(My homily is a little different today. Comments are always welcome, especially for this one.)
My homily today is going to be kind of heavy.
And a little longer. But I’ve heard you’re used to that?
It’s about sin and redemption; time and eternity.
I know what some of you are thinking: oh no!
Now we won’t make it to Bob Evans ahead of the Protestants!
Why would I want to tear off this big bite?
Well, because that’s what Saint Paul is talking about
in the second reading.
We heard Saint Paul contrast
the “sufferings of this present time”
with “the glory to be revealed”;
and he also talks about “all creation” suffering,
and “groaning” to be set free.
One of the things Paul is telling us is that sin isn’t just personal.
Sin affects all creation. The entire universe!
How this happened we do not know.
Genesis describes God creating Adam and Eve in Paradise,
where there is no time; no decay; no weariness; no suffering.
When Adam and Eve fell from grace, and they leave,
they enter this world of time,
which brings with it both growth and decay,
suffering and triumph, life and death.
We can challenge the story of Genesis all we want;
but what Saint Paul says about Creation is demonstrably true:
it’s embodied in the laws of physics.
This glorious creation, on its own, is running down toward death!
So what is sin? Sin is rebellion: our will against God’s.
And once a gap was created between humanity and God --
a darkness of distrust -- that brings corruption.
This is what we call Original Sin,
that created a rupture in the harmony between man and God.
Do you want an illustration of this? Think of Christmas.
You have been working hard preparing for Saint Nicholas’ visit,
and at last the family dives into
the pile of presents under the tree.
There’s a moment of pure joy: the tree, the lights,
your children’s faces, it’s so wonderful, isn’t it?
How long does it last? Before…
“Gimme, gimme!” “That’s mine! Take your hands off!”
And then, the unkindest words of all:
“Is that all there is?”
This sin problem of ours,
which takes pleasure and turns it to lust, or greed or gluttony,
not only corrupts us, but also our relationships.
And that leads to injustice and cruelty on a social level.
In our own history,
somehow a lot of individual people with bigoted views
turned into Jim Crow and segregation.
If you’re like me, you read to keep up with
what’s going on the world.
Whether it’s world news, or science, or medicine,
lots of folks are always trying
to identify the causes for our problems.
Well, Saint Paul just told us: the problem is sin.
Do you want to change the world? Start by changing you.
St. Francis, and St. Ignatius of Loyola, among others, got this:
they realized the power
of a small number of people who lived truly changed lives.
So our program for changing the world
begins right here in our tiny corner of it.
And to the extent each of us seeks our own true conversion:
through self knowledge, humility,
and coming to Jesus frequently in confession and the Eucharist?
That’s a powerful force!
But we don’t stop with personal conversion.
When sin infects our society with injustice, we also change laws.
That’s what we did with segregation,
and it’s what we are still seeking to do in other ways,
particularly defending human life in the womb.
Let me expand a little more on conversion.
And I want to use the example
of a movie from a few years ago called Groundhog Day.
And I use this because it connects to the other idea
in what we heard from Saint Paul, which is eternity.
In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray
is an cynical, self-absorbed TV weatherman
who is somehow trapped living Groundhog Day,
over, and over and over.
At first, the Bill Murray character
lives this endless day as a kind of hell.
He’s trapped and he can’t escape.
Then it becomes a kind of purgatory.
It begins to change him. As he changes,
the day goes from being a nightmare to something truly human;
he becomes someone he never had been before.
Someone who gives, and helps, and changes others.
You see? What redeems that endless day isn’t a different day;
but a different Bill Murray! Conversion.
When we talk about eternity,
sooner or later we talk about heaven or hell.
So here’s a way to understand heaven and hell.
If you and I live this life unhappy with God,
unhappy with anyone else, unable to find any joy…
then one day we will wake up, and that will be our eternity: hell.
And that will happen if we try to live a life where we are king.
Remember what the sin of Adam and Eve was:
“you shall be as god.”
They wanted a world that revolves around them.
Isn’t that what we all crave? Isn’t that what greed and lust are?
And when anything threatens our king-of-the-world routine,
that’s when wrath comes out.
Either kids hitting each other with Christmas toys,
or nations with bombs.
On the other hand, if you and I find joy in this world --
above all, in people…
And that joy comes, doesn’t it, not really from taking…but giving!
Look at how all known forms of life operate:
we are designed to give life.
It’s woven into everything about us.
To motivate us,
it’s coupled with really strong desires and pleasures --
which, of course, we manage to mess up!
Even so, there is no joy so great as the joy of giving life!
Yes, I mean procreation, but not just that.
Long after a father and mother
have raised their children, what then?
They help others do the same.
Or they find other ways to share life with friends and neighbors, or even strangers.
Isn’t that what we do with all the countless charities we have?
And those of us who never have our own children --
such as priests -- isn’t that what we do?
We give life in other ways.
This fundamental nature of each of us --
dying to self, giving of self, for others --
is what gives the most powerful satisfaction of all.
The Gospel tells about the “seed”;
And we know from another passage
that our Lord calls himself the grain of wheat
that dies, to sprout up to new life.
What did he say?
“I came that they might have life -- and have it to the full.”
This is what the Cross and Resurrection are;
what the Holy Mass is;
what we seek in the sacraments, right?
Isn’t it interesting that it’s also built into our very DNA?
And if, each day, we live that kind of life --
in the words attributed to Saint Francis,
“in giving that we receive; and in dying,
that we’re born to eternal life” --
then one day, we will wake up, not in time,
but to that endless day:
an eternity of life and joy: and that is heaven!