Homily 2/19/2012

When I was living in Baltimore in the mid-70s, I met a number of times, one of America’s
great poets:  Josephine Jacobsen.

Although she wasn’t ‘a household name,’ she was a special consultant to the Library of
Congress and worked with many aspiring poets at Johns Hopkins University.

Once, she wanted to write a poem about our obsessive, addictive sin & how burdensome
it is.  It was for a book of poems she called ‘The Animal Inside.’

Any good poem needs an image- a metaphor - that conveys your thoughts. She wracked
her brain for the best way to explain addictive sin.  It wouldn’t come…so after some
months she laid the project aside and took a vacation with her husband, Elliott Coleman,
another great poet.

They went to Finland. Neither had ever been before and they had a wonderful trip and
were moved profoundly by the natural beauty of the country, especially its rich forests.  

They travelled by rail, which cut through the forests, and they were thrilled with the
comfort and efficiency of the trains as well as the splendor of the views.

So overwhelmed was Josephine that one day she remarked to the conductor how great
the trains were and how beautiful the scenery.  “Oh yes,” he said.  “We’re very proud of
our trains...except for the reindeer.”  

“Huh,” she said?  “What do you mean ‘except for the reindeer?’” The conductor went on
to explain that these beautiful trains were killing all the reindeer.  
“A deer hears the train and sees that powerful light of the locomotive. At first, he’s
paralyzed by fear, but at the last second, leaps off the track for safety.”

“The reindeer is different.  He begins to run away from the train - but never steps off the
track -he always keeps to the track until he’s soon overtaken.  In this way, our trains are
killing all our reindeer.”

A light bulb flashed in Josephine’s head.  This was the exact image she was seeking for
her poem.  Addictive sin is just like running down the track.  She then wrote

‘Reindeer and Engine.’

The reindeer
fastened to the great round eye
that glares along the
Finnish forest track
runs runs runs runs runs
before that blast of light, will die
but not look back

will not
look back, or aside, or swerve
into the black tall deep
good dark of the forests of winter
runs runs runs runs runs
from that light that thrust through his brain’s nerve
its white hot splinter.

The reindeer has all the forests of Finland to flee
into, its snowy crows and owl
hush; but over the icy ties
runs runs runs runs runs
from his white round i-dee fixe until he dies.

To his west
is wide-as-the-moon, to his right
is deep-as-the-dark, but
lock to his roaring light
runs runs runs runs runs
the fleeing flagging reindeer
from, into, the cold wheels’night.

Josephine had honed in on the fact that addictive sin is paralyzing.  The opportunities for
freedom, for grace are so rich.  But we don’t submit to them - don’t get off the track.  
Spiritually, we’re killed.

Anyone who knows addiction - to drink, drugs, gossip, lust, jealousy, pornography,
coveting, whatever - knows their power - and often feels power-less.


Make no mistake about today’s Gospel, my friends.  It’s not primarily the story of Jesus
curing a man’s physical paralysis, though he does.  It’s about Jesus forgiving a man’s
spiritual paralysis - his sins.

When Jesus spies the ingenuity of 4 men carrying this paralytic to him - taking apart the
roof to get to him inside - he simply says, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

There’s no mention of what the man’s sins are. The man doesn’t ask to be physically
cured.  He’s apparently satisfied with just being forgiven.

Only when the scribes object that Jesus can’t forgive sins does the Lord cure him
physically - displaying his power to also forgive sins.

This is a forgiveness story. And, it invites us to go to any length to seek Jesus’


One way of thinking of sin is a stubborn desire to stay on the track and not risk stepping
off it.

Our fears, longstanding resentments, feelings of inadequacy, old hurts, remembered
failures, self-destructive moods -can disable us.

So it goes with sin.  We can’t break out of our own egos - can’t step away.  So something
has to break in - and that’s the amazing grace of God.  Only God’s love can give us the
freedom we need to love.

God made us for movement.  He made us for the journey outside of ourselves - into the
world of beauty, truth, the quest for justice, good relationships, and deep insights.  He
wants us to walk.

Now, there’s no better time to reflect on this than Lent.  My prayer is that the weeks ahead
put us in touch with Christ’s power. There are rich opportunities for reflection within our

Just to get started, we’ve put on 5 Masses for Ash Wednesday so that virtually anyone
can come.  

There’s a 5:30 Mass each weekday afternoon so that many more can come to a daily

We’ll have expanded confessions every Tuesday night.

We’ll have a great Parish Mission - just two weeks away - so that we can be with one
another and pray together as a parish family should pray together in this new Lent ahead.

I really hope that you’ll consider coming to our mission.


The wisest thing the paralyzed man in today’s Gospel ever did was to let himself be
carried to the source of amazing grace.  The result was freedom of the spirit.  “Rise, pick
up your mat and go home.”  Those words were addressed to his soul, not just his legs.

A good Lent carries us to the grace of Christ.  Let’s make a good Lent.

And even consider carrying someone else to Christ.