21st Sunday of Ordinary Time–Are You Someone’s Angel?

This was my homily for Sunday, August 22, 2010.  Sorry for the late posting.

You and I are bombarded every day with information.  We have hundreds of stations on cable and satellite TV.  Having to fill all that TV time, networks dredge up every possible bit of “news” whether it’s really worthy of or attention or not.  Networks like CNN and Fox not only offer 24 hours of sound and pictures, they even scroll continuous news as text across the bottom of the screen.  During the day, they add stock prices to the screen.  It’s almost impossible to keep up.

Movie theaters demand quantity rather than quality to keep their ten-screen megaplexes full while HBO and Showtime wait to get their piece of the pie from the same movies when they’ve run their course on the big screens, often in a matter of weeks.  Blockbuster and Netflix also have to satisfy their customers.  Some of us remember when a new movie would come out at one of the big movie houses downtown or on Grand Avenue.  After several weeks they would move to the second-run theaters for a few more weeks.  Then after six months or even a year, they would show up on network TV.

There were a lot fewer new movies then, but the quality was much better.

Then there’s the Internet.  As I was getting this homily ready Friday (last) night, the tornado siren went off.  With a couple of clicks I was able to look at the radar on my computer screen and read the tornado warning.  Jan was at a movie so I sent her a text message.  That’s modern technology.

There’s Facebook and MySpace, Twitter and YouTube so we can keep in constant contact with our friends  and total strangers who we call friends because we’re connected over the web.  I hear daily from people in England, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and all over the United States, some of whom I’ve actually met and some I’ve never met and probably never will.  But I can tell you what’s going on with them and they know what’s going on with me.

There are blogs and podcasts and online forums on just about any subject you can think of and a lot that you would never think of.  It’s all out there.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love using the web to stay in contact with these people.  My granddaughter in Huntsville, AL is just two weeks old but Jan and I have been able to see her on live video three times already.  We’ll get to meet her in person in a couple of weeks, but the video chat is much better than waiting for still pictures to come in the mail.  In fact, we already have more than a hundred pictures of her that her mom and dad have sent us online.

Plus theres regular TV and the radio, newspapers and magazines, and good old fashioned US Mail to keep us informed.  Sometimes, it’s just too much!  We try so hard to stay on top of all this information that sometimes we forget the things that are really important, like family and friends, spiritual reading, prayer, and old-fashioned peace and quiet.

One thing I’ve noticed about all this stuff, is that family values and spiritual values are hardly ever mentioned.  Christianity is a taboo subject unless someone wants to make fun of it.  It’s not politically correct to talk about Jesus, or the Ten Commandments, unless the story is about some atheist suing some town council to get a Nativity scene removed from some public place.  It’s OK for the Muslims to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York, but a Christian church in the same neighborhood, that was there before 911 can’t get permission to rebuild.

One thing I’ve noticed in this flood of words and pictures is that no one ever mentions hell.  We’re being sold on the idea that the place just doesn’t exist anymore.  Live, drink, and be merry.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.  There’s no need to worry about the consequences of our actions.  Personal responsibility is a thing of the past.

On the other hand, there is a heaven.  But we don’t have to live a good life, or even die to get there.  Drive the right car, drink the right brand of liquor, wear the right blue jeans, and take the right little pill and heaven is yours, right here on earth.

You and I know, deep in our hearts that none of this is true.  But when you’re bombarded with these messages hundreds of times a day, it’s hard to resist these promises.  None of us expects to die anytime soon so why not enjoy this life here and now and worry about the next life later?  A nice seven day cruise, maybe to the Caribbean, lots of Captain Morgan rum, a new wardrobe, all the food, fun, and hot bodies we can handle.  What could be wrong with that?  Or, like the commercial says, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”  It’s the new “adult summer camp”, isn’t it.

Imagine how hard it must be for our brothers and sisters who don’t have a solid faith in Jesus.  After all, He was just a guy who lived half way around the world 2,000 years ago.  Why should I believe Him when all my friends are living la vida loca.

