Hi everyone here’s my homily for January 26, 2014 - Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012614.cfm As always thanks for reading, sharing this blog on twitter, facebook, etc. and all your feedback! Have a blessed week! Fr Jim
There’s a lot of people that make up the pop-culture world that I’m not a fan of but I’m at least aware of who they are and why they’re famous. For example - not a fan of Lady Gaga - but I’ve heard her music in enough places that were I on Jeopardy and Alex Trebek had "For $1000 name a Lady Gaga song" I could answer "what is ‘Telephone?’" I was thinking of that because to be honest - for all the news I’ve heard about his personal life the last two months, I couldn’t for the life of me name a song by Justin Bieber. While some would probably argue that’s a good thing (and I don’t feel my life is lacking because of this fact) it saddens me that all that I do know about someone who is obviously internationally famous is pretty much only negative stuff from his personal life.
You may have heard (of course you have!) That the Biebs was arrested this past week for drag racing a Lamborghini down a public street in Miami. When he was pulled over and questioned, he started cursing at the police officers, was allegedly under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and then resisted arrest. This comes on the heels of a friend of his being arrested at a house party he hosted a few weeks ago and having drugs on him. (At that time Justin only got a ticket for a noise violation, even though it was suspected that he was abusing drugs and/or alcohol then as well)
Again, I find it bizarre that someone I have no real interest in - that I know all those details about. And I couldn’t avoid it, the news headlines didn’t stop all weekend. "Justin Bieber after smiling for mug shot was sobbing in jail cell" "Bieber exits court on bail, jumps on car and blows kisses to fans" - "Bieber remains defiant refusing to go to rehab and planning to stay with his father in Miami."
As the non-stop media coverage continues, it’s an all too familiar story of a celebrity self-destructing before our very eyes and the world around either seemingly powerless to do anything about it or the lines between drama/reality TV are so blurred people continue to hear the story play out like it’s entertainment. But here’s this 19 year old, spiraling out of control... As if the destruction of an individual by drugs and alcohol isn’t unoriginal enough – here he’s speed racing with an expensive sports car just a few weeks after movie star Paul Walker died in a fire-ball of a car crash.
There’s something cold and pathetic about all of this as television networks are probably working to prepare graphics and sad instrumental music for breaking news reporting another tragic end to another sad story. What’s amazing is that here’s this young guy with all this money, all this fame, all these resources, all these supposed friends and entourage’s around him. And yet - it seems like he is all alone. Walking in darkness. Because as friends, fellow celebrities give interviews expressing their concerns or tweeting their "take" on things, there’s almost this sad acceptance. That they see he’s walking in darkness and, I don’t know - it doesn’t seem anyone is shocked, worried... Friday night reportedly his father was partying with his son... not to question the guys parenting but - that doesn’t seem the wisest of decisions.
Do we care when people are walking in darkness? We should. And I’m not talking about you and I going to run to Justin Bieber’s house and begging him to go to rehab or something. You probably wouldn’t get past the security, the rabid fans, the paparazzi anyway. I’m not trying to be dismissive of our role as a society with celebrities. Because with our paying attention to the news, following it and all - we feed into it and somehow enable this guy’s biggest addiction – fame.
But for us, the question is who do we know - who do we know that is walking in darkness? Do we have friends, roommates, classmates, family members who are on paths of destruction? Who isn’t acting right? Who is it that is making some awful choices and stupid decisions that will have a lasting impact on the rest of their lives, that we don’t say anything about because, well it’s their decision, it’s their choice, who am I to say and all the other excuses we have?
There are some people that God has placed into our lives right now - they are people you and I are thinking of right now - that need Jesus - that need His Light - that are waiting for something.. And we pray for them, and we wonder what’s going to happen and we hope things will work out for them - and, and, and... it’s not enough.
In the Gospel today, Jesus enters Galilee - and St. Matthew quotes the first reading from Isaiah tonight with all those funky names of towns to show it was Galilee where Jesus starts his Mission. Jesus goes to this land that had been overwhelmed by darkness. This region had been raped, pillaged and plundered by these people the Assyrians, and Isaiah says to them in the first reading- you - people who walked in darkness- have seen a great light - upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom - a light has shone...
Matthew quotes that passage to tell his listeners that Isaiah was talking about JESUS. Jesus is that light that calls people out of darkness. We nod our heads and say, "Yes, Jesus is the Light of the World" we’ve heard this before - "Yes Jesus is calling people out of Darkness" we’ve heard that before too and "Jesus is the way out of the darkness and these people all have to find Jesus..." -yep, that was covered in CCD or Catholic School...
