Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - August 27, 2017. The readings for today can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/082717.cfm
Thanks for reading this blog; for sharing it on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit - and for your comments and feedback. God Bless - Fr Jim
Penn and Teller are the famous comedy and magician duo who’ve been seen on TV, as well as from performing live all over the country. There act usually consists of the two entertainers doing their illusions with Penn Jillette giving his outspoken monologues next to Raymond Teller’s relative silence. Aside from their work together, Penn has been able to create a solo career as well. He has his own voice-over work for television networks like Comedy Central, he produces movies, and he has his own stand up routines that would fall into the "Bill Maher" category of (for lack of a better word) "humor." He can be very outrageous, and as a professed atheist, has often times said blasphemous things that would offend any of us (a few years ago he said some disgusting things about Mother Teresa, for example). While it’s understandable, to put it politely, that I'm not a fan of his, I can see he’s a very intelligent man who is rarely at a loss for - and can easily devour someone with - his words in a verbal confrontation or debate.
That’s why an incident that occurred with him a couple of years ago has stayed with me – because it was so unexpected. Penn had done his show one evening and afterwords, went outside to meet some fans and sign some autographs. While he was meeting people he noticed one man standing off to the side hovering, and obviously waiting to talk to him. Turns out the man had seen the show the night before. Penn shared as he recounted this on his video blog that he was convinced the guy was a real fan of his - he had even volunteered at one point to assist in Penn’s act. And this fan was extremely complimentary about how much he enjoyed the performance. The reason he had come back this next evening and waited after the show was that he simply wanted to give Penn a Bible. This fan spoke to Penn face to face, looked him in the eye, was honest (and in my own words, loving) as he told Penn that while he was a businessman, his faith called him to share the Gospel. In the Bible he gave to Penn he had written an inscription with his name and phone numbers in it if he could ever be of help to Penn in his journey of faith.
What was so moving to me was that you could see how Penn Jillete was truly affected by this encounter. He called the experience "wonderful." In the 5 minute video he’s often at a loss, or struggling for words. He repeatedly describes this man as "kind, nice and sane [as he] talked to [him] and gave [him] this Bible..."
But what made the whole encounter so memorable was towards the end when Penn Jillete, the avowed atheist said "I don’t respect people who don’t prostelytize . . . How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible, and not tell them that . . . this guy was a really good guy. He cared enough about me to proselytize." He compared it to someone seeing a run-away car barreling down a street towards another person and wondering if he should go and push him out of the way. Then Penn concluded, "I know there is no God. And one polite person living his life right doesn’t change that. But he was a very, very good man."
In his head, I believe that Penn still 'believes' in his brand of atheism - but it sounds like his heart was moved to wonder - it sounds like this encounter with a man who purely, simply, loved him enough to share what we call "good news of great joy for all people" maybe helped shift his perspective a bit; and that maybe, just maybe, one day this avowed atheist might truly believe.
"Who do you say that I am" - Jesus pointedly asks his apostles in today’s Gospel. After hearing what others have said - the theories, the gossip and rumors of others - he pointedly asks his followers - and each of us this question. Simon Peter’s response "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" isn’t just a theological response - it isn’t being offered as a text book answer for us to be ready to offer to have the proper words to prove we’re good Catholics. It’s an answer that, if we really let it sink in, should define who we are, what we believe and value, how we see ourselves in relationship to others and the world.
Because if we see Him as the Christ, as the Son of the Living God too - then our course, our path is laid out for us. Then that means we are called to follow Jesus’ commands of selfless love rather than that human inclination of our own self interests. Then that means we are entrusted with the important work of lovingly sharing this man Jesus who we’ve encountered, who has brought salvation, healing, mercy into this world - and even being bold enough to invite others to come to know, come to love Him as well.
One of the main problems that we as Catholic Christians face is meekness. Overly politeness. Being cautious. Being "respectfully" reserved. Particularly when it comes to matters of faith. We are so worried about being offensive - in this realm... It’s amazing to me in our social-media, knee jerk, instant share world - people seem overly bold about weighing in on everything from ones feelings on the President to what the Kardashians are up to - to what someone thought about the Yankees or an episode of Game of Thrones. But we’re careful, cautious, meek about Jesus.
Yet, one look at that Crucifix kind of annihilates those and any other excuse we can come up with for why we resist, why we hold back, why we don’t share our faith – why we don’t share good news with a world desperately looking for any… Because looking at the crucifix we see that Jesus doesn’t hold back anything And even more, this greatest example of selfless love to us is made visible, made real in the Mass when the Bread and Wine becoming Jesus’ body and blood is very simply, humbly given to us to consume.
Jesus doesn’t gift this to us to simply to grace us here and now into eternity with Him for ourselves. That is meant to supply the nourishment to want to care, to want to share Him in loving, sincere, meaningful ways.
Pope Francis spoke about this in a letter he wrote a few years ago called Evangellii Gadium where he said:
"The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received,
the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him.
What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known?
If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts.
We need to implore his grace daily, asking him to open our cold hearts and shake up our lukewarm and superficial existence."
One gentle, loving Christian went to Penn Jillette - loved both Jesus and Penn enough that he was willing to accept him where he was and share the "good news" with him. While Penn’s journey toward Christ is far from complete - and we can only hope and pray that this incident has continued to remain with him, who, out there, is waiting for us to do the same for them as well?
To cause their minds to be curious,
their hearts to wonder,
their hopes sparked as they witness:
in our love for family and friends;
in our dedication to what is right and just;
in our taking the first steps towards reconciliation and forgiveness
- in these and countless other ways how we too believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?