Homily for February 9, 2020
Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Imagine if you were to go home tonight and you go to switch on your favorite lamp, but nothing happens. So you replace the light bulb, but it’s still dead. You check your fuse box, but none of the fuses are blown. Do you just figure the lamp is dead and throw it in the garbage? No, of course not – there’s one more critical thing to check: is it plugged in?
A lamp cannot give light unless electricity is pouring through it. A Christian cannot be light unless Christ is pouring through them.
It is interesting to note that this metaphor is the only one that Jesus applies both to Himself and to us. He calls Himself “the Light of the World” and He calls us the “light of the world”. Why is that? Because we are not lights on our own – we are only lights when we are intimately united to Christ the Light.
But most of us are trying to do this “life” thing on our own. Oh, we’ll turn to God when things are really bad, maybe, but most of the time we just try to figure it out for ourselves. I remember sitting in on a board meeting at a local Catholic school that was struggling with enrollment. The other board members were successful entrepreneurs, businessmen, advertising executives, and the like. The conversation was on marketing strategies, communication strategies, business strategies – nothing bad per se, but something was missing from this whole conversation. A friend who is a serious disciple spoke up at the meeting and said, “Shouldn’t we bring this problem to God?” There was visible discomfort among these “Catholic” leaders – all of whom were trying to solve this problem with their own strategies. Finally the chairman said, “Well, yes, we should definitely pray for the school. Now, moving on to the next agenda item…”
It was a light bulb trying to give forth light without being plugged into the Source. And that is all-too-often how we run our lives. And our faith. I have known a fellow for years who, every time I urge him to return to the Sacraments, just tells me, “Ah, I’m a good enough person.” Okay, perhaps you haven’t murdered anyone – but is your heart transformed and alive in Christ? Yes, we’ll give God a couple Hail Mary’s before we go to bed, but God is after your heart – He is trying to live in you, through you, winning your heart and leading you on a journey of sanctification, healing, and joy.
We are plugged into the Source when we share every last bit of our life with the Lord. There’s a great story in the first book of Samuel about King David, who was a man with a heart yielded to the Lord. One day, David asks the Lord, “Do you want me to go up to a town in Judah?” And the Lord responds, “Yes, go up.” “To which town?” David asks. “To Hebron,” the Lord replied. I love this – inviting God into even the simple decisions, seeing God in even the simplest blessings.
What does that look like in daily life? Let me give three examples.
First, noticing that everything good is a sign of the love of our Father. Let’s say we are awestruck with a beautiful sunset or a warm spring breeze. We could say, “Oh, that’s nice” or we could say, “Lord, thank you for this small gift of Your love.” At our youth group last Friday, I was leading a small group and I asked the kids, “Have you ever experienced the presence of God?” And all of them – every single one – said, “No, I haven’t.” But I said, “Yes, you have – but you just haven’t noticed it was Him!” He has been wooing your heart through gifts – the unexpected kindness of a friend, the beauty of nature or art, the material blessings we have – we just need to connect the dots!
Second, asking God in every decision – and then listening to His answer. Protestant author John Eldridge tells the story of camping with his family in Yellowstone National Park. They were all packing up to go home, ready to hit the road after a long week camping, but before they left, they asked God, “What are Your plans for today?” (How many of us ask God what HE has planned for the day, instead of rushing through our to-do list?) They both felt like God was asking them to have breakfast there at the lodge, instead of on the road. They thought it odd, but they did so and had a great and lengthy breakfast in the lodge. An hour later, as they started to drive away, they spotted a family of grizzly bears by the side of the road. They stopped the car and got out (carefully, of course!) and were amazed at being able to see them – they rarely show up in Yellowstone and they had so desperately wanted to see one, but hadn’t gotten the chance. But because they asked God what to do – and then followed His counsel – they were blessed with an unexpected gift.
How often do we do that? If we have a problem at work, do we ever stop and pray, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” If we are having difficulties in our marriage or with our kids, do we pray, “Lord, how do You want me to handle this?” How often do we have a big decision to make, and we ask God for His guidance? Or do we try to do things on our own, just kinda figure life out? It’s like a light bulb trying to shine without being plugged into the source!
Finally, let your longings lead you to God. This past week I came across this profound quote from St. Augustine: “The whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing. What you long for, as yet you do not see; but longing makes in you room that shall be filled, when that which you are to see shall come.”
“When you would fill a purse, knowing how large a present it is to hold, you stretch wide its cloth or leather: knowing how much you are to put in it, and seeing that the purse is small, you extend it to make more room. So by withholding the vision God extends the longing, through longing he makes the soul extend, by extending it he makes room in it.”
So often we feel an ache, a hurt, a longing – and we quickly fill it. We’re bored – so we fill it with distractions. We’re lonely – so we seek out internet porn. We have painful memories – so we drown them in beer. We feel anxious and depressed – so we turn out attentions to Youtube or the refrigerator or a thousand things so we don’t feel the longings. But this boredom, loneliness, restlessness, ache is meant to drive us to God. We shouldn’t run from it – those are His knocks, as He waits to be invited into your soul.
So here’s the point of all this: we cannot possess the Light unless we are connected to the Light through an intimate union with God. That’s more than just “saying prayers” – it is sharing our life with Him. He has been knocking at the door of your heart through the longings and desires He has placed within us. He has been trying to win your heart through gifts. He wants to be your Counselor in every decision, in every thought.
We are only the “light of the world” if we are intimately united to Christ, the Light of the World. We can’t do it on our own.