++++ For those on campus, Just a reminder that our Ash Wednesday Schedule is Masses: 12:15, 3:00, 5:00 & 8:00 PM - Confessions heard: 11:30-12 N; 2:00-2:45; 4:00-4:45 & 6:30-7:45 PM - All in the Student Center Ballroom A (on the main level of the Student Center) Join us! +++++++++++++
Of all of your good friends, how many of them are really good friends?
As much as I consider myself somewhat in touch with the culture – what’s hot/what’s not – one thing I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around is obsession around celebrities. That we have news programs dedicated simply to telling us that Natalie Portman was spotted eating a McDonalds cheeseburger in Los Angeles or that Channing Tatum took a break from shooting his latest movie to play basketball – it just seems to be the ultimate in “wastes of time.” Yet the fact that there’s multiple psuedo-news programs, magazines, websites dedicated to just those things I suppose shows that there’s obviously a major demand for this so-called “news” and that perhaps I’m not as in touch with the culture as I think (which might not be a bad thing).
For the most part I don’t give celebrity-news media much thought. But whenever there’s a celebrity death, particularly when it’s a relatively young person (which sadly seems to happen with regularity) theres this bizarre intersection between “celebrity news” and “real news” that you can’t help but hear all about it. So in the past week, whether you were into celebrities or not; whether you were in my generation who remember Whitney Houston as a major superstar or to the younger generation who ask “Whitney who?” - you could not escape wall-to-wall coverage over the death of the 48 year old singer. Front page stories on a daily basis talked about the New Jersey native with roots not 10 miles from where we are sitting tonight. The funeral, as much as the family tried to keep it as a private moment for them to grieve spun out of control. Speculation about whether her former husband would attend; who would be invited, who would sing, how close could “fans” get to the Church all made this sad story even sadder as, once again, the world seemed to forget that this was a person, this was a woman with a Mother, a daughter, family who loved her and were not looking to make this an event like a Movie premiere or a record dropping party.
In the midst of the wall-to-wall coverage though, something stood out that for the most part has remained unspoken or perhaps I missed it in the avalanche of stories. But it’s something that has really bothered me all week. And that is that this woman died a few feet from a room full of people that Ms. Houston probably considered “friends” and it seemed like no one even knew. And that even in her last days other “friends” spent time with her, partied with her and even after her death some of them continued to “cover” for her saying “she was fine.”
I’m not to place the blame on them. There’s an autopsy that’s been done, that sadly we’ll all get to hear about and consume on TMZ or Entertainment Tonight which will tell us if it was a drug overdose or something along those lines. And yes she was a 48 year old woman who had her own free-will and made her own decisions. But the thing of it is - as she gave into her demons and temptations once again; as she had visible signs of not being “fine;” as she collapses in her bathroom behind one of those thin, hotel room bathroom doors - a difficult question kept coming to mind - were any of her “good friends” a good friend to her? And as commentators this past week were looking at the many “teachable moments” to gleam from this tragedy, one good question for each of us to ask ourselves is of all of our good friends, how many of them are really good friends? How many of them are life-giving, loving people - helping us to become our best selves? Encouraging us, challenging us in that special - non threatening, non judgmental way that only a friend can?
Because in today’s Gospel we have the epitome of what good friends are. Thanks to the leper who was healed in last weeks Gospel, and then ignored Jesus’ order not to tell anyone what he did for him – he told EVERYONE so - Jesus’ fame is at a fever pitch. The crush of crowds trying to get at Jesus, who’s been publicized as this miracle worker who completely eradicated one of the deadliest and most feared diseases of that day and age with a simple touch has gotten beyond crazy. So much so that people couldn’t get near the house where Jesus was speaking today.
These four friends though, they have a friend who’s in a bad way, a really bad way – He’s paralyzed. But think about it, they’re not looking to find Jesus because of any of their own personal, pressing needs. They’re moved completely out of love out of concern for their friend. In their hearts they’re worried about him. They care about him. They CARRY him...
They’ve heard about Jesus, or perhaps have seen him in action. And so they’re single minded in their focus about what they need to do. They need to get their friend to Jesus. And they will do anything – anything to make that happen. Seeing the crowds, fearing they might not be able to get him to Jesus, they improvise, and rip open the roof of the house where Jesus was staying, and the lower the guy in.
Of all the good friends this guy has, and they were really good friends, the paralytic, nor his four roof rippers didn’t realize the great friend they were about to meet. Jesus - like we saw last week -moves beyond the mere cure of the specific ailment, the illness that troubled the poor guy. Jesus sees past that handicap and shows a care, a concern for his innermost being. In focusing on the thing that can doom him for all eternity – sin – and relieving his soul from that by offering His forgiveness, Jesus demonstrates a deep love that probably none of the people who had gathered in that place had anticipated. And in that experience, the paralysis of people’s hearts and minds in their understanding of who God is was cured just as the physical paralysis of this one man. They began to appreciate the awesomeness of a God who cares even more good than the “good-est” of our most “good” friends for each and every one of us (I know how horribly atrocious that sentence was, somewhere my English teachers are wailing) We have a God who so desperately loves us, He continues to send His Son Jesus Christ to us in the Word, the Body and Blood in the Eucharist, in our witness and care for one another...to proclaim that intimacy he desires to have with us.
Which brings us back to our friendships – Our relationships... Have we really taken a stock of where these relationships are - where they are going? Perhaps we’re fortunate enough that there’s not a life-threatening or destructive behavior going on around us, like with Whitney Houston, but if they were (or are happening) do we care enough to speak up, to do something about it? Even more, do we love one another enough to even point out the things – the sins – that we observe that we know are destructive to each others souls? We’re quick to invite people to join us to a movie, to a game or something; would we ever think to invite a friend to come with us to Mass or to be a part of this community? Or are we too timid to share that, afraid “what will they think if I say something?” The four men in the gospel cared and loved their friend so much, they wouldn’t stop until they found a way to bring them to Jesus Christ, the ultimate of good friends... even going so far as ripping off the roof of the place to get him to Jesus. Fortunately we don’t need to do the same (so don’t go near the roof of the Newman center please). We just have to get over ourselves and go out of ourselves, and be bold in sharing this precious gift we have here with the world around us.
So, of all the good friends you have, how many of them are good friends? How good a friend are you and I being? Are we helping to lead one another to Jesus Christ?