Hi everyone – here’s my homily for the FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT – DECEMBER 21, 2014. The readings for today can be found at: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122114.cfm. Thanks as always for reading this blog, sharing it on facebook, twitter and elsewhere on the internet, and all your feedback. God Bless – Fr. Jim
As Christmas preparations begin to hit a fever pitch, could I ask you to consider a gift to our Newman Center in our Christmas Appeal? We conduct these fundraising appeals only twice a year to help our mission of bringing Christ to our students and campus – and your generosity is greatly appreciated. Read more at www.MSUNEWMAN.com. Many thanks for your support and consideration.
So how many of you have been following the story of Sony pictures getting “hacked”? To be honest, when it first surfaced a few weeks ago, I really didn’t care too much, thinking some computer-techno-wizards were doing some mischief on them for some stupid reason. Now if I understand it correctly, authorities believe North Korea is behind the attack on this film company simply because they are furious about the movie “The Interview” in which Seth Rogan and James Franco play two bafoons hired by the CIA to assassinate the president of North Korea. Things had escalated so bad from this attack (with the promise of worse things to come, including threats of terrorist attacks on movie theatres showing the film) that Sony pictures Wednesday Night canceled the release of the film.
There’s plenty for people to argue about with all of this: whether the premise of the film crossed a line or not; the caving to terroristic threats and what that means to our freedoms; the inappropriateness of stolen emails and personal, private correspondence between movie executives that were made public (and widely reported on virtually every form of media)… this story has produced all kinds of embarrassment, argument… it has so many sub-stories it’s hard to know what angle to look at. At first I thought it was kind of odd in comparison that news of Muslim extremists killing over 130 children in a school in Pakistan this week kind of moved in and out of our collective consciousness as quickly as it did. Perhaps that story is just so horrific and such a shockingly terrible atrocity that we can’t (and don’t want to) even think about. Yet, at the same time, there’s something about this Sony hacking story that resonates with all of us that there’s been a greater demand for more and more coverage of it (which is sadly how most news organizations determine what to cover and what not to).
What is it? What makes the story resonate so much? I think its that with the release of all those emails, there’s been an incredible violation of trust that has occurred. On one level, the people who wrote those emails are hurt and angry that some of their friends and colleagues in the media took advantage of this illegal attack on their company and made private, personal communications public. Even worse is the content of those emails. Often they revealed what movie executives really think of their actors and actresses in harsh, unfiltered, at times even racist tones. From calling one actress a spoiled brat, to pointing out one comedian’s long trail of failed movies – to actors ripping on one another and comparing how their movie did better than someone else’s. Even saying that some of their own films were bad.
The whole thing is really ugly. And the reason I didn’t share names of specific examples is because it is so ugly. How does Sony Pictures and these hollywood actors and actresses move forward? As an industry that celebrates how “connected” everyone is to each other -from agents, to actors, to executives – I’m not sure if a lot of the people implicated in these emails (and those feasting on their being shared) realize how much damage has been done on this personal level. It’s one thing when people might speculate that “my boss isn’t telling me the truth” – or “I don’t think they like me…” it’s quite another to read the exchanges confirming that. All the public relations spin and image consultants being hired will not be able to heal some of the painful things that have been revealed.
One of the few celebrities who’s gone on the record to respond to all of this is comedian Kevin Hart – who I think makes a solid point and reveals the anger that must be shared by a lot of his fellow actors underneath the surface – “Knowing your self-worth is extremely important people… I worked extremely hard to get where I am today… I will never allow myself to be taken advantage of … which is why I’m able to brush ignorance off my shoulder and continue to move forward. I refuse to be broken.”