Which is what the second part of the Gospel answers. Jesus said "Come after me and I will make YOU fishers of men." That’s not just a story about 4 fishermen over 2,000 years ago. Jesus is saying to you and to me - to each of us "Come after me and I will make YOU fishers of men"
Because it’s not enough for us just to recognize Jesus as the Light - It’s not enough for us to receive that Light as we hear his word and receive his body and blood - Jesus gives us the Light and wants us to bring it to those who’ve yet to experience it - those who are in darkness.
The guys in the Gospel - look at what happened. Jesus comes on the scene, Peter and Andrew just leave their nets (leave their livelihood) and follow him... James and John they’re father’s probably sitting in the boat thinking - Uh, Guys, where you going? The point is - they saw in Jesus in their encounter with him, in the invitation he gives to them, something special that they knew instantly would change their lives forever. And so they spend the rest of their lives living and spreading the Light of Jesus.
Do we? Do we really believe that? Because if we do then we have to do two things - 1 - we have to actually Live like people of the Light. That means when we’re hit with darkness in our own lives - whether it’s something bad I’ve done that is hanging over me - or it’s something someone has done to me and I’m holding onto the hurt, the anger and the resentment - I gotta do something about it. I got to get to confession - I got to start looking for ways to forgive that person that hurt me - I have to turn away from the darkness in my own life - and turn towards the light.
And the other thing is - I have to spread that Light of Jesus. I can’t wait for someone else to do it. There were probably people we passed on our way here tonight that we could have invited to be with us - not all of them would have come, but someone may have - someone was waiting for an invitation. There are probably people we’re going to be around later tonight who are just going to ask "what’d you do tonight?" are we going to answer "nothing" because maybe we’re embarrassed to tell them that coming to Mass is important to us
– or are we going to say I came to Mass - and maybe that will open their hearts and minds to the Light.
As we are observers who are unable to really interact with Justin Bieber - our prayer has to be that somehow, someone will be able to show him the Light before he is completely swallowed up in darkness. But there are those nearer to us not as inaccessible, not so far out of reach who are facing similar challenges and temptations. While we might not know completely how God wants to use us to spread his Light, are we at the very least open to asking the question - How Lord do you want to use me? If we sincerely do, there will be an answer. Which is why we’re often hesitant to ask... Because then the question becomes when he invites us to "Follow Him" to do something life-giving, life-changing for life - what will be our answer?
The readings can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/011914.cfm Thanks as always for reading, sharing the blog and your comments and feedback. God Bless You and have a great week! Fr Jim
It must have been in fourth grade. My friend Lee Cohen had called me on a Saturday afternoon to say his father was going to the Menlo Park Mall to go to Burger King and wanted to know if I could come with them because they needed my help. Couldn’t imagine at first what was so daunting of a task about going to Burger King that they would need my help - but I don’t think I asked any further questions as I was already screaming “Mom can I go with Lee and his Dad to Burger King?” Ahh the good old days when I was young and could just eat junk food with reckless abandon.
Anyway, as we were on our way there, Mr. Cohen explained that he was doing a secret investigation. As a side job he was hired by the King (not Jesus, the Burger King) to investigate how different franchises of Burger King were being operated and then he would share his findings with the company. Having two 10 year olds with him made it easier as a cover in terms of ordering a whole bunch of stuff off the menu to taste-check how things were prepared. But it wasn’t just that. It was almost a game, Lee and I had to see if we found anything else in the store: was the salt shaker empty? Was the Coca Cola too flat? Where were the napkins located - was the napkin holder full or empty... How were the people at the register? Were they nice or not? How was the bathroom? (I still remember - what almost 30 years later - that was one of the areas that this Burger King did not score very high on Mr. Cohen’s report - as I shiver in disgust at that thought)
No detail was too small. And I thought it was kind of neat that here we were like secret agents reporting to the King (again, not Jesus, the Burger King) all our findings. How different would the people have been had they only realized who we were and what our purpose was. We wondered would Mr. Cohen’s report result in people losing their job? Or perhaps a promotion (doubtful after that bathroom visit...) In the years since, as there seems to be more national chains for food and shopping, these types of mystery shoppers or guests have increased and almost become an industry themselves. Rather than seeing it simply as something to punish bad franchises, in many instances they have become a way of making sure that establishments don’t forget the importance of all the customers that they encounter.
One of the immediate things that hit me with this Gospel is the directness of John the Baptist to each one of us. Look at what he says “Behold the Lamb of God!” You might remember about 2 years ago the Church revised a lot of the prayers and responses at Mass. One of those changes happened to be the invitation for communion where the priest used to say “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” That not only obscured the fact that the invitation was coming from this Gospel- that we were quoting John the Baptist – but it also changed it’s meaning. Because saying “This is the Lamb of God” is more of a declaration - like “This is an altar” “This is a chair” – by changing it back to it’s Gospel roots, think about what we’re encountering. “Behold” goes beyond merely looking at something ... its practically demanding our attention to recognize something or rather someone on a much deeper. John the Baptist’s knew who Jesus was already - it was his cousin! But after the Baptism of the Lord, when the Spirit came down upon him, the voice of God the Father spoke - well that changed John’s perspective quite a bit. So his invitation to “Behold the Lamb of God” reveals that he had the eyes of faith to recognize Jesus the Messiah, was there in their midst.
