Sept 7 Homily 23rd Sunday “A” 2014 Fr. John Barry
The Scriptures today give us a minor theme of being watchful, or of watchfulness, or of our need to be a “watchman” for The Lord, as to be fellow lookouts for harm or danger that could threaten our lives of faith.
I call to your attention the first line of today’s Liturgy of the Word: You, son of man, Ezekiel, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel
Here is a point to take today. We Christians need to be watchful. We need to keep our eyes of faith open. Then, from there, we need to communicate to one another in what we notice and see by faith that is important to be noticed. God is calling us to be attentive to issues and concerns: He will gives us ways and means spiritually—
To watch out.
And then to respond to what God shows us to do or say in vigilance and obedient service to Him.
It Defenders Day this week in Maryland, and we just remembered locally the 200th anniversary of when British marched through Md. and burned Washington in August 1814. Later this week of September, the bombardment upon Ft. McHenry in Baltimore in remembered for its bicentennial. After this homily, I would like to refer you to the blog entry Watchmen of Freedom: 1814, which will follow the homily blog entry. Please read it. It is meant to be an afterglow for this homily. In the Defender’s Day memorial (blog) I will mention the names and brief stories of three watchmen for America’s survival back then.
For this homily on watchfulness, I can borrow from easy and recent examples right around me. I found an example of watchfulness at the beach and another example at the airport.
The first example I saw was of lifeguards at a public ocean beach. They were especially looking out in the water for anyone who might not be safe versus the swift undercurrents going on. Not all of the ocean swimmers were aware or vigilant of its dangers a week ago. Yet the lifeguards were. They were working together to keep safe all the beach-comers under their watch. If you might have been a swimmer there, then they had you covered. I also noticed lots of parents of little children being quite watchful of their sons and daughters.
We can be “watchers” like them–even in spiritual ways. I thought of today’s epistle reading from the end of the letter to the Romans (chapter 13); it was connected to this theme of watchfulness, saying for us to look out for sins in the community—the coveting, stealing, forms of killing and forcing to get what one wants, and the committing of infidelities of life, as in adultery. Romans 13 sounds like it is talking about a spiritual undertow of darkness. I ask: Do we have watchman screaming alerts or jumping in to rescue others from this danger to the soul? Yes we do. But the Lord needs more voices and actions from His watchmen. People are getting caught up in those four mentioned sins (and plenty more). And God needs some Ezekiel-type people to sound the alert.
Another example of watchfulness (or being a watchman) was at the airport. The airport security personnel had their obvious watch at the gates, but also had many other persons working behind the scenes, looking into many cameras and devices to detect any suspicious person or item. From the moment of entering the airport, each person moving about is being watched. It is an essential service at any major airport these days. It is a job of scrutiny and detail. But like our Gospel today shows, the Church also has her scrutiny. Jesus says that the details and situations of sins must also be exposed and their threat undone. In Matthew 18 Jesus tell that the apostles and priests have been given His authority to loosen sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Also, on the regular lay members level, Jesus spoke on the power of agreement ( where two or three gather as one in His Name), Jesus says He is in the midst of them there. And that Gospel context is about helping people to be one in God’s truth. That kind of ministry of reconciliation is to be shared freely in all the membership of the Church.
So I take the watchfulness example at the airport and apply it to us to keep watchful for the Enemy and to expose sin and to break through divisions and separations due to sin. We can’t just ignore sin in the Church, but deal straight on with it. We can’t ignore the cries of the world, but deal with them. It is one of the reasons why we have added three Hail Marys to our prep for Mass this month.
So, by these two common examples, I think you understand the presence of the “watchman” in society, and their value. And you can make the spiritual connection with them as how the Church is so needed as the people who are being watchful, as vigilant servants to God.
Let us segue to God and His Church watchmen…
God has His watchman. God uses various kinds of watchers in The Church. Some watchmen are bishops or they may be spiritual people of prophetic gifts that they use to help the Body of Christ. Some other watchmen are believers with keen eyes that He has placed to care for family, for friends, or for an effort/ministry of the Church. We have some outreaches where the parish sends money or people to a need that was recognized in spiritual watchfulness.
In parishes we also have watchmen who serve as ushers and as parish council or finance council members, as we also have staff persons looking over parish ministries. In parishes, we have ministry to one another. You have made friendships and ties in the parish and have formed some people connections where people look after you and you look after others, or you are given spiritual insight to notice things, whereupon God inspires you to support other people here in the parish, build them up, and even sometimes to admonish them.
