Sunday, January 19, 2014

Know the Words

Not only am I feeling better...but I've got a homily to post this week!

Parishioners kept asking after Mass: Who were you listening to?  Those who know me well could have surely guessed: the Indigo Girls...

   Second Sunday in Ordinary Time    

A dear friend once described my musical taste
as “girls with guitars singing sad songs.”
She was pretty accurate!
Being in a bit of a post-Christmas winter funk the other day,
that was just the sort of music I wanted to hear
and I found myself reaching for a few CDs
that I listened to constantly in my late teens and early twenties.
Driving to and from a meeting in Potsdam,
I was singing in the car at the top of my lungs.
It had been quite a while since I’d listened to those albums,
and yet I remembered every note, every word.
After that had gone on for a while,
a couple of things caught my attention.
The first was the amazing ability of our minds
to hold on to so much basically useless information!
But I was also surprised as I listened again to the lyrics:
I hate to admit it,
but some of these songs which were once so dear and meaningful to me
don’t actually make very much sense.
They sound good when you listen, and it’s fun to sing along,
but I wouldn’t be able to tell you in the least what they’re really all about.

Which got me to thinking:
How often do we do that with other words?

I know it’s polite to ask someone, “How are you?”
Do I really care about their answer?

At the end of every phone call to my mom,
I stop and say, “I love you.”
Can I keep that from becoming just a catchphrase, a nice habit?

And what about the words of our prayer?
What about the words we repeat Sunday after Sunday here at Mass?
Are we conscious of their significance?
Do we mean what we say?

For example…
Behold the Lamb of God!
Behold him who takes away the sins of the world!
We’re reminded this morning
that these are the words of John the Baptist—
words lifted right from the pages of Scripture.
Why should we repeat them just before Holy Communion?
What did they mean when they were first spoken?
And what ought they mean to you and me today?

St. John Chrysostom was a bishop
who lived on the other side of the world
more than 1600 years ago…
…but he once gave a homily on the Gospel of John
that could have easily been given in these weeks
leading up to the Super Bowl and the Olympics,
the Oscars and the Grammys.
He noted that when 
a distinguished athlete comes to town,
folks race to the arena to see him compete:
tens of thousands of people
keenly focused on his strength and skill,
careful not to miss a single move.
He noted that the same thing happens
for a famous musician, speaker, or actor.
People drop whatever they’re doing—
even necessary and pressing business—
to give her their complete and undivided attention.

If we’re eager to attend these events,
to watch and listen with such earnest attention,
then what zeal, what earnestness ought we display
when it is no athlete, actor, or musician
who comes forward in the contest,
“but a man speaking from heaven,
with a voice more clear than thunder?”
“More wonderful still, this sound, great as it is,” he continues,
“is neither harsh nor unpleasant,
but rather sweeter and more delightful than all musical harmony,
and possessing even more skill to soothe. 
Besides all this, this voice is most holy and awesome. 
It’s so full of mysteries, and brings such great benefits,
that if we were to listen and obey carefully,
we’d dwell on earth as if it were heaven.”

St. John Chrysostom was talking about
the voice of St. John the Apostle in his gospel.
But what he says applies to the very voice of God
speaking through the whole of Scripture,
speaking through his Church.

Do we recognize who’s really speaking to us?
Are we paying close attention?
Are we committing this message to memory?
Are we learning these words “by heart”?

We Catholics tend to have an inferiority complex
when it comes to knowing our faith.
I’m not exactly sure why that is.
It’s certainly not because God has made us any less intelligent
than Protestants, Muslims, or Jews!
We make a point to learn the stats on our favorite teams,
the lyrics of our favorite songs, the lines from our favorite movies,
so we certainly have the ability.
The question is, I guess: do we have the desire?
We won’t learn more about our faith by accident.
Why not make it a priority?

As Catholics, we must be continuous learners.
Our education doesn’t end at our Confirmation!
While we’ll never know it all—
(no one ever gets to the “bottom” of God!),
we can always keep discovering more.
Besides, the point isn’t to make sense of the faith;
the point is to allow the faith to make sense of us:
to give meaning and purpose to all the twists and turns of life.

We live in an age when people
are asking a lot of questions about Catholicism.
We owe them rock-solid answers—
and not just to be scratching our heads 
right along with them.
Of course, the learning of which I speak
isn’t so much about retaining information.
Christianity, after all, isn’t a list
of facts and figures, of customs and commandments;
Christianity is a person: Christianity is Christ.
We need to get to know our faith
because we need to get to know Jesus;
and we need to get to know Jesus
because the world needs us—
like it did John the Baptist—
to keep pointing him out: Behold the Lamb of God!
Behold the Son who’s come to do the Father’s will!
Behold a man upon whom the Spirit rests!
Behold the only one who makes it all make sense—
who puts the pieces back together again!
Behold the Savior who takes away our sins
and calls us to be saints!

Imagine what would happen if each one of us
took just a fraction of the time and attention
we devote to music and sports and movies,
and instead gave it to growing in our faith.
What grace, what power would be unleashed here in Malone!
When it comes to our Catholic faith,
let’s be sure to give it the attention it deserves.
Let’s learn to mean what we say and say what we mean.
Then we’ll dwell on earth as if it were heaven.

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