3/13/22 Homily: Starry Night
Updated: May 23, 2022
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
There’s something about looking up into the night sky that can fill us with a deep sense of inspiration and hope. The beauty of stars, and the wonder that is our response, is a reminder that our aspirations are not restrained to what is experienced in the day.
In daylight hours, we customarily work at many things: either in the home or out of the home. And to our credit, we can be focused on the tasks at hand and make many achievements.
But it’s at night when we can finally allow our vision to relax. Whatever tunnel vision required of us in the day is no longer necessary at night. Our eyes can rest their focus and acclimate to gentle starlight. The canvas of the night sky teaches us of a universe that exists beyond our own limitations, and that we each are participants in a grander scheme.
In practice, I suspect that it’s not often that we take the time to stargaze and spend time in wonder. There’s a lot of light pollution that makes stargazing impossible in urban areas. But when we do have that opportunity of stargazing, it can be a soul touching experience—and it should be. It was the norm for humanity for most of history. There’s a reason why the ancient philosophers and scientists were also great astronomers.
Stargazing is also part of our faith tradition. In our first reading from the Book of Genesis, we witness a beautiful and mysterious encounter between our Lord and his servant, Abram. This is the very same Abram who would later be given the name, Abraham, the father of many.
That night, the Lord God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” Then the Lord spoke of the journey Abram had made at his command, and his promise to Abram that he would possess that land: “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.”
That night, this promise was sealed into a covenant through the sacrifice a various animals, after which a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him—that’s how Scripture describes it.
Metaphorically, this description evokes the image of a child in the womb. Just as an infant is in a particular darkness and state of (un)consciousness while in the womb, before he is born into a new world of light and color; Abram finds himself in a primordial state of darkness and unconsciousness before his awakening and rebirth into a new dawn.
How does this relate to us?
Abram beheld the stars; he was received into a covenant; and he was reborn. His example ought to be our lesson. These three movements can be a part of our Lent, as well.
Like Abram, we ought to stargaze, at least metaphorically. We ought to periodically reflect on the nature of our being in the world. This is a question that needs to be considered in the quiet stillness of the night, and not in the heat of the day or the heat of the moment. Our thoughtful reflections should not be compromised by the tasks at hand (as important as they are). We lay those concerns aside at times, in order to consider a grander scheme; where we each fit into this world.
What might this look like for us? Maybe this season of Lent, we can take more time to reflect upon our lives and take more time to pray. I know that after work or school, we might want to just watch t.v., play video games, or stream something at night to occupy our attention.
But maybe we can sacrifice those things during Lent, and examine our own lives more closely, by perhaps reading a new book, or taking a nightly walk, or some other activity beyond being entertained by digital media. Perhaps we can devote more time to prayer this Lent. Here at Holy Family, every Thursday in Lent from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. we have the opportunity of being with our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration. I'll be in the back hearing confessions. On Fridays in Lent, we can accompany our Lord spiritually on his way to Calvary and then to the tomb, during Stations of the Cross, also at 6:30 p.m.
Secondly, Abram was also received into a covenant with the Lord that night. As you know, a covenant is an exchange of persons. (A contract is an exchange of things: you give me that thing, and I'll give you this thing. A covenant is an exchange of persons: I give myself to you and you give yourself to me).
A covenant is the establishment of a relationship where there was no relationship before. A father has no need for a covenant with his son, because they’re already related by blood. But an unrelated man and child can become related through the covenant of adoption. A brother and a sister have no need for a covenant because they’re already related to each other by having the same parents. But an unrelated man and woman can become family through the covenant of marriage.
As God established a covenant with Abram that night, perhaps this Lent we can also recommit to our relationships in the stillness of the night. Rather than taking our work home at nights, maybe we can work on growing closer as family. Maybe we can pray together family by praying a rosary, or by coming to Adoration or Stations together as family; or by reading together in the evenings, or talking story about the day passed and the day ahead, or by playing board games, or another activity that fosters a sense of family and home. (By the way, children will remember this; and if this becomes a regular thing every Lent, they'll learn to look forward to Lent every year).
Finally, Abram was reborn at a deep level through his encounter with God. Our time in prayer and reflection with family at night should likewise be a source of rebirth and renewal. And just as the world is entirely new to an infant, perhaps this Lent we rediscover the world with a newfound and childlike sense of wonder, and appreciation for our many blessings.
Stargazing, covenant, rebirth: these were part of Abram’s encounter with the Lord. May they be part of our encounter with the Lord this Lent, as well. May God bless you.
The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889, public domain