Psalm 95 in today’s Psalmody says: “Let us come into His Presence with thanksgiving. Let us bow down in worship.” So, as acting as a watchman, if you happen to notice someone you know that is missing from the pew for several weeks, then you might want to call that person up and see what’s going on with them. They may need attention from you, the vigilant Church member. They may need your prayer. They may need you personally to come pray with them. As the Gospel of Matthew 18 demonstrates, Jesus wanted people gathered in prayer together, in agreement, even starting with at least “two or three gathered in His Name”, and the Lord says that in these situations “He Is Present In Their Midst There.” Beautiful.
Now I would encourage you to wonder some more on this watchman theme. We are to all be a little like Ezekiel, the Lord’s watchman. What is your image of a watchman? To some persons idea, they might think of them as one who would carry lanterns, flashlights, floodlights, binoculars, whistles or alarms. Perhaps first aid kits, too. Some watchman might carry weapons in readiness for some instances of danger.
Try to apply those ideas, too, to what a Christian would carry as a watchman.
The Prophet Ezekiel is many of these models. He is exhorter, a living example, a Look Out, a deliverer of warning, a penetrating Light of truth, and much more. Read of his story again sometime. He is appointed Watchman for Israel. God says, ”son of man, look, and speak to My people.” And Ezekiel looks at life in Israel, and then He turns and prays to the Lord and He ‘hears’ that God is dismayed over how the people have minimized and downplayed and even denied the effect of their serious sins. This prompts Ezekiel to speak prophetically, and, as a faith watchman on alert, to ask the nation a question: It’s Ezekiel 33:10. “House of Israel, our transgressions and sins are upon us, and do you not see their effect? We waste away because of them, so how we then live?”
Catholics can borrow a lot from the example of Ezekiel, as we might say to ourselves and to America: “How can we let ourselves get wasted on sin? Can we not find the Lord and delight in Him?”
[For the next part of the homily, which I call the afterglow, go to the next blog. it will render an account of three people from Maryland and DC’s history who acted as watchmen in the War of 1812.]
PART TWO WATCHMEN IN THE WAR OF 1812
In this latter part of the homily, I take you back to the seventeenth-century, and to what they witnessed in Maryland history, which involved a few watchmen whose names were Thomas Archer, Dolly Madison, and Francis Scott Key.
This week we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Ft. McHenry’s defense, and for the past half-month we have remembered the invasion that came through our Maryland colony just south of us via Upper Marlboro, and onto Washington for its burning.
A first accidental watchman in those events back then, you might say, was the man Thomas Archer in Upper Marlboro, 200 years ago in August, when British troops came storming through the area of the town. Thomas’ father had been the partner to the doctor in town, Dr. Beanes. Archer probably saw quite suddenly the presence of British soldiers in the Marlborough woods and roadways. He may have had to hide for awhile until their passing. After the many troops had seemingly gone past, he went into town to see Dr. Beanes. Beanes was of great medical renown and a real Colonial patriot, even married to the niece of the famous John Hanson (the president of our nation’s first congress—and yes, the one John Hanson highway is named for). As Archer went into town, and this report is not of factual news, Archer was probably an eyewitness to one of Maryland’s most famous arrests in history, that of Dr. Beanes. As Archer had come into town to see Beanes, they met and had figured out that these soldiers had come in from the Chesapeake Bay, off of a fleet of ships that entered there in August of 1814, and that these soldiers had off-boarded from water voyage at Benedict, Maryland, and now were in march through the Marlborough area in route to attack Washington, D.C. Dr. Beanes showed Archer a surprise. Beanes had actually caught a few straggler British soldiers and thrown them in jail. After all, these not-in-line soldiers had gone into their town to loot goods or liquor, or were there to reek some havoc. So, the doctor had some men overcome the soldiers and put them into a jail. But one had escaped and run off to catch up with the marching army. So, Beanes was explaining all this, and suddenly, in alarm, a force of the British Army had come back, led by the escapee, to release the prisoners. Archer fled into hiding, but just then the Army came barging into Beanes Upper Marlboro house to arrest him and now make him their prisoner. It was the third week of August 1814. The British General Ross then made a temporary headquarters there on the Marlboro property.
All this would later have significance, because it would be the release of Dr. Beanes that involved the negotiations of our nation’s government rep John Skinner (US prisoner-of-war exchange agent) and one Georgetown lawyer named Francis Scott Key, who came down to the British for a deal to be made. Skinner and Key took on to Skinner’s flag of truce vessels, a Chesapeake Bay cartel (the “Minden”) and set out to locate the British fleet in the Chesapeake Bay (prior of the Ft. McHenry attack). Skinner and Key came across the British flagship of Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane. They made the convincing appeal for Beane’s release. They had foresight to collect letters from wounded British soldiers left behind after the Battle of Bladensburg. In those letters it told of how well they had been treated by the Americans, about what excellent medical treatment they were receiving by the Americans. British General Ross then had a change of heart to released Beanes. Skinner and Key with Beanes were allowed to go back to their ship, however were not allowed to go back to Baltimore. They were held off shore from Fort McHenry until the outcome of the Battle of Baltimore. Thus, they became witness to the bombardment.