Knowing your self-worth… Trusting those around you. That’s essential not just in Hollywood. Everyone of us desires those things, searches for those things as well. Whether that’s jobs or relationships. It’s why you sometimes end up looking for another job – while at other times you might be shedding tears at having to leave one for another. It’s why some relationships work – and others don’t. [It’s why you as alumni over the last years have remained bonded together despite where you’ve traveled, where you’re careers have taken you. Relationships were formed here at Newman Catholic. You know you were – check that – you know that you are loved for who you are and you are able to unite as a community… centered on the truest, purest of loves – the love of God for us, made real in Jesus Christ – who is the center of Newman Catholic]
Which is why this last Sunday of Advent, as we shift our focus to recall the miraculous, amazing things bringing about Jesus’ coming into humanity, tonight we hear in the Gospel about Mary, the Blessed Mother. And there’s so many beautiful things to reflect on, but with all that negative gossip from the Sony news scandal, something hit me. What a contrast we see in the Gospel to what we so often experience in the world around us. God reveals to this young virgin girl – her incredible worth, and His trust in her. The Lord looks at her; sees her, loves her; trusts her, engages her in His plan to save all humanity. Through the visit of an angel, she is told explicitly: “Hail, full of Grace! The Lord is with you!… You have found favor with God.”
In this passage from St. Luke as he shares the story of Jesus “incarnation” – just think about how God enters into humanity in the womb of Mary. That in itself is an overwhelming thing to consider, that the almighty, eternal, Holy One would step into human history in the meekest, simplest, quietest way possible. And all of this hinged on Mary’s response. Would she be open to imaging “What great things does God want to conceive in me?”
Every Christmas season I’m struck about the reality that it had to have been Mary who shared this story. St. Luke wasn’t a reporter witnessing this event… It was only she and the Angel who were there. And if you think about it, how humble she was in her recollection? She doesn’t take any glory for herself. She doesn’t recount all the sacrifice she had to have made in saying Yes to God – that Joseph and her had to abandon their plans, their dreams. She doesn’t dwell on how hard this was, the pain she endured as the Mother of God (imagine her having to witness the brutality of her only son’s Passion and Crucifixion… ) None of that is there. Mary’s remembrance of her being invited into the history of the salvation of the world by Jesus Christ finds her simply blown away that God would conceive His son in her. She is able to say yes knowing what God thinks of her – knowing her self-worth, trusting in Him.
This whole experience confirms everything she had learned about God throughout her life. Jesus’ entrance into humanity through her took all that she in her heart had believed to this very point to a whole new, deeper, intimate understanding. All of the negative, challenging aspects from her story that she must have experienced seem to fade from her mind. She’s left awestruck remembering the words of the angel – words that rang true in her own life: that nothing will be impossible for God.
For you and I, this Gospel isn’t a history lesson for us to recall “at this time of year” The Gospel is the living word of God. In a world filled with broken trust, and people’s self-worth being undermined, individuals who are used and discarded, our God invites you and I – to be a part of His plan. To experience how miraculous things unfold when we are open to imaging, open to asking ourselves “What great things does God want to conceive in me?” Because it’s easy to dismiss all of this, isn’t it? Right now the devil’s whispering “Well that’s Mary, she’s the Mother of God” or looking at others and just presuming that they must be more holy, or they must be more talented, or God must think of them so much more than me as we allow ourselves to apply the brokenness of this world and view God through that lense telling ourselves “God’s only calling holy people to do holy things.” All of those things are lies, tremendous lies that limit God’s power. That limit us.
The Good News this Gospel is proclaiming to you and I is that God wants to include us in His wondrous plan. That’s one reason why we hear at Mass several times “The Lord be with you” That’s not just a nice Church greeting. It’s a reminder. It’s a call – That God is with you. He is calling you to be a part of his great, creative, mysterious, plan.
A few days from now – we will gather to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ. People around the world will recall that historic event that has forever changed and transformed human history. But the beautiful message from the Gospel is that God is inviting us to live that mystery ourselves, to once again bring Christ to birth here and now. Knowing that our loving Father has by his redemptive work given us an eternal self worth, knowing how deeply he trusts us, do we dare to ask “What great things does God want to conceive in me?”