Hi everyone, this is my homily for DECEMBER 16, 2018 – the THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT. The readings for today’s Mass can be found HERE 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
Also you can get the audios of the homilies from iTunes as a Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fr-jim-cherns-homilies/id1440618142?mt=2
One reason that I’ve been a major league baseball fan – more than any other sport – is that there are specific aspects of the game which seem very admirable and in fact, relatable to certain aspects of human life. To be a successful player demands a level of sacrifice and commitment since the season lasts almost 8 months between Spring Training through the World Series, that is, if your team is lucky to make it (don’t bring up the Yankees losing to the Red Sox in the Division series 2 months ago… I’m still not over that). But because it’s such a daily grind, and so many aspects of the game are affected simply by human beings being human – that if you follow a team throughout a whole season there’s a lot that goes on which speaks to more than just playing a game.
For example –when a player gets into a slump, like, when a batter just cannot hit. There’s probably nothing more frustrating for a MLB player than when they get into these funks. It’s certainly not pleasant as a fan of the game. (I fear I’ve scandalized some of the men who live in the apartments above mine in the Newman Center who’ve heard some of my ‘observations’ during some games). ESPN magazine, a few years ago did a story on this – titled ‘A batting slump can be a scary thing’. In it, the writer talked about how going through these things can be a traumatic thing for players. Brady Anderson when he was in a horrible slump while playing for the Baltimore Orioles, was a passenger in a car driven by teammate Rene Gonzales. Gonzales was going far too fast on a dangerous road late at night in the rain, when Anderson said to Gonzales, “Gonz, if I wasn’t hitting .178, I’d ask you to slow down.” Texas Rangers outfielder George Wright was so exasperated as his batting average hit a career low that he said he wanted to change his name and move out of the country. Recently retired Mets third baseman David Wright said, “When you’re in a slump, you go to bed at night and you lie there, and your mind is racing, and you think about everything imaginable: your bat model, your bat size, your pitch selection, how you are wearing your pants.”
The author observed that “A bad slump will keep you up at night, it will make you quit smoking, and if you don’t smoke, it will make you start. There are all kinds of stories about what players will do to try to find their way out of a slump: Countless times that a hitter will stand in front of a mirror at 3 a.m. swinging an imaginary bat, wondering what he is doing wrong, and wondering when he will get another hit, if ever.”
Does that sound familiar? Most likely, we’re not worried about ever getting a hit again. But I think that every one of us – has fears – worries – anxieties and doubts that keep us up at night. We can relate to the dark cloud which doesn’t seem to be passing anytime soon that makes us feel like we’re in a slump.
That’s not something new or unique to us here and now. Listening to that Gospel reading, you get that sense that many people were experiencing those types of feelings as well. We just heard about Jesus’ cousin, John, the Baptist again. In last Sunday’s Gospel reading, we heard that ‘the word of God came to’ John. After that word of God had come to John, John was preaching that word and was drawing crowds. Why? What was it that was catching their attention? They were in a slump and were looking for help. Three times the crowds ask John: What should we do? Because it seemed everywhere they looked, there were inequities, there were people taking advantage of others; there were people being dishonest — sometimes being done by friends, neighbors of theirs – or people that the crowds knew. But in their innermost hearts, these crowds knew something was wrong, something was off as they watched these injustices being committed. The feeling grew as they experienced the ruthlessness and cruelty human beings are capable of – and sadly, sometimes even getting away with.
Those things probably sound familiar too.
In the midst of that reality though, the Church on this third Sunday of Advent tells us to ‘Rejoice’. That’s an over-riding theme of the prayers, of the scriptures today… the Prophet Zephaniah in that first reading said: “Fear not… be not discouraged” Why? “The Lord, your God is in your midst” – Paul says in his letter to the Philippians “Rejoice in the Lord always… The Lord is near…”
This is all well and good to hear but if I’m in a slump, and for legitimate reasons, the crowd’s question becomes all the more urgent. What should we do? What should we do when we don’t see His presence?… What should we do we who are filled with fear and are discouraged?
Coming back to baseball, one thing that baseball players will often tell you – when they’re in the throes of a slump, the best way forward is going back to basics. A reporter interviewing a coach talked about how often he would take a batter’s tee – you know that thing that holds the ball right in front of you that you often see little kids use in their version of baseball (tee ball) – and make his players practice with that for a while. Undoubtedly, it’s slightly humiliating at first to see the tee come out. Here’s a guy who’s reached one of the pinnacles of athletic ability using the same thing 4 – and 5-year-olds are who are just barely able to hold a bat in their hands. But sometimes the player needs to go back to basics, needs to just get that experience of connecting and launching a ball 400 feet – they need to be reminded of the essentials in order to get their swing back.
And that’s what John the Baptist advises the crowds today. Each of his responses seem somewhat common sense and practical, don’t’ they? What should we do? If you have two cloaks – share with one who has none; if you’re a tax collector – just because you see your fellow tax collectors taking more than what is owed – don’t do that; if you’re a soldier and in a position of power and authority – be sensible, be honest, be just with the people you’re dealing with.
What should we do? Get back to basics… Don’t doubt the good, the right, the just decisions which we indeed know how to make – despite how rare they might seem to be. Despite the bad examples – both in and out of the Church – that might have undermined our confidence in making them.
John the Baptist calls us back to those basics that we know deep in our heart – calling us to step out of ourselves and embrace the hopes and the needs of others. His seemingly common sense, practical, human advice, constitute the foundational steps for us to become witnesses of God’s love in the world by extending love to others… reflections of the light of Christ in our forgiveness, mercy, and compassion. That is what leads us to the rejoicing – as we prepare for, celebrate, and discover anew the Messiah, Jesus Christ coming into our lives.
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