Key had also been a well-know poet, his works even known by one of the British Naval officers overseeing the attack. Without surprise, Key took to pen all of what he watched. He saw America be saved that day. The words of the Star Spangled Banner are four verses, not one. We sing the first one for our national anthem today. But imagine Francis Scott Key penning even just a few of the words, and what power they must have felt in him:
There! There! In the rapidly clearing dawn sky, over the fort! Look!
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
’Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
We can’t diminish the Catholic faith of Francis Scott Key either (though few historians ever mention it). Key was a strong Catholic. We can imagine that he prayed more than wrote words during his witness of the famed fort by the port battle, watching an attack on our country that might have crushed our early nation. Key prayed through all the battle. He probably had Beanes and Skinner joined in with him. As it says today in Matthew 18, “if two or three of you gathered and agree in My Name, and pray, there I am in your midst of you, looking to grant your prayers.” He had his prayers answered pretty dramatically.
The other Watchman in our story of America’s battle for survival 200 years ago in 1814, it is of a woman. It is Dolly Madison.
The first plan of burning Washington (before the Baltimore Port attack) was to be a demoralizer to our American independence, and a payback for earlier US victories in Canada in this War of 1812. It was now 38 years after the American Colonies’ Independence and Declaration of it, when these attacks first came upon Washington. Marylanders from Upper Marlboro, maybe Archer himself, rushed up to DC to give warning of the imminent British attack. (That is also how the news of Beanes arrest and the plans to get him released had gone into motion.)
Later, fleeing persons from Bladensburg also told of the oncoming British attackers.
I was pondering how alarming all of these events were–and the role a “calm and controlled” Dolly Madison would have in it. And, how about us? We live in alarming times. Like Dolly Madison, do we show courage in helping our nation through her stormy times? Also, are we willing to get moving and act decisively, like, I think that Dolly seriously did, on that attack Washington day back on Aug. 24th, 1814?. And, in comparing our need to cry the gospel to people, can we get the word out to unrepentant sinners that they need to prepare for the Coming of the Lord, by making peace with Him? We can be like those Upper Marlboro folks who made haste in their acting as watchmen to help save America?
Dolly Madison acted as a valiant watchman. Even as the sacking of Washington was coming, where and when the British burned the Capitol, Navy Yard, Offices of the Treasury Department, as well as the White House– it is recorded how Dolly was there and looking out and after all of the nation’s best interests, and for her husband, the President. It is well known that she was left as watchman for the White House on that night Washington was attacked, and she helped spare vital items and documents out of the White House, in haste, even leaving a dinner for forty on the table, and urging quick evacuation. She got out of harms way and had a plan of escape. The rolled up Gilbert Stuart canvas painting of George
Washington was taken to safe hiding. Even with the battle closing in on her, she held courage.
Christians can borrow from her good example. Dolly was a Christian woman, of Quaker background, and her husband James, an Episcopalian. No doubt that Dolly also prayed. Probably for a miracle to save Washington.
Perhaps there were two answers to her desperate prayers that August night: One was that the British did retreat from Washington with the wrong expectation of a counter-attack from the colonist Americans. This defensive maneuver was not necessary. The Second answer to prayer came in how the turn of weather that August night two centuries ago disarmed the British. From dismay temperatures in the 100 degree range, without a breeze, to some sudden tornados and violent storms touching down in DC, hardly ever has their been such wild weather ever in our area. But there was that time right after the burning of Washington. The Brits were put back on their heels by the weather, and they wanted to get out of Washington. I would say that these storms could have been the answer to a praying Madison.
There is much more that is said of these persons of two centuries ago, but for our purposes, we call them watchmen of their times. They lend us an example today of how we are to act. We are still defenders of a nation under God, with liberty and justice for all in God’s design, and with a Church that needs to defend herself and to take up a loving offensive to the world and its fallen condition. Sometimes as a prophetic church, like Ezekiel or other prophetic voices in the Word, we must say:
“Save yourselves from this perverted and wicked and untoward generation. (Matt.17:17 Acts 2:40) We should also urge one another in Christ to “put on the whole armor of God, for protection” and to do what is urged to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” (Ephesians 6:10-20)
Let’s end with Francis Scott Key and more words from his famous poem:
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God we trust.”
Then the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!