Here’s what you and I know for sure.  Jesus didn’t just speak the truth.  He is the truth.  As the Son of God, it’s impossible for Him to lie.  In today’s Gospel, here’s what He said.  “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”  He goes on, “Depart from me, all you evildoers!  And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.”

I think that’s pretty clear, don’t you?  I love what Bishop Hermann wrote in this weeks Saint Louis Review.  Speaking of the “narrow gate” he said, “There are times when my ego, like a hot-air balloon, is too inflated to get through the narrow gate!  In that condition I will bump against the narrow gate again, and again, but I will not get through unless some of the hot air is removed from my ego.  In other words, it has to be deflated, and I assure you that Christ will do everything He can to see that this deflation takes place!”

That’s a great analogy.  What makes it ever better is that you will never meet a more humble man that Robert Hermann.  If he needs Christ’s help to get through the narrow gate, where does that leave you and me?

I had some experience with Jesus’ ego-deflating help just this week.  On Tuesday morning I took a train to Jefferson City and rode my bike back to Saint Charles on the Katy Trail.  Face it, I’m not the finest physical specimen you’ve ever met.  I’m about 20 pounds overweight and I’m just weeks away from getting my first Social Security check.  But with God’s help, I made the trip back in three days.  It’s 122.4 miles from the current state capitol to the first state capitol, but who’s counting?

Anyway, I was almost back, about ten miles from the finish line and I was feeling pretty good about myself.  I may not look like like much, but I could never done such a thing ten years ago, probably never in my life.  Thanks be to God, I was about to reach my goal.  I stopped in one of the few shady spots in the last twenty miles or so to rest for a minute and I met two young guys going the other way on the trail.  They were in the process of riding from Cleveland to California.  They’re riding 100 miles per day for almost two months!  So much for my inflated ego.

I firmly believe that God sends us angels to help us when we need it.  Those guys must have been my angels.  Like the Bishop said, “I assure you that Christ will do everything He can to see that this deflation (of our egos) takes place.”

I have to tell you about another person who may be a personal angel for me.  I ride two or three times a week on Grant’s Trail.  Every single time I ride, I see this guy.  I don’t ride every day, but every time I do ride I see him, so he must ride every day.  He obviously has lost the use of his legs.  He has a recumbent bike that he pedals with his arms.

I’ve seen him get ready to ride.  He gets out of his car into a wheel chair.  He wheels himself to the back of his car where he gets the bike off the rack, chains his wheel chair to the back of his car, then heads off down the trail.  The effort it takes him just to get ready to ride would be too much for me.  But there he is, every day, doing his thing.

That’s discipline.  Seeing his determination makes whatever I accomplish with two arms and two legs pale by comparison.  Talk about discipline.

It’s like the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says in our second reading, “for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.”  He tells us that God treats us as sons.  “For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for job, but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

Jesus tells us we have to be strong to get into heaven.  To be strong you must have discipline.  Jesus is the source of our discipline and our strength.  In spite of what some people think, in spite of what society would have us believe, there’s no free lunch.  We have to work hard, endure the trials, whether they’re from outside, or self-inflicted like my bike trip.

Some people are blessed with great natural gifts.  Some of us, not so much.  But with proper discipline, we’ll all be good stewards of the gifts that God has given us, and we’ll welcome the discipline He gives us, knowing that it will make us stronger; make us more able to enter through that narrow gate.

Bishop Hermann ends his column in the Review by saying, “As for those in our midst who do not seem to be headed for the kingdom, the first thing we should do is to pray and fast for them, and the last thing we should do is to judge them.  When we fast from judging them and we offer up this fast, we are interceding for them.  When we invite the Lord to show us in our lives the same faults we see in their lives, and then ask the Lord to forgive us those faults, we intercede for them.  When we pray for them, we are filled with hope.  Hope is what they and we both need?”

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