a lover who wants to catch our attention, God interrupts us in surprising and wonderful ways. But we so often are too distracted to notice and walk right by sacred encounters with our boots on.

A famous poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning says,
“Earth’s crammed with heaven
and every common bush afire with God,
but only he who sees, takes off his shoes.
The rest sit around and pick blackberries.”

Springtime is a time of burning bushes. Let us take notice.