by Deacon Kenneth Barrett, J.D.
A homily delivered on January 22, 2012, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
In our first reading, the prophet, Jonah, gets pretty bent out of shape when God calls him to preach repentance to the people of that pagan city, Nineveh. He didn’t want anything to do with Nineveh, a city known for its immorality, and Jonah tried his best to get out of this assignment. In the end though, he did what God asked him to do. To his surprise, people actually listened to him, repented, changed their ways and were spared God’s wrath. Jonah learned, as I hope we will that God is merciful – even to sinners.
In our second reading, Paul tells the Corinthians that time is short and the world will soon come to an end. He warns them that there’s no need to get too attached to the things of this world because all that stuff is going to come to a screeching halt soon. Paul goes on to tell them that what they really need to do is clean up their acts, get ready for judgment day, rethink their priorities and consider what’s really important in the time they have left on good ole planet Earth. And for us my friends, I think there’s a similar message; that while we still live in this world and have all of the blessings and pleasures it has to offer we, too, have to continually remind ourselves that what’s really important is for each of us to use what we’ve been given in this life to prepare for the next life.
And our Gospel today: from the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus preached repentance, and many who heard Him did believe and repent. The fishermen believed, and dropped everything – their families, their jobs, the Super Bowl, everything – to follow Jesus because they realized that their new calling was to catch peoples’ souls instead of fish. And unlike fish that die quickly when they’re taken out of the water, the souls that Jesus and the Apostles would catch would actually begin to live new and different lives if they could be convinced to accept the good news of Jesus and repent. My friends, Jesus, Paul and Jonah are all teaching us today about penance, tearing ourselves away from being so caught up with the things of this world so that we can focus on preparing ourselves for perpetual life of grace with God when we leave this world.
You see folks, we can really come up with some really weird stuff when we lose our focus and forget about what Jesus, Paul and Jonah are trying to teach us today. Let me offer an example. Some of us actually have the audacity to think that we need to clone ourselves. I said to one of the other deacons the other day that I think we ourselves are probably the best argument imaginable against cloning. I mean if we were actually going to do something as dumb as cloning ourselves; wouldn’t we want to fix all of the stuff that’s wrong first? But who’s to decide what’s right and wrong with any of us, or what needs to be fixed and how it should be done? More important I think is the larger question; shouldn’t we have more respect for the gift of life we’ve been given than to even consider ourselves qualified to make these kinds of decisions?
My friends, it occurs to me that maybe we sometimes suffer from a serious lack of respect for the life we’re blessed with. We talk a lot about respect for the unborn and that’s important to talk about, but I’d like to take another approach today and talk about respect for life from a slightly different perspective.
You see I think respect for life also means caring for those among us who are physically and mentally challenged. I think it means caring for the elderly and dying rather than pushing them off in a corner somewhere and ignoring the fact that, while they’re old and sick now, these are the same people who gave us life and nurtured us through childhood. I think it means doing something about those who run the serious risk of freezing to death because they have to live in cardboard boxes on the streets during frigid winter days and nights. I think it means doing more than talking about helping our brothers and sisters who don’t have enough to eat and who sometimes end up doing all kinds of things just to avoid starving in this land of plenty. I think it means doing something other than pointing the finger and saying shame on those who’ve managed to contract HIV and AIDS or saying that they’re simply paying for the bad choices they made. I think it means doing something about those who’ve done nothing more than get themselves born on the wrong side of the poverty line or into a different race or religious faith that’s different from ours or that we don’t fully understand. That’s life for many of our brothers and sisters my friends, and but for the grace of God, any one of us could find ourselves in their shoes. I’m not sure that we always have proper respect for life from that perspective and that’s the button I’m trying to push today.
Folks, there are husbands and wives whose spouses have been bedridden for years and who’ve cared for them every moment of the day and night even when it was questionable whether that sick person could understand any of what was going on. That’s respect for life! There are people who are dedicated to helping others get their lives back on track with little concern for their own safety, their reputations, social status or their financial security. That’s respect for life! There are those who pay their own expenses to spend vacation time or unpaid leave going to poor areas of the world to provide medical attention or to build housing and community centers. That’s respect for life! There are those who volunteer to work in hospices caring for others suffering from communicable diseases without the least bit of fear or concern about how the patients contracted those diseases or whether they, too, will be victims. That’s respect for life my friends!
I think it’s important to constantly and continually remind ourselves that Jesus came to all of us, lived among us and personally taught us to love God and to love our brothers and sisters. His love was so great that he died for us. Yet, we sometimes lose sight of that and close our hearts and our minds to one another and, consequently, to Him as well. We become so engrossed in defining, developing and following our individual agendas that we forget to focus on our collective agenda as members of the body of Christ. Why does it happen? Well, I think it’s because Jesus doesn’t yet have control over our minds and hearts. We don’t trust Him enough yet to give ourselves over to Him. My friends, the biggest danger to the Body of Christ isn’t some outside, destructive force; it’s our lack of respect for what we’ve been given and our failure to focus on what Jesus, Paul and Jonah are telling us today about penance, detachment from the things of this world and the need to use this life to prepare for the next.
Let me also give you my annual reminder that last week, we celebrated the anniversary of the birth of a great American, not a great African American, but a great American. Dr. King didn’t share our Catholic faith, but he shared our belief in a God who, despite our differences, works through us, and with us and in us. I hope last Monday wasn’t just a day off from work or school, but rather a celebration of the fact that, because of the efforts that Dr. King helped to lead, you and I are less likely to allow our differences to divide us nearly as much as we once did. That, too, my friends, is respect for life!
Have a good week and God bless you!