Sunday, February 7, 2016


Homily for February 8th, 2016: 1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-11.

          “The Lord intends to dwell in the dark cloud,” King Solomon says at the dedication of the Jerusalem Temple. He was speaking about the cloud which filled the Temple, the earthly dwelling place of God, at its dedication. God manifested his glory not in light, but in darkness – so thick, our first reading says, “that the priests could no longer minister there because of the cloud.”

          The author of psalm 23, the best loved of all 150 psalms, speaks of God dwelling in darkness when he writes: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff comfort me.”

          We must all walk through that dark valley at one time or another. I entered it when I was just six and a half. On the day after Christmas that year, 1934, my father came home from the hospital to which my mother had been taken with pneumonia just a week previously, gathered his three little children – myself six, a sister four, and our brother, two -- and spoke the three most terrible words I have ever heard: “Mummy is dead.” My whole world collapsed, and I was in darkness.

Never in the 82 years since this tragedy have I ever said, or ever permitted anyone else to say: “It was God’s will.” My mother’s death was not God’s will. My mother’s death was a mystery – a dark mystery. Yet God, who as Solomon said in his prayer for the dedication of the Jerusalem Temple, “has chosen to dwell in thick darkness” was in this mystery. 

          I can no longer recall the exact day when I discovered God in the darkness. I can fix it, however, before the age of nine. With blinding certainty it came home to me one day that I would see my mother again, when God called me home. From that day to this the unseen spiritual world – the world of God, of the angels, of the saints, and of our beloved dead – has been real to me. I know people who are there: my mother first, and now so many others whom God has called home to himself. Decades later I realized that this insight was the beginning of my priestly vocation. It kindled in me the desire to be close to that spiritual world. And where am I closer than when I stand at the altar, obeying Jesus’ command at the Last Supper: “Do this in my memory.”

          The anonymous medieval work on prayer, called The Cloud of Unknowing, speaks of finding God in the darkness when it says: “By loving he may be caught and held: by thinking never.”