Wild Geese, "Followship," the End of Time,

a Homily of Fr. Matthew Kelty

The 3rd Sunday of the Year (B) November 17, 1985 (Mark 1:14-20)

A few afternoons ago I was out back, burning trash, when I heard the unmistakable call of geese from far away to the north. It took me a while to find them high in the sky against dark clouds - mysterious, impressive, flying in splendid formation in that sweep of wing which is so majestic, so deliberate, a flock headed south with purpose.

But then, when they were just over Gethsemani the V-shape fell apart for some reason, and where there had been order there was chaos and a mess. Dissension. I thought: some want to stay over here like they did last year, some want to keep on going, or maybe it was just that the leader tired and no fresh one was forthcoming. So they wheeled about, several hundred of them, with great noise, each telling others that something had to be done. Now and then a single goose would take a try at leadership and wing off with a few others following him, but no more would take him up on it, and so that would peter out, only for another to try it. It took ten or fifteen minutes for them to reach a consensus, and then, suddenly, one gander took the lead, the others followed, and in a matter of moments a great echelon appeared in the sky, the honking happiness resumed, and they were off to Nashville and the Gulf of Mexico beyond. And I went to Vespers thinking about it.

The readings in the Liturgy of the Hours and in the Eucharist these past several weeks have been pretty heavy. Grim stuff, most of it, about the end of all things at the end of time, wild imagery and fiery horsemen carrying out the orders of an angry God. One brother asked me, "Why do they read such stuff? The visitors must be very upset to hear all that." "Well," I said, "they are perhaps not the only ones to be upset, it maybe a question of something we ought to hear and think about." Which says it, I think. For however you may describe it - and it is a challenge to the imagination - the end is to come one day, soon or late. The lesson is: this place, this earth, this universe, is temporal. It is not forever. Tennyson's brook that goes on forever, the eternal mountains and the everlasting seas, are poetry, not reality. It is all going one day. That much is certain. How, we are not so sure. When, certainly not. And what will follow is also a rather vague scenario: something new, renewed, that we know. And, most strange of all, we are part of it. What makes such readings rather hard listening, it seems to me, is that we live in an age in which the end is very possible. If we cannot destroy the entire universe, we are capable of bringing an end to the one that is home to us. Hence, the scriptures do not sound nearly as wild as they once did. An angry God is a possibility. And He is our God.

And if there is to be a final disintegration, we deal also with the collapse of a culture we live in. When whole cultural patterns fall apart, we have a preview of the final act, and it is no less trying to the men's souls than the actual performance. I do not spell out the details of this scene. Things do change. And they change enormously and they change fast. We live in the midst of disintegration. New things come, are in process, yet have not come yet. No consensus.

And there is another [disintegration]: the personal apocalypse which is death. If the days of the world and the universe we know are numbered, if cultures shift and fade, so do our days, too. Come early, come late, the end will come, and the stars will fall from our heaven and the earth shake beneath our feet, the angels of God will come to announce the end of all things for us. Death, the great mystery is closer than today's sunset, for any one of us could be gone before the sun goes down this afternoon.

When the delightful order of the flying geese fell apart and confusion, chaos, how fitting a revelation of our feelings about the ultimate destiny of the world. How like the cultural confusion we know when patterns of behavior break down, values disappear, codes and cults collapse, everything loose and wild and crazy. Like the music that tells it, the world rocks and reels. Which again is the way we feel, I suspect, when death comes down our corridor, to our door, opens and enters: everything we knew and loved slips away and we approach the edge of the cliff and know we are going over it in some mad dream.

The geese stayed together. No one took off on his own. That, for one thing. So, no panic. Second, they knew there was a leader among them and they knew he would emerge. A leader all would accept, no one impose. Nor could one take the honor to whom it is not given. When the leader emerged, something electric happened: they all agreed, they all followed, order returned, the journey began again. The happy honking told their peace. The leader emerges from consensus and when emerged, there is communion. Without the communion you can never get anywhere. The geese would still be wheeling around Gethsemani skies if they did not know this. No community gets anywhere without leadership and without the followship which is consensus in action. Fellowship without followship is fraternity-house theology, not Christianity. And followship without leadership is a kindergarten, for there is no communion of action. And if every bird is not flying full with all he has, the pattern falls apart: no free loaders. There is no beauty without the harsh dedication to the common, to the love of Jesus with one another and for a dying world that so needs the witness of men who believe what they say. Who can make a pattern against the dark skies of our times? It can be a marvel of beauty to restore hope to the wondering and confused: we know where we're going and we know how to get there, and honey, we're on our way.

Faith, then, in the face of ultimate apocalypse. Faith in the midst of mixed times. Faith in the face of our own disintegration, is what we need. There is no magic, secret formula. Not a solution for your problems. It is rather to affirm that God is in us and in our midst. Who guides geese guides us. We believe that. We mean it.

More Teachings of Modern Cistercians...

Silence, St. Rafael Arnaz Baron

Sentences on Lectio Divina, Dom Bernardo Olivera, O.C.S.O. (Former Abbot General)

Trust in God, a Homily of Fr. Matthew Kelty

The Chosen, a Chapter Talk given by Sr. Martha Juskewycz at Mississippi Abbey.

Elements of Cistercian Formation, a Chapter Talk given by Abbot Brendan Freeman on September 5, 2004, at New Melleray Abbey at which participants of the Vocation Discernment Weekend Retreat were present.

Wild Geese, "Followship," the End of Time, a Homily of Fr. Matthew Kelty, for the 3rd Sunday of the Year (B) Nov. 17, 1985 (Mk 1:14-20)

The Place of Mary in Cistercian Life, Sr. Agnes Day of Mount Saint Mary's Abbey, Wrentham Massachusetts

Mary as Model of the Monk, Thomas Merton