Hi everyone, this is my homily for SEPTEMBER 23, 2018 – the 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/092318.cfm Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim Chern
In recent years, there’s been a noticeable decline in viewers for pretty much all awards shows (most recently, with the Emmy Awards having one of their worst showings). There’s probably a lot of reasons people aren’t tuning in as much nowadays: in years past when there were fewer viewing options, it was more of an event – now, if you’re interested in seeing a specific performance from that Awards Show or something, you don’t have to sit through numerous categories and commercials you’re not interested in, you can just view it online whenever you want. Some might not be turning in simply because their favorite shows, movies, actors and actresses were snubbed. And sadly, in an already politicized, divided country (or even world, for that matter) many have stopped watching these shows because they are turned off by some of the monologues and speeches offered by presenters and winners at these events.
Which is why it was interesting to me that one actor’s recent award speech went viral for none of the usual reasons we’re used to these days. Chris Pratt, who I loved when he was on Parks and Recreation (still laugh when I think about the song he wrote to the dead horse in one of those episodes, “Bye Bye Little Sebastian”) was honored with the 2018 Generation Award at the MTV Awards show held back in June. It is kind of like their “Lifetime Achievement Award” which they describe as “given to an artist who has shown us a variety of impressive roles, a personal and professional flair and of course, an awesome level of talent.” Being MTV you probably wouldn’t be shocked that it’s got a lot of names of some pretty popular actors and actresses that appeal to younger generations like Tom Cruise, Reese Witherspoon, Jim Carrey. I would imagine Will Ferrell will be on that list at some point.
In a day and age though, where award shows are in decline, and that people opt to be outrageous in order to be noticed, Chris Pratt went a different way. He started simply and humbly expressing his thanks and appreciation to the presenters; and his love for his friends, colleagues and family. Then he very tongue in cheek explained that being a Generation Award recipient, meant he had a responsibility as the elder to speak to the next generation. So he came up with “Chris Pratt’s 9 simple rules for life.” The list went all over the place from things that were silly and funny like bathroom etiquette, to how to give a dog medication; to some simply good habits for life like the one where he bluntly said: “Don’t be a turd. If you are strong, be a protector. If you are smart, be a humble influencer.” As he explained: “Strength and intelligence can be weapons, so do not wield them against the weak. That makes you a bully. Be bigger than that.”
But the ones that stood out to me, peppered throughout his list were these amazingly beautiful and devout insights like:
– You have a soul, be careful with it.
– God is real. God loves you. God wants the best for you. Believe that. I do.
– Learn to pray. It’s easy and it’s good for your soul
to the final “religious” one which was also his last rule:
– Nobody is perfect. People will tell you that you are perfect just the way that you are, you are not! You are imperfect. You always will be, but there is a powerful force that designed you that way, and if you are willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift. Like the freedom that we enjoy in this country, that grace was paid for with somebody else’s blood. [he is talking about Jesus Christ here ] Do not forget that. Don’t take that for granted. (You can watch it here:)
I’m sure I’m not doing it justice – because just seeing and hearing him speaking about these things that obviously meant a great deal to him that he not only wanted to share with the next generation, but most especially his 5 year old son, was moving. Because it was humble. It was sincere. It was inspiring. Sadly, we seem to see less and less inspiring things lately. Chris Pratt took this moment where he was in the spotlight before millions who watched it live to countless more online to remind us of what was most important: That God is real… God Loves You… God wants the best for you. That we matter to Him, so much so that Jesus laid down His life for us.
Those are truths that sadly are so often unknown by too many… ignored by many more… and forgotten by those who should be spending their lives proclaiming that. The human desires that make us want to be noticed… want our lives to mean something… want there to be a reason we’re here – when left unchecked, they don’t leave room or space for us to acknowledge our dependence on God, our need for Him.
Which we see happens to the disciples in today’s Gospel. Here Jesus lays out what to expect as they head to Jerusalem. Once again he tells them, once I’m there, they’re going to turn on me, they’re going to persecute and torture me, and then they’re going to kill me. After hearing that, they’re reaction, after a moment of fear and confusion is arguing who’s the greatest of the 12… who’s more important… who’s Jesus’ favorite…(maybe they’re remembering last week’s scene where it seemed like Peter was the greatest of the 12 until he argued with Jesus about this whole suffering and dying thing and then Jesus called him Satan – so maybe that’s why they were silent, they didn’t want to ruin their chances at being the new favorite).
I’m curious though what they think that was going to mean for them. I mean, He just told them some pretty horrific stuff was going to happen to Him – what would possess you to want to be the next in line? Are they that delusional? – Are their ambitions, their desire for fame, for prestige, for honor, that severe that they think they’ll have a better handle on things, then Jesus? That even if that scary stuff happens to Jesus as He’s predicting, they’ll right things after that?
Jealousy can do that to people: Make them delusional. Make their ambitions spiral out of control. Make them think they’re better than God himself. That’s what St. James is warning in that second reading – where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice…. where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?”
We can probably think of multiple examples of that in our world, in our nation, in our own families and even our own lives. We can see that in our own Church with the clergy sex abuse scandal and the cover ups. In that, some of those who were supposed to dedicate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel, not just with their words but their entire lives – allowed all kinds of ambition, jealousy, disordered desires, and abuses to occur. They let their human desires not only go unchecked, but they denied and undermined the Cross of Jesus Christ. This past Tuesday night, we had a town-hall discussion on all of this at our Newman Center at Montclair State, and just speaking about it with our college students was heart breaking. Having to share some of the gross failures we’ve learned about, fearing the ones we’ve yet to hear about… recognizing the cruel evil that’s been perpetrated on innocent people – the victims who suffered them and then suffered even more as they were silenced, not believed, ignored or treated as scapegoats – as well as the good people of God who didn’t know or couldn’t have believed these things actually happened in their Church. There’s been a lot of sadness – a lot of brokenness to process. It can leave us feeling utterly defeated.
But there are signs of hope. For one – you’re all here today… Thank you and thank God for that. For me that these students came to that discussion; and even after that, they came to our mini-retreat; – they are still signing up for outreaches to the homeless and mission trips… To hearing and reading testimonies from people who are using this scandal not as a reason for them to give up their faith, but seeing it as a call to pursue holiness even more courageously then they did before is awe inspiring… All of these examples probably won’t get the same type of notority or attention that a celebrity like Christ Pratt did. But we need all these examples and witnesses – which recognize that awards tarnish and lists of honorees end up simply online on Wikipedia. True “Greatness” is found in the lives that are transformed as we follow Jesus’ mandate of being a true servant to all we encounter.