Sunday, May 05, 2013

6th Sunday in Easter (C)
From Breadcrumbs To Homing Pigeons

Picture: cc Ed Townend

Sisters and brothers, do you happen to know the difference between Hansel and Gretel and a homing pigeon? You remember, of course, who Hansel and Gretel are, right? They are characters from an old German fairy tale told by the Brothers Grimm. In the fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel are a pair of siblings–a brother and a sister–who lose their way in the forest and almost get eaten up by a wicked witch. But do you remember how they get lost in the first place? According to one version of the story, as they make their way through the forest, Hansel and Gretel leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind them, hoping to follow it when it’s time to go home. Unfortunately, as we might expect, birds eat up all the crumbs. And so, the pair get lost. Which just goes to show the dangers of relying only on breadcrumbs to find your way. Hansel and Gretel knew only one trail that could lead them home. When that trail was lost, so were they.

But breadcrumbs are not the only method to stay on course. At least not if you happen to be a homing pigeon. As you know, homing pigeons are so named because they have the uncanny ability to fly home even after being transported to a strange place many hundreds of kilometres away. And they do this not by relying on some temporary external trail. They don’t need breadcrumbs… Or curry puffs, or char siew paos, for that matter. Homing pigeons have an internal directional sense. An in-built map and compass, or GPS, which enables them to find and to fly in the right direction, no matter where they happen to be. How wonderful to have such an amazing ability. You never have to worry about getting lost. Never have to stress yourself out, rigidly trying to protect your breadcrumbs from being eaten. You can be flexible, because you’re always able to find your way home. Even when you’re taken to an unfamiliar place.

Breadcrumbs and homing pigeons. Two contrasting alternatives that are very similar to what we find in our Mass readings today. The first reading describes a crisis in the early Church, which finds itself at the crossroads. Needing to decide which direction to take. There is serious disagreement and long argument over whether or not non-Jewish Christians need to be circumcised. Whether people like us need to be circumcised. Some people say yes. Others no. Happily for us–especially those of us who happen to be male–the final decision of the Church was no.

But why, we may wonder, was there such a strong desire among some to say yes to circumcision? Were these people simply being stubborn and unreasonable? Was it a power-trip? A need to control others? Maybe. We can’t be sure. But perhaps there was also another reason. For the Jews, circumcision is a sign of fidelity to God. Like the breadcrumbs of Hansel and Gretel, circumcision marks a kind of trail leading to God. And if this was the only trail they knew, then it’s quite understandable that some Jewish Christians would be anxious to preserve it at all costs. Even if it meant burdening others. Non-Jews. What’s good for me must be good for you.

Thankfully, there were others in the early Church who did not rely only on the breadcrumbs of circumcision to make their way to God. There were others who had something like the ability of homing pigeons. Finding themselves in the strange new  situation of a Church made up of both Jews and Gentiles, these Christians were somehow able to locate and to proceed along the right path to God. A path that did not require circumcision. A path that did not involve burdening others unnecessarily. A path that enabled the Church to grow, both in faith and in number. So that, in the words of the responsorial psalm, all nations could learn the saving power of God.

But how did they do it? How did the leaders of the Church home in on the right direction to take? To find out, we need to go back to the Bible. To the verses that have been left out of the reading for today. Here, we find at least three important elements. The first is sincere conversation. The leaders of the early Church met and talked to one another. And the second element consists in what they talked about. In addition to discussing their opinions and feelings, the leaders also shared their experiences. In particular, Paul and Barnabas spoke about the signs and wonders that God had worked through them among the uncircumcised Gentiles. Finally, having conversed sincerely and attended carefully to the workings of God, the leaders compared what they had heard with their knowledge of God’s actions in the past. Sincere conversation with one another. Careful attention to what God was doing in the present. And wise comparison with God’s work in the past. These are among the things that helped the leaders of the early Church to decide which direction was the right one to take. They did it not through the rigidity of anxiously guarding and following breadcrumbs. But with the flexibility and freedom of a homing pigeon.

Isn’t this also what Jesus is talking about in the gospel today? If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him. Isn’t this how the gift of the homing pigeon is acquired. In all circumstances, what we need to do is to keep looking to Christ. To remain in his love. To cultivate a sensitivity to his Holy Spirit, who teaches us everything. And reminds us of all that Jesus has said. Helping us to apply the Lord’s words to the concrete situations of our daily lives. Giving us that precious gift of peace that the world cannot give. And so enabling us to home in on the truth. To follow the right path. The one that leads to life.

And isn’t this also why, in the second reading, there is no temple building in John’s vision of the new Jerusalem? Instead, the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb were themselves the temple. In place of the rigidity of an external structure, what we find is the flexibility of the radiant glory of God and the Lamb. Which serves as a lighted torch, illuminating for us the safest and surest way home.

