WITH TIME TRAVEL NOT POSSIBLE, CHANGE YOUR PRESENT
This past Sunday, The Simpsons celebrated another milestone. After becoming the longest running, scripted program on TV about two years ago, this past week they celebrated the airing of its 500th episode. I shudder realizing that I remember first seeing “The Simpsons” when they were animated shorts on the Tracey Ullman Show before most of you were even born. Anyway, while I barely watch new episodes now because they’re just not as funny to me as the first 10 seasons were, if I’m flipping the channels, and see a repeat is on, I’ll usually give it a chance hoping it's one from an earlier season. A couple of weeks ago, there was a repeat of one of their “Treehouse of Horrors” – their Halloween-themed episodes that are on every year... which are usually some of the funniest, cleverest of their episodes. This particular edition had one called “Time and Punishment” that starts normal enough: Homer is seen trying to fix a plugged in toaster with a fork, and rather than getting an electric shock, discovers the thing is a time machine.
Have you ever noticed that even though a thing like “time travel” is not possible, whenever there’s a story like this - whether it was the movie “Back to the Future” or the Family Guy episode that had Stewie and Brian traveling back in time as well – every one of them follow an emphatic rule. And that is, if you travel back in time, you’re not to do, say, touch, anything lest you change the future to horrific consequences.
So it’s funny in this Simpsons episode, Homer, whose character is often portrayed as someone who doesn’t know the basic rules of human decency, seems to know this rule and is trying to be SO careful to avoid changing anything as he travels to pre-historic times. So what happens - he simply kills a mosquito before he returns to present day, he shockingly recognizes that somehow the death of the insect has resulted in his neighbor and nemesis Ned Flanders becoming a brutal world dictator. Trying to set things right, Homer goes back again, avoids killing the mosquito but accidentally kills a walking fish... which when Homer returns to present day realizes has resulted in Bart and Lisa’s existence changing into their becoming giants. After narrowly avoiding being crushed by them, he returns, avoids the mosquito and the fish, and then sneezes on a dinosaur which causes their extinction. He is initially pleased with the results in the present; amongst other perks, the family is now extremely wealthy and his two hated sisters-in-law Patty and Selma are dead. However, he is terrified to find that donuts do not exist in this timeline and flees, ironically, just seconds before donuts begin raining from the sky. After several more trips back and forth in time, Homer eventually arrives in a reality that appears normal. However, he finds that humans eat with lizard-like tongues, but ultimately decides it is "close enough".
The reason time-travel stories appeal to so many of us is, who hasn’t, from time to time, wished they could go back and change things in the past. For you guys who are college students, it’s the reason so many of us give you tons of unsolicited advice. Once you graduate and begin ‘real life” it’s not uncommon for people to look back and say, “I wish I had studied this instead of that.” (Or in some cases, “I wish I had studied.”). But people can get caught up with a whole list of things that they look back on and say, “I should have done – blank–“ or I shouldn’t have done –blank–“ (we call that “should-ing on youself”). And on the other hand, the thought of time travel forward is appealing as well. Why? To alleviate whatever fears or anxieties we have about the future... We want to see that “things will be better” for us in the future.
So often people come to Mass on Ash Wednesday, and something inexplicable draws us here... something about this day and the season of Lent speaks to us. And often, our minds and hearts can’t help but look back and maybe re-evaluate some things...imagine how things would have been we had we done something different, or not done something, in particular. Wishing we could go back in time and make some changes, even small, slight ones that would leave us feeling better about who we are, the people we are, the “children of God” we truly are - who wouldn't want that?
While time travel does not exist, the Church calls us together to this celebration of Ash Wednesday to enter into this season of Lent, and come in touch with Jesus Christ who wishes to affect real change in our lives, here and now. Listen to those words of the Prophet Joel from the first reading. These are words that the living God is speaking to us today: Even now... return to me with your whole heart... Rend [Change] your hearts. Hear the words of invitation from St. Paul in the second reading: Behold Now is a Very acceptable time - Behold NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION.
Jesus doesn’t want to meet us in our pasts, or for us to waste any more time anxiously anticipating the future. Jesus comes to meet us, here and now. And if we hear the words of Ash Wednesday and truly respond to them – “Turn away from Sin, be faithful to the Gospel” - we won’t have to re-write our past history, we can begin, instead, to repair the damage of our sins, we can begin to heal from the pain of that, and set out to start and create a new present - and a much different future.
Each of us has come here today of our own free-will. There was no parent, no teacher, nothing that “forced” us to come. It was a choice, – a very good choice – that each of us made. In our hearts and in our minds, something hit us when we realized it was Ash Wednesday - that we wanted to get to Mass and “get our Ashes” - get this mark, reminding ourselves that we are sinners in need of a Savior. We’ve prepared these brochures that explain the scripture's plan of Fasting, Almsgiving and Prayer they give you some practical ways as college students, here at MSU, you can do something. Maybe it means making Sunday Mass a priority. Maybe you’ll participate in a community service opportunity. Maybe you’ll take advantage that we’re offering confessions all day today and throughout the season of Lent, so maybe, if it’s been some time since you've dealt with that stuff from the past, this can be something you consider this year as something to 'do' for Lent. We’re also having a very special event this Saturday. It’s a one day retreat called “Why Jesus Christ Matters.” It’s not going to be like any retreat you’ve ever been on. It’s being led by a nationally known speaker named Chris Stefanik, who’s a Catholic Evangelist from Denver Colorado - he's flying in just to be with us. Like I said, it’s this Saturday, and he’s going to offer this presentation, talking about Who Jesus Christ is - what that means to us, and how we should respond to Him. It’s from 4pm - 8pm in University Hall - the top floor. Just consider coming.
These are just a few out of the thousands of ways this day can be the beginning of a special Lent. Without the help of a time machine, fast-forward and imagine where you can be on Easter Sunday - what shifts and changes you can start to make today that will draw us closer to the Lord, and to one another, as the Body of Christ. And, who wouldn't want that?
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern