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Let me start with a straightforward question:
“What does it mean to be a faithful Christian?”
If you were pressed to answer, what would you say?
Maybe someone would say, you receive your sacraments.
Or, you go to Mass faithfully and go to confession.
Or, you give to charity and the church, you live a good life.
Or some combination of the above.
These aren’t bad answers, but they are incomplete,
especially if people end up talking about following rules
or checking off items on a spiritual to-do list.
Here’s the answer I’m going to propose to you:
To be a Christian is to be another Christ;
And I want to put a big, bold line under the word “be” in that sentence.
This isn’t just a matter of things we DO.
Rather, it’s all about who and what you and I are:
It is what you and I become,
which happens with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Today is the Solemnity of the Epiphany.
Epiphany represents the first
revealing and sending-out of the Good News of a Savior,
of God coming into the world to set a longed-for change in motion.
Or to put it another way:
If on Christmas we were given the present,
On Epiphany, we open it up and shout out to others around us,
“Hey, look at the great gift God sent me! And you! And you!”
On Christmas, I called to mind the startling words of St. Athanasius:
“God became man so that men might become God.”
Epiphany – with the arrival of foreigners to venerate the child King –
is when this astounding news, seemingly too good to be true –
began to be revealed to the world.
Now, someone might say those words sound a little dodgy.
After all, isn’t that what the devil wanted? To be God?
Here’s the difference.
Satan wanted to kick God out of heaven.
What God wants is to have us join him and be united to him.
So when God offers you heaven, it’s not a sin to accept!
So back to my opening question:
What does it mean to be a faithful Christian?
It’s about who we become. Little Christs.
People filled with the light of Christ, changed by it,
made pure, made new, made heavenly.
A few days ago I watched a great Christmas movie –
You’ve probably seen it, even in the last week –
called “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
At one point, the hero, George is trying woo his wife-to-be, Mary.
He romantically offers to lasso the moon for her.
And then he says, “you could swallow it, and it'd all dissolve, see?
And moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes,
and the ends of your hair.”
Let me ask you:
Am I the only one who, hearing that, thinks of the Holy Eucharist?
God gives us, not the moon, but the light of heaven.
He literally gives himself to us, holding nothing back.
What happens when we receive God fully, not fighting him?
If there is a challenge or an “action item” here, how about this?
In this new year of our Lord 2019, pray and think about
how you will let that heavenly light penetrate you, change you –
and to shine out of you.
Let’s you and me think about our life as a Christian,
not in terms of what you have to DO – although that is important –
but rather, in terms of WHO YOU ARE, and who you WILL BE.
All of us go to confession. I go, you go. We all need it.
But sin isn’t just about things we do; it’s about what we will become.
If I lie, once, twice, five times, over and over…
At some point, it’s what I am. I am a liar.
If I get into the habit of sneaking glances at dark things on my phone;
I’m bored with my job, my family, I’m at odds with my spouse,
and I’m seeking pleasure and happiness in images and videos?
At some point, it is a part of my life.
And if you think your wife, your husband, your kids don’t know?
They may not know the whole story,
but they know something is getting part ownership of you.
Is that who and what you want to be?
Last week I gave a homily on a tough subject.
There are grave trials ahead for us as Christians.
Being a Catholic – not just checking the boxes but living the Faith –
has always been a challenge, and so it will be in the time ahead.
If you and I make it only about checking boxes and following rules,
There will come a time when you suddenly realize,
“I don’t know why we do these things.”
And people don’t usually do the tough things without a good reason.
The “why” comes from knowing who you want to be:
who and what you are willing to make sacrifices to become.
Jesus came into the world to show you, me, everyone
what it means to be not twisted and broken, but fully alive in God.
Truly free, not enslaved by sin and habit.
Full of grace; full of life. Full of heaven. Full of God.
“God became man so that men and women might become God.”
So, the choices we face? That’s how we sort it out:
These things don’t get me there. They take me nowhere!
So as much as I love them, I want something else more.
If I want to become that person, I need Mass every Sunday.
I need time talking and listening to Jesus every single day.
Who do you want to be? What will you do to get there?