From the rigidity of breadcrumbs to the flexibility of homing pigeons. This movement remains an important one for us to make even today. Especially for those of us who are leaders of some sort. We need to recognise that just because something has been good for me in the past, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s appropriate for everyone else at this particular time. St. Ignatius of Loyola, for example, warns spiritual directors to be careful not to impose their own favourite prayer methods on their directees. But to pay careful attention to how God is working with and in them. This movement from rigidity to flexibility is important also for the rest of us. Whether we are leaders or not. When, for example, unavoidable changes in our daily routine prevent us from keeping to an established habit of prayer. Such as when we get married, for example. Or have a new baby. Or fall ill. Or change jobs. How ready are we to cultivate a new routine of prayer? One that is more suited to our changed circumstances?

Sisters and brothers, how are we being called to make the movement from breadcrumbs to homing pigeons today?


  1. 5 years ago, in early May 2008, I was on a 8-day silent retreat at St Mary's Towers Retreat Centre at Douglas Park (80 km southwest of Sydney)...

    One morning - half way through my retreat, I decided to take a walk right deep into the huge property (500 hectares of bush and pastureland) of Douglas Park. My purpose was to visit the Ashram - a special place of prayer which was built within this huge property.

    As I walked towards the direction of the Ashram, I brought some pebbles along with me - to mark my way around the huge bushland ...and at a junction near to the Ashram, I was greeted by 2 horses - they are residents of Douglas Park.

    While I had no problems finding my way to the Ashram, I got lost on my way out; as I had tripped over some branches and I lost my sense of direction, after the fall....

    It was very frightening for me as I got lost in such a huge unfamiliar bushland, and i was all alone in this foreign place... also, I did not bring my mobile phone & there was no way for me to contact the Retreat Centre...

    All I could do, then, was to pray and ask God to help me find my way back to the retreat centre. A deep anguish and a paralyzing fear came to grip me and I was unable to pray any further...I was so afraid that I may be in trouble when it gets dark...

    Then, somehow, as if there was a homing pigeon within me - GOD IN ME literally took over...

    I got up on my feet and I heeded the VOICE within me and before I knew it, I found myself walking back towards the retreat centre.... when I saw the 2 horses again, I knew I was on the right path...

    By GOD's GRACE and LOVING PROVIDENCE, I found my way back to the retreat centre! It was such a big relief to hear the lunchtime bells ringing - for God had brought me back - safe and sound!

    It has been 5 long years since this had happened; yet my whole being will always remember what God had done to lead me back HOME to HIM.

    Deo Gratias

  2. Haha Fr Chris, to use food (char siew pao, did you join the queue BTW?) to get message across is very effective, especially for Singaporeans! Yes, we should have a more reliable GPS which is internalised like homing pigeons. Thanks for the reminders, to have more focus internally, and not be distracted.

    1. Within each of God, there is already a very reliable GPS - GOD WITHIN US.

      May we learn to grow more AWARE of God's Presence within us and nurture HIS Presence in us - so that He can continue to lead us in His paths and in His ways.

      May we learn to let go of all that distracts and draws us away from God and keep close to HIM always, let's pay attention to the homing pigeon within us - and let go INTO GOD. Amen.

  3. Following the true voice of the Spirit within our souls brings us home to the peace that the world cannot give.

    What a wonderful guide this homily is for times of leadership woes, to apply the simple guidelines of: sincere conversation among peers, sharing the action of God in our present as well as past experiences, so as to discern the best path forward for the future.

    And yet, we seldom trust this inner voice of wisdom God gives to us as leaders in the church- the collective wisdom from listening to the greatest, most influential presence, as well as the softest, most humble contribution.

    Ignatius also speaks of "water falling on sponge" as a way to discern the gentle but effective action of the true Spirit, versus the more noisy "water falling on rock" of the heavy-weighted influences we tend to pay more attention to.

    Truly, we need the Gifts of Pentecost today as much as the waiting disciples in the Upper Room 2000 years ago. Shalom.

  4. Indeed, this sermon speaks very clearly to me..

    about 2 weeks ago, I had to modify my established way of daily prayer style in the mornings as there is a change in my daily routine....

    I tried to apply what I learnt from this homily - to be flexible - to dare to adopt a different mode of morning prayer - and with the grace of God, things just fell into place!

    I now enjoy praying the Magnificat in the MRT on a long journey every morning from the West to the East - one stop before Changi Airport...

    and I have experienced much spiritual consolations just praying quietly in spite of the throngs of people in the crowded trains at the morning peak hours.

    Yes, when I dare to TRUST GOD more fully and give God the control in my life, He TAKES OVER so beautifully that I simply blended into the new trend with an effortless effort!

    Praise be to God and Deo Gratias!

    Seeing Is Believing