Sunday, August 28, 2005

Cartoon Spirituality

(22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year A; This homily was given 28 August, 2005, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.)

There is a great piece of spiritual advice offered by St. Paul in this morning’s Second Reading, and it almost reads like a “Dear Abbey” column. To the Church of Rome he writes:

Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
—Romans 12:2

It’s kind of catchy: Do not conform, but be transformed. It was advice that would have also proved quite helpful to the Romans, living in a world so completely filled with various opinions and ideas. Almost 2,000 years later, it’s still some very good advice for all of us: Do not conform, but be transformed.

There was an article in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago, and it had a very interesting quote. I’ll read the quote, and you can try to guess who it is referring to:

“He’s the eternal optimist. He always perseveres, he’s always got a great attitude, he always sees the positive in people.”

Who is that quote referring to? SpongeBob Squarepants. That’s right, old SpongeBob, the eternal optimist. How about that: the most positive quote in the whole magazine and he’s not even a real person! I’ll give you one final quote and you can try to guess who said it:

“If you can’t say something positive about someone,
then you shouldn’t say anything at all.”

Who said that? Mother Theresa? Pope John Paul II? No, it was a little cartoon rabbit named Thumper from the movie Bambi! Now, I don’t want to come across negative. There are many times in my life that I wish I acted more like SpongeBob, or followed the advice of Thumper.

Yet when it comes to the big decisions and the complexities of life, we need more than a cartoon spirituality. We need to do more than simply conform to the latest ideas or opinions. We need to be transformed, as St. Paul would say. Ultimately, we need God.

You may have seen the latest issue of Newsweek, with the word “Spirituality” in capital letters on the cover. The feature article describes a world of spiritually “hungry people, looking for a relationship with God.” I think that’s very accurate. Perhaps more than ever, people are searching.

If you read that article you know that they go on to explain a very American way of going about that search for God. They talked about all the various religions of our time, and put them all on a level playing field. One Boston College scholar summed up the essence of the article. He said: “Rather than being about a god who commands you, it’s about finding a religion that empowers you.”

It sounds like really good advice, and I think many people would agree with it. Unfortunately, that’s the very thing St. Paul warned the Romans about, and the same advice he offers to each of us: Do not conform, but be transformed.

As Christians, we respect the beliefs of all people of good will who are searching for God. We have a Pope who visits synagogues and embraces the Muslim world with a sincere and heartfelt desire for peace.

The Church has always recognized that there are facets of the truth in many of the religions of the world. The Second Vatican Council acknowledged that:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will [guided by their conscience], those too may achieve eternal salvation.
—Lumen Gentium, # 16

But we do not believe that there are many different ways to God. In fact, we believe that there is only one way to heaven, and one plan for us to get there. In the Gospel this morning Jesus tells the disciples “that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer . . . and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). That’s God’s plan for our salvation. And that is the very thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion in the world.

It has been said that the difference between Christianity and all other religions is a matter of direction. All religions, in some way, are searching for a way to reach up to God. Christianity is the only religion where God, who is above all things, reaches down to us. It’s the only religion where God becomes man, and dwells among us, as St. John puts it in his Gospel.

We truly believe that God, who stands outside of time and is beyond all things, entered time and space and became a man so that He could suffer and die on the cross to save us from our sins. That is the essence of our faith, that God comes to us to redeem us, comes to transform us, and to bring us to Himself to live with Him forever in heaven. But where can we find that in our daily lives? Where can we experience God, who we hunger and thirst for, as that Newsweek article so accurately pointed out?

As it turns out, God has provided a way in which we who hunger and thirst for Him can be satisfied. Before He left this world, He entrusted the gift of the Eucharist to the Church, this most Blessed Sacrament of His body and blood by which he feeds us and sustains us. We come here tired, hungry and thirsting for God, and the God who came to us as a man 2000 years ago, now comes to us anew in this Sacrament of the altar.

May we be renewed in this celebration of the Eucharist, and strengthened to live our faith more completely in this life; not being conformed, but transformed each day by the renewing of our minds, that we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2).