For my friends at St. Patrick’s and other travelers here is what I meant to say in my homily this past weekend which was the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Since I stopped using notes while delivering the homily each one is a bit different and it even surprises me what actually comes out at times.
It has bee a great journey on the side of the Mount of the Beatitudes- and we are not quite finished yet- and I will see you again for “Homily Week” starting March 21st leading up to the weekend of March 26/27th.
I recently had the wonderful opportunity to take a road trip with my 30 year old son to beautiful South Carolina. It is about a 20 hour car ride which we spread over a couple of days. With our trustworthy and soft spoken GPS in hand, we set out with minimal planning to see what the next seven days would bring our way.
One of the good things about traveling with your grown up son, besides the fact that he is carefree and takes things in stride- i.e. my lack of pre-planning, is that he is someone you can share the driving with which meant I had hours of free time to catch up on my podcasts.
One of my favorites is a show called This American Life, which is broadcast out of Chicago. They pick a topic each week and then have between 1-4 segments exploring the subject matter in unique and creative ways.
(Warning- This podcast handles a wide range of subjects and is not a “religious” show so be prepared if you tune in. In other words, you will find some stuff you agree with and lots you will disagree with. It is PBS not EWTN!)
I scanned the list of available shows and landed on their Christmas special, which was titled: Comedians of Christmas Comedy Special. It sounded like it might be funny so put in my ear buds clicked play and settled back for an hour of good cheer about Christmas.
One segment that impacted me was called “Little Altar Boy”. It is the story of comedian Mike Birbiglia and his journey with his mother. The tale starts with Mike as a young Catholic altar boy and ends with him as a grown man sitting at the bedside of his sick mother.
He tells us of his mother’s operation and the chronic pain she had to endure. Mike’s Mom starts taking medication for the pain and anxiety. It did not take long for a troubling daily routine to develop. Each day Mike’s Mom would pull him aside and tell him emphatically:
“Michael I am dying and I’m going to hell.”
I was struck by this story. It reminded me of my own experience with my mother. Mom was raised Catholic, went to church every week, prayed constantly. She was a good person. Just like Mike the comedian I had my Mom pegged as a sure first round pick for heaven.
But somewhere something must have gone wrong in her understanding of the faith, her view of God and Jesus.
For most of her life, my mother was convinced she was a sinful person who was going to go to hell. She lived a life of guilt and shame- she worried constantly about it and was unhappy and depressed much of the time.
It got me to thinking- WTH- What the Hell?
From my reading of the scriptures, it is hard for me to see how a faithful disciple of Jesus could be at all worried about going to Hell.
This is not to say that sin does not exist, for it surly does, it is not to argue that hell is simply a metaphor, something made up, for it is a reality in the teachings of Jesus and the Church.
The point I want to explore today is- Why are so many faith-filled Christians, perhaps Catholics, in particular, pre-occupied with going to hell?
Look at today’s gospel passage. As Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount he says:
“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life…”
Several weeks ago when we started to look at this teaching on the Mount of the Beatitudes, we heard Jesus’s plan for us to:
If we put these two together we might conclude that Jesus is telling us that his motto for life is:
“Don’t Worry- Be Happy”
I know what some of you must be thinking- That is just too simple for any serious Christian to consider is the point of this great teaching.
I accept that but one of main themes of the Sermon of the Mount, in my opinion, is to show us how we can live lives that are full of happiness and free of worry.
I believe that the primary message of Jesus is one hope and not one based on fear. Our God did not create us and place us within inches of hell. One slip up and damnation waits for all eternity.
Therefore the question one important question must be-How then do we attain happiness and live worry free? The answers can almost certainly be found in defining chapters of Matthew’s gospel we have been exploring these past few weeks of Ordinary Time.
- Today Jesus tells us we cannot serve two masters- if acquiring wealth for the sake of wealth is our central passion, we may be comfortable in the material sense but happiness and freedom from guilt will likely escape us;
- In his first teaching on happiness, the Beatitudes, Jesus uncovers for us the need to be poor in spirit- to be humble but at the same time strong;
- We are to be the Salt + Light – we are to be his disciples living lives of service and prayer;
- Jesus affirms that He did not come to change the law. He does, however, reorient our focus away from being concerned about what we “shalt not” do and points us towards a new understanding of the commandments when He says we are to Love our neighbor and our enemies.
I encourage you to take some time with this complete text of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew. There is nothing in here to fear.
In this core wisdom teaching we will see that a central theme of Jesus’ ministry and mission, it seems to me, was to enlighten us so that we will know and believe that we are much loved by our God.
I am convinced that one of Jesus’ greatest hopes for each of us is that when the time comes for us to leave this world that we have the confidence and trust to look at whoever is with us at that moment and have the confidence to say:
“My dear friend, I am dying, and I am going to heaven.”