“Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand in my youth are dead. Even Jessie. But I still reach out to them. Of course, now I'm too old to be much of a fisherman. And now I usually fish the big waters alone... although some friends think I shouldn't. But when I am alone in the half-light of the canyon... all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories... and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm... and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one... and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood... and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words… and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
These words close one of my favorite pieces of writing. It’s from a memoir called “A River Runs Through It”, written by Norman Maclean. If it sounds familiar, the memoir, written in 1976 was turned into a movie directed by Robert Redford and starring Brad Pitt in 1992. These words end the story; a story that is about fishing, family, and lost souls. The narrator of these lines is the autobiographical character of Norman Maclean. And you can sort of get the gist about how the story ends – it does not end happily or even neatly.
Notice the tone of Maclean’s writing: There is a clear tension between regret and hope; guilt and peace; our autobiographical narrator is yearning, yearning for the past, but faintly hopeful about the future. It’s the last sentence of the story that captivates the reader: “I am haunted by waters.”
Haunted, used in this instance, is a word of strong meaning. The speaker carries with him a certain degree of regret and perhaps even guilt. This regret, this guilt, will haunt him for rest of his life.
For the purposes of this homily, I would like to replace the word haunt, with another word: nostalgia. Nostalgia comes from a compound Greek word: nostos meaning return home and algos meaning pain. Nostalgia then, is a painful yearning to return home. In our common parlance, nostalgia is about returning to the past, to go back and do or say something differently.
I would like to offer for our prayer this week, a new understanding of nostalgia and give it a Christian meaning.
The woman in our Gospel reading today comes from a broken history. Whatever she did to end up where she ended it up is irrelevant. Whatever she’s been doing; wherever she came from is about to be turned on its head. Perhaps she longs for the days when she knew security and peace; when she knew love and kindness and gentleness. Perhaps she longs to return to those days- perhaps she suffers from nostalgia.
But she meets Jesus and he turns her life upside down. Encountering the mercy and forgiveness of the Savior her nostalgia is no longer a yearning for the home she knew. Now her nostalgia is a painful longing for the heavenly home that is her ultimate destiny. Jesus’s forgiveness wipes away her past and gives her a future full of hope and promise. My friends, this is Christian nostalgia- this is our prayer this week.
As we near the celebration of newness and second, third and hundredth chance that is Easter, we are confronted with an invitation from the Lord for him to fill us with Christian nostalgia. Our pasts are long gone and for Christ, there is no good reason to hang on to regret and guilt. Guilt and regret weigh us down and keep up focused on the past.
Jesus tells the woman to “Go, and from on, do not sin anymore.” Those words are about the future. Likewise, listen to St. Paul’s words from the second reading: “forgetting what lies behind, straining forward to what lies ahead…pursuing the goal…” These words are about the future, not the past. We are Christians- people of hope and hope is about the future- hope is Christian nostalgia- a painful longing to return home- our true home- Heaven- our ultimate destiny- that place that has been prepared for us.
This week my friends, and leading up to Easter, now just two weeks away, lets respond to the Lord’s invitation today and allow him to reignite and nourish this nostalgia. This week, we look forward with hope. We set aside guilt and regret for the past and focus on what the Lord is calling us to do right now, today and tomorrow.
In my love for you, I invite you, if it’s been a while since you have celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation, do so between now and Good Friday. There is no better way to lay aside our guilt, regret and nostalgia for the past than to receive the hope and Christian nostalgia for the future, than to celebrate this sacrament. The Lord is waiting to give us a future full of hope and ignite within us this ardent and unrelenting pain to return home to our Father in heaven where he is waiting to embrace us.
Norman Maclean is haunted by waters. My friends, our sin, our regret, our guilt, our nostalgia for the past is but a drop in the ocean of God’s mercy, his hope and his nostalgia for our future. He is waiting to drown us in that ocean of His Mercy, Forgiveness and Renewal. We are Catholic Christians, and we, need not be haunted by anything.
On Easter Sunday, we will celebrate the greatest sign of our Christian nostalgia. The priest will sprinkle clean, cool water on our heads. He will lead us in a prayer and ritual of renewal and hope- there is no room for regret; no room for guilt- there is only room for Him. Him with us.