Maybe because my father was a journalist, I grew up with a dislike for cliches. It’s a lazy way to use language, and maybe that’s the appeal for some. Occasionally things become cliches for good reason, but overall I think it’s better to describe things your own way, clunky as that may be at times.
“It is what it is” — remember that one? About 15 years ago, people were using that to describe everything, and that almost made me run away from the English language, which is ironic because the first use of “it is what it is” supposedly dates to the famous Sufi mystic Rumi in the 13th century.
I think sports coaches generally, and hockey coaches in particular, are the worst offenders when it comes to cliches, although we’re all guilty to some degree. When you ask a hockey coach why they won, they’ll say things like, “We put pucks on net.” Ok, coach, isn’t that the point of the game? Or, ask a hockey coach why a player did well, and they’ll say, “He has no panic in his game.” OK, you’re all making millions of dollars playing a child’s game, why would there be any “panic” in the first place?
Even cliches have redemptive value once in a while, and “no panic is his game” is at least one way to describe Jesus of Nazareth. Today, as he speaks apocalyptically in today’s Gospel, we know that he is in a way also speaking autobiographically, being himself persecuted, hated and ultimately put to death. As he encourages his listeners not to be terrified, we know that he also did not surrender to terror nor panic.
And he calls us to do the same, voluntarily.
Today is the 6th World Day of the Poor, instituted by Pope Francis in 2017. In many ways, the poor experience a daily slow-motion apocalypse. They know what it’s like to be amidst the rubble of there not being “a stone upon a stone.” This year, we can’t help but think of the thousands of Ukrainians whose lives are in literal ruins thanks to the lawless barbarity of the Russian aggressors. In the midst of this horror, I think we’ve all witnessed the grace and dignity and fearlessness of all kinds of Ukrainians: young mothers whose husbands are on the front lines, the elderly who’ve lost everything, wounded soldiers whose lives will never be the same, all displaying exactly the kind of fearlessness and faith called for by Jesus in today’s Gospel.
In his message for today, Pope Francis quotes from a French hermit who fled to the Sahara desert and who died a century ago and was canonized just last year, St. Charles de Foucauld: “Let us not despise the poor, the little ones, the workers; not only are they our brothers and sisters in God, they are also those who most perfectly imitate Jesus in his outward life… Let us never cease to be poor in everything, brothers and sisters to the poor, companions to the poor; may we be the poorest of the poor like Jesus, and like him love the poor and surround ourselves with them.”
Today’s Gospel is not something we tuck away with our bottled water and duct tape and go-bags as we await the next potential disaster in our little lives. Today’s Gospel is an invitation for this moment, to examine our conscience, and to see if we have the poise and the faith to stand with our sisters and brothers whose lives are in apocalypse right now. Are we up for the healthy challenge of looking honestly at our lifestyle and still finding solidarity with the many forms of poverty around us? “It is what it is.”