As we hear those same words at Mass, we’re invited into the awesomeness of the miracle of what the Eucharist is - that the Holy Spirit has transformed bread and wine into the actual, real body and blood of Jesus Christ. That Jesus becomes as real and present in that Body and blood as he was in the manger at Bethlehem, walking on the sea of Galilee, offered on the Cross at Calvary and risen three days later. That’s what we believe- which is why it’s appropriate for us to Behold his presence, Behold the awesomeness of the moment, Behold the love of God which allows us to take, receive Him, to consume Him.
But it’s not supposed to end here. What happens when we leave this gathering? Like my friend Lee, his Dad and I secretly taking notes do we recognize the King (and this time not the Burger King - but Jesus himself) that he is hidden right among us. This time though hidden in the poor, the troubled, the needy, the helpless... Hidden in your dorms, that roommate you can’t stand, the class mate who’s sitting alone in the student center, the cafeteria worker who no one acknowledges other than to mock or yell at, the professor who always seems like a jerk (that perhaps had some major family trauma happen that no one knows about who made him like that) Just as we need eyes of faith to recognize him in the bread and wine, we need to take those same eyes of faith with us to Behold the Lamb of God among us even outside of this gathering. At the start of this new Academic semester, just a few weeks into this new year, can we use this opportunity to delve into the mystery of Christ’s presence among us and look for ways not simply to behold it but bring his light, his love, his healing, his forgiveness into our own times and places.
With dead Christmas trees on the sides of streets; Poinsettia plants losing their leaves (or in my case, after dropping too many leaves - already discarded!) and stores having liquidated their “holiday merchandise” with clearance sale prices and already displaying Valentines Displays, that greeting seems a bit misplaced. Many of us who’ve been seeing “signs of Christmas” since early October have in a sense “moved on.”
For the Church though the Christmas Season started on December 25th and sees today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord as the last Sunday of the Christmas Season. For close to three weeks, we have been reflecting on the birth of Jesus. As a church we meditated on the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary under the protective gaze of Joseph... joyfully announced by angels and shepherds. We recalled those somewhat mysterious to us men – called Kings, wise-men, magi or astrologers – who had followed a star that led them to this newborn king, Jesus. And now to bring the season to a conclusion, the Church fixes her gaze not on the infant, but the grown up Jesus, going into the Jordan river to be baptized by John the Baptist.
It’s a somewhat confusing way to end the season... For us, Baptism means we’ve entered into the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus... that by that moment, we are intimate members of His Family. We are Jesus’ Brothers and Sisters. We have once again become Children of God after the ravages of Sin had separated us from Him.
John the Baptist, was offering something different... He was calling people to a baptism of repentance. He was preaching that a savior was coming and in order to prepare for that savior, people needed to recognize within themselves how all of us are in need of this Savior... we could never fix the damages of sin on our own... we would need God, and still do, to do that for us...
What better way to propel us to not “end Christmas” but to move away from the manger scene and get to the heart of why we celebrated that feast in the first place?
For in this scene as Jesus enters into the Jordan river, the good news of Christmas is articulated not by angels, shepherds or wisemen... but the very voice of God. We read in the Gospel that the Father from Heaven can’t contain his excitement at the lavish gift he has given us. The Father speaks: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). In that moment, the God of all creation “never tires of repeating [to humanity]: ‘Yes, I am here. I know you. I love you. There is a path that leads from me to you. And there is a path that rises from you to me’” (Pope Benedict XVI)
Psychologists tell us that these early days of January can be difficult for many people. With the marketing-hype-overdrive that leads up to December 25th and somewhat suddenly ends, that sense of excitement and anticipation leading up to a single day could never live up to expectations. Which is probably another reason we seem so ready to pack “Christmas” away and already look forward to something else that might excite us or peak our interests.
Yet for each of us Baptized, we know what we have received is something that can not be contained to a single day. This incredible gift from God: the treasure that it truly is, the depths of love contained in it, the generosity required to give it so freely to us... it takes even more than our collective lifetimes to begin to appreciate. Words fail us as we unpack what today’s “Christmas feast” that the words of the Father are spoken not just to Jesus, but to each one of us baptized into Christ, calling us His “beloved.” That’s why, we simply say: “Merry Christmas” one more time.