Leftovers and our “throwaway culture”: A homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

leftoversMsgr. Mark is away on a pilgrimage to Europe. Msgr. Stephen has returned to Nigeria. Fr. Francis has been reassigned. At last, I am the only one in the rectory, the priest house. I don’t spend a whole lot of time there so I haven’t really noticed too much. Except for one thing. I have finally been able to clean out the refrigerator. There was food in there that probably hasn’t been touched in months. Some of it was Fr. Francis’ leftovers. The rest of us don’t cook, so the rest was a mish mash of what folks have given us and what has come home in doggie bags. I feel very accomplished now and much better about the fridge situation.

I’m not just talking about leftovers randomly. Leftovers are mentioned in the first reading and in the Gospel. In the first reading, the Lord is quoted by Elisha saying this: “They shall eat and there shall be some left over.” And there were leftovers. Somehow 20 barley loaves fed 100 people and then some. In the Gospel, we’ve got another story of leftover barley loaves, but this story involves leftover fish also. Somehow everyone was fed, and there was far more than they could eat.

I want us to think about four types of leftovers today and what we should do with them. But before I do, I want to say something about Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Laudati Si. He uses the word “waste” in there 29 times. He’s not for it. I think he’s saying that it’s tempting to want to throw the leftovers away. Like I did at the rectory. Oops. But, he says, we’ve got to counteract what he calls our “throwaway culture.” We can’t just throw the stuff away. Nor should we just leave it sitting in there, which is another kind of wasting. Look in the Gospel. They didn’t throw the leftovers away or let them sit around in piles. Here’s a quote from the Good Lord in today’s Gospel: “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So I want to look at four types of leftovers and say something how we shouldn’t throw them away.

The first kind of leftover is leftover stuff. You and I have a lot of food in the fridge, a lot of shoes and clothes in the closet. Hate to say it, but if we’ve got more than 100 outfits, we’ve got too much. Most of the world is lucky to have 5. Don’t throw it away, says Pope Francis, but give it away. It’s time. When we get to the gates, I wonder if we might hear: “How come, while you were alive, 1.5 million children died each year from hunger, but you had to have a 100 pairs of shoes?” We all have too much stuff that others would die for. Are dying for. We’re called to shed these leftovers and give them to those who are needy. Pope Francis says we must. Because God says we must.

How about leftover time? We’re busy people, you and I, but most of us still find time to watch years and years of television in our lives. What if we were to do something a little more constructive with our leftover time? Maybe say some more prayers, help a little more here or there. We’ve been given a lot of time to be stewards of, and we’ve got some leftover each day. Maybe it’s time to consider again how we spend it.

Then there’s what I call leftover Jesus. Today’s Gospel prefigures the Eucharist, the Mass, where Jesus becomes present to us like on altars like this one around the world for thousands of years. We receive him. Now we Christians have always had tabernacles. We’ve got them all over the world, and they were invented so that the extra consecrated bread—leftover Jesus—has someplace safe to go and so that the sick who can’t make it to Mass can receive communion. We also have leftover Jesus so that we have a nice, intimate way to pray with the Lord: what better way to pray than in front of him? Every time I purify the vessels, I say a prayer from the Missal that even the smallest crumbs left on the patten may be efficacious. Jesus is in the crumbs. Leftover Jesus. And we know that, in a certain sense, Jesus is everywhere—he lingers in the plants and planets and in one another. Leftover Jesus is everywhere. We can’t toss him out. Do we reverence him wherever we find him??

The final kind of leftovers that we can’t waste, and this involves opening the refrigerators of our hearts. Someplace in there are our past relationships, past loves or friendships. Those folks whom we have loved in the past–they’ve left something behind in our hearts: a footprint, a signature, a memory or maybe many of them. Perhaps a part of our heart is left over in their hearts and part of theirs is in ours. Someplace in the refrigerator or our hearts are our remembrances—remembrances of earlier days, our childhoods, days of middle school sports and growing up, our high school and college days, our days of being out on our own for the first time, the first steps of vocational discernment and those early days of baby cries and steps in the house. For most of us, those beautiful moments and years have certainly left behind something special. There are leftovers, treasuries of love and joy and peace. Then there are also the leftovers of troubles and sorrows. There are pains and regrets and difficulties. These are the unpleasant, yucky leftovers. Perhaps pulling these things out might be difficult. It’s tempting to just toss them out, isn’t it? But the Lord Jesus, he tells us, “Let nothing be wasted. Gather all the leftovers together.” Not just the “good stuff.” Gather it all. You see, the thing is, there’s a blessing in the bad stuff somewhere. The cross was a piece of “bad sutff” and look what the Lord did with that; each leftover splinter of that cross is now a venerated relic. But do throw away the toxic stuff in there, the sins, the guilts, the resentments. If you eat that stuff you’ll end up in the ER. If we put all those leftovers together….I wonder what might come about. There’s something called a Shepherd’s Pie. It’s when all the leftovers are put together into what often becomes something quite delicious. God wants to make a Shepherd’s Pie of our lives.

OK, that’s it. The four types of leftovers. We can’t throw any of them away. So…
Leftover stuff. It’s time to clean the closets and give the leftovers to those in need
Leftover time. It’s time to reevaluate how we spend our leftover time.
Leftover Jesus. Let’s treasure and venerate leftover Jesus in the tabernacle, in the monstrance, in the world, in others.
And leftover stuff in our hearts, our lives, our pasts. Let’s see what kind of Shepherd’s Pie God will make of it all