Sunday, September 23, 2012

So Long Self

Homily From the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year B

This past weekend, 70 7th & 8th grade girls took part in the annual Edge girls’ retreat.
They had a great time, grew stronger in their faith, and strengthened the bonds of friendship between them.

The theme of the retreat was “So Long Self.”  And the weekend was all about, putting away the our old self and putting on the new self of Jesus Christ.  Putting away sin and putting on holiness; putting away hatred and putting on charity; putting away ambition and putting on meekness; putting away pride and putting on humility.

In our Gospel today, we hear about the growing pains of the Apostles.  They are arguing among themselves about which one is the greatest and Jesus has to call them out on it.

My brother has a dog named Molly.  When Molly gets into trouble, my brother will give her a stern look, point his finger at her and sternly ask, “What did you do?!  What did you do?!”
And Molly always reacts the same way: she will stay where she is, but she will slowly turn her head away from the direction of my brother’s voice.

When Jesus and the Apostles arrive at the house, he asks them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”  And you remember how the disciples react: they remained silent.

Jesus does that to us.  As we grow closer to Christ, we become more acutely aware of our own failings.  As we enter into his light more fully, he illuminates our sins all the more.  It’s ironic.  As we grow in holiness, we are made more aware of our sinfulness.  That’s because we are moving, as I said, into his light.

When you’re driving at night, and another car comes from the opposite direction, their headlights reveal the minute cracks in the windshield.  Every squashed mosquito is lit up.  We see all the defects, all the gunk.  When we drive away from the light, we don’t see anything.

If we’re on a course away from Christ, we will remain oblivious to our sin.  If we’re on a course toward him, he will reveal to us our defects in order to make us strong.

And he does so, not as my brother does with his dog Molly.  Jesus doesn’t wag his finger at us and shout “Bad dog!”  Rather, he says to us, “You are good.  The defect of sin is now who you truly are.”

It’s not that Jesus reveals to us how bad we are.  Rather, he reveals to us how good we are.  
So, of course, when we realize how good we are, we’re all the more ashamed of our sins.

That’s the difference between unhealthy and healthy shame.  Unhealthy shame is when we say to ourselves, “Bad dog!  You’re worthless.”  Healthy shame says, “I’m better than this.  I want Christ to make a change in me.”

And Christ is always there to move us to conversion.  To create in us, a heart more like his.

In the Gospel, Jesus gives the Apostles and us an instruction in conversion of heart.  As we heard, the Apostles were arguing about which one of them was the greatest.  And Christ tells them, “If you want to be first, you must be last; and you must be a servant to all.” (c.f. Mk 9:35)

So he takes a child and says, “If you receive a child like this, you receive me and the One who sent me.” (c.f. Mk 9:37)  Why a child?  Well, you have to understand how the world regarded children 2,000 years ago.  It was very different from how we view children today.
Today, we regard children as precious.  Back then, children were considered, in a sense, to be on the lowest rung of society.  Children held no social status of any value.  They weren’t people of prestige or influence.  They didn’t bring anything to the table as it were.  Rather, quite the contrary, they were the neediest people in society.

Christ is saying, “If you wish to be great, you must embrace the neediest in society.”
Remember how he presents this child to the Apostles?  Jesus wraps his arms around the child.  And in doing so, Jesus is saying, “This child and I are one in the same.  The neediest in society and I are one in the same.”  “And if you want me to be concerned about you, you must me concerned about me in the neediest in society.”

This week, and next, our parish celebrates our patron St. Vincent de Paul, the patron Saint of the poor and needy.  Today, we had a bit of a party with VincentFest.  After this Mass, our teens will have a bonfire outside the Life House.  Next week, we’ll celebrate the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul at all our weekend Masses.  And we’ll be taking up a second collection for our St. Vincent de Paul society which works so generously to attend to the needs of the poor.  I want to thank you in advance for your generosity to the St. Vincent de Paul society, both financially and prayerfully.  Thank you for embracing the neediest in our community.  In doing so, you are embracing Christ, who has first embraced you and reveals to you how good you are.

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