Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tippecanoe and Jesus too!!

HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 6, 2016:

As we are now in full swing of the presidential primary, as we listen to all of the rhetoric of the candidates, it is interesting to look at what their campaign slogans are. If you’re curious, there were no presidential campaign slogans until the election of 1840 and William Henry Harrison. The first slogan ever, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too!” Very inspiring stuff! They’ve gotten a bit better since then. Here are a sampling of just a few this year’s slogans. Some are very basic and descriptive like, “Hillary for America” or perhaps the shortest slogan ever, “Jeb!” Some are a little bit scary like Rand Paul’s, “Defeat the Washington Machine” or Bernie Sander’s “A revolution is coming!” Some I personally ind funny, like Chris Christies, “Telling it like it is!” But, then there are the ones that hope to be inspirational and aspirational like Ben Carson’s, “Heal. Inspire. Revive,” or Carly Fiorina’s, “New Possibilities,” or the famous, or infamous, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, which by the way was also Ronald Reagan’s slogan in 1980, so no points for originality there.

Of course, perhaps the greatest frustration with slogans is that they hardly ever prove to be true. The most often promise something that they fail to deliver. Just look at these inspirational words and compare them to the negative and hateful rhetoric that we have heard on the campaign trail thus far in the 2016 race.

These remind me of a scene from the great Steven Speilberg movie, Amistad which tells the story of a group of slaves who were able to win their freedom with the help of John Quincy Adams in the Supreme Court long before slavery was abolished in this country. There is a poignant scene when the main character is given a copy of the Bible by an Abolitionist. However, he speaks no English and had never heard of Jesus Christ and so he doesn’t know what the book is. But, it has pictures in it; and the illustrations fascinated him. At one point, two of the slaves are alone in their jail cell. One thinks that the other carries the book simply to impress people and he says to the one looking at the Bible, “No one is watching you here, you can put the book down.” But the other responds, “No, I think I have figured out the story.” Pointing to the pictures he says, “See, things were very bad for these people, it was a dark time, and they were oppressed. Worse even than us.” He flips a page to the scene at the manger in Bethlehem, “But, see here, this boy was born and that changed everything.” Referring to the drawing which depicts Christ with a halo he said, “You can see that he was very important, even the sun followed him where ever he went.”

This changes everything. It sounds almost like a political slogan, but the key difference is that, unlike politicians, this one is true. When we choose to let Jesus rule our hearts and our lives, it really does change everything.

Our Scriptures today place before us three people - Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Each of them have an experience of God that changes everything. Isaiah sees the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne. God’s presence shakes the door of his house. His reaction, “Woe is me! My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” Paul recounts his own unworthiness at having been called to be an apostle, despite his own persecution of the church. Paul’s reaction? “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been ineffective.” And then Peter, at Jesus’ command catches a miraculous amount of fish. His reaction? “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

You see, this changes everything. You couldn’t ask for three people more different than Isaiah, Paul and Peter, and yet despite their very different lives, they each have a similarly life-changing encounter with God. In so many ways, that’s the story of the Bible itself over and over, the story of how God calls people to Himself and calls them to be more like His Son in the world. We see over and over again that that being in the presence of God changes everything; it changes the one who encounters God – it changes us. And that is change we can believe in!

As we come to Mass today, and every time we come, we have the opportunity to truly encounter God in so many ways. He is truly present in one another – “where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” – so, when you look at the person on your right and left, in front and in back, God is truly here as we gather in His name. God is truly present to us today in His Word which was proclaimed in the readings which always end with the moving proclamation, “The Word of the Lord.” We mean it! Did you hear God speak to you today? God will be truly present in bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Jesus before our very eyes in the Eucharist today. And we will take that presence into our own bodies in the hopes that, as St. Augustine famously said, we will “become what we receive.” God hopes to change us by this encounter.

Hopefully, we encounter Him in many other places in our lives too – in our loving relationships, in our encounters with the poor and the marginalized, the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the needy. We encounter God in the beauty of nature, and words and music and art. He is all around us waiting to engage us in the hopes that we will be daily changed into more loving, kind, compassionate, caring, merciful, forgiving and gentle people.

Our readings and our celebration today are asking each of us – how do I react to God’s presence? Are we blind to God, not even aware that He is there? Do we shy away from God because we know our sinfulness? Yet it is precisely because we are sinners that God comes to us; to transform us by His Grace. Just think of the powerful prayer we say just before receiving Communion – “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” – the power of that prayer is in our trust that through God’s word we are healed and saved. Even in the moments when we feel the greatest distance from God; He is always present waiting to transform us in His love and Grace.

Let us pray to have eyes and hearts open to see our God who is present all around us, and to respond with humility. As Jesus appears on our altar, let us ask Him to enter into our hearts and transform us to become what we receive – that same presence of God, the Body of Christ, in the world.

This changes everything. “Only say the word, and we shall be healed.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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