Here is my homily for November 9, 2008 - the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran given at Montclair State University. The readings for this feast can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/110908.shtml . Thanks for reading and all your feedback! Fr. Jim Chern
There is probably few things in our modern society that has had a greater influence on our present day culture as one particular television network. People can debate this point – Fox has higher ratings, (at least right now); CBS, NBC, ABC have all been around longer; ESPN has revolutionized sports media. But, none of them come close to the effect of this one channel – which since it came on the scene in the 1980's has had a marked influence on our culture. That channel is MTV.
I hate to admit that I can remember when the channel first debuted. Our family got Cable TV installed (on only one TV in the house by the way), I remember my father had told me and my two brothers we weren’t allowed to watch MTV. Being the obedient children that we were, we waited till Dad was at work to watch it. At that point the "M" actually stood for "Music" Television. I remember people wondering whether it would be successful - who would want to watch Music videos when you could listen to it on the radio, they wondered? Where they wrong! For practically 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that’s what MTV was - you could tune in to watch Music videos as VJ’s (a video - disc jockey) would introduce all the different bands and artists. It was an immediate success.
What started as a new way to promote music slowly evolved into a cultural phenomenon. Nowadays, the music videos which were central to MTV’s programming has become background noise and end credits to a 24/7 line up that includes shows like True Life, Parental Control, Real World, Road Rules, and Busted. In the process MTV has had an even greater impact on the "younger" generation. For those of you who are in that 18-25 year old age group - think about how much information you or your friends receive that comes thru the MTV filter (which now that is owned by a much larger media corporation called Viacom has even more influence, more avenues it can use).
All of this is exactly what the Founder and Former President of MTV , Mr. Bill Pittman envisioned. Back in the early 1980's Pittman stated that in order to reach this "younger generation" they had to attract 14 year olds (which is when teenagers are entering adolescnece). And he had a very simple two point plan for MTV: 1 - Get their emotions going and 2 - make them forget their logic. Pittman explained why: "The strongest appeal you can make is emotionally. If you can get their emotions going, make them forget their logic, you've got them." Pittman confidently concluded: "AT MTV, WE DON'T SHOOT FOR THE 14-YEAR OLDS, WE OWN THEM."
It’s hard not to concede that Pittman and MTV have become incredibly successful in their goal. Just looking at the number of people who come to Mass here tonight on campus - It’s awesome that all of you make it a priority to come here tonight - but you guys know as well as I do how many of your friends, roommates, relatives are probably home watching "Paris Hilton’s New BFF" (I’ll save my editorial comments) at this moment instead of being here. For many of them, they can’t understand why we are passionate about our relationship with God. For many of them they really haven’t made a place for God in their lives.
How does that have anything to do with today’s celebration of the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran? Probably just hearing that title many eyeballs become glazed over. When you compare it to Easter, Christmas, or even Palm Sunday, today’s feast wouldn’t rank too high on many people’s lists (probably a majority of people have never heard of this feast). We wonder how can this relate to our lives? We might think, It’s very nice that this Cathedral basilica in Rome has been there for close to 1,700 years - but for most of us who have never seen it (and may never get over to Rome to see it) other than a historical curiosity, why would we even take time out of Ordinary Time to commemorate this?
But today is more than commemorating the day an old Church in Rome was dedicated. It is remembering a moment where the world, "the mainstream", the culture had, at least for that moment it’s focus shifted in the right way.
That dedication celebrated that for those living in the Roman empire: saying that you were a follower of Jesus Christ no longer meant you were subject to death. The Mass no longer needed to be celebrated in underground tombs or secretly in homes. And most importantly, the empire acknowledged the one true God that Jesus had revealed to humanity – The trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit could now be praised, worshiped and acknowledged by the secular world as the one true God.
Up until then, the Emperor himself was considered a god - which is why the persecution of Christians had been so fierce. But now the Emperor Constantine had converted to Christianity. Many people throughout the Roman empire were hearing the Good News of Jesus openly proclaimed and were converting to it as well. They were no longer "enslaved" or "owned" by the oppression of a Roman emperor "god."
All of this was symbolized in a physical, visible way in the dedication of this Basilica in Rome. Today the Church remains a sign of our unity as Catholic Christians throughout the world and we are to remember that sadly, all these years later this very night there are Christians who are persecuted, who are killed for being a follower of Jesus Christ. This feast inspires hope to them and demands our support and prayers that their persecution will end.
But this feast also opens a more immediate question for us here. Who does our world acknowledge as it’s "god?" Where does our society look to for it’s "god?" MTV is one among many others that compete for that position. Here we live in a nation where at least a quarter of the entire population has been baptized as Roman Catholic Christians; nearly 80% of all Americans claim to be Christian. But honestly, does it really look like our world has heeded the words of St. Paul in today’s second reading and made Jesus Christ our foundation?
It’s true religious bigotry, and condescension towards faith-filled people is far from over (I could write a book about such incidents right here on our campus); at the same time we can rejoice and be thankful that here in the United States we don’t have to be afraid to lose our lives for being Christian. Every day we have an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus Christ by our words and actions. Each week we have an opportunity to come together as the People of God and hear His word and be transformed by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. That transformation isn’t just for us personally - it is meant to make us the living Church. That’s why we are called "brother’s and sister’s." And those ties extend beyond this room throughout all of the Catholic-Christian world. We are united with the soldiers celebrating Mass tonight in the back of a Jeep in the deserts of Iraq; the persecuted Christians in India and China; as well as our friends in Ramapo and Seton Hall who are celebrating Mass right now too. Which is why today’s feast is bigger than just remembering a building but points to that reality of that living Church. All of us become that temple of God. Will zeal for that house consume us? Or are we too busy singing along with the rest of the nation"I want my MTV?"