Sunday, December 09, 2007

Are You Holier Than a 2nd Grader?

(2nd Sunday of Advent-Year A; This homily was given 8 & 9 December, 2007, at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I. Read Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12)

Are you smarter than a 5th Grader? I am sure you have heard of, or maybe even seen, the TV show on Fox that is centered around that question. It is a quiz show hosted by TV personality and comedian Jeff Foxworthy that invites adults to answer questions that never go beyond the 5th Grade level.

Sure, it sounds easy enough. But if you have seen that show then you know eventually they come to a question that you do not know, or one that you used to know and have since forgotten…and you get it wrong! Suddenly you find yourself having to admit—like most of the contestants on that show—that sometimes you, too, are not smarter than a 5th Grader!

Today, on this Second Sunday of Advent, I would like to ask a similar question: Are you holier than—or at least as holy as—a 2nd Grader? Right now our 2nd Graders at the school, as well as those in the CCD program on Sunday morning, are preparing to make their First Penance. They are also looking ahead to their First Communion this coming May. It is a very exciting year for them, so please keep them in you prayers.

I was over to the school last week, and I met with the 2nd Grade class and their teacher to answer any questions they may have about their first confession. I read to them (and to our CCD students this morning) that popular children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit.

You may have read that story as a child. A young boy loves his stuffed bunny rabbit so much, and so unconditionally, that the bunny becomes real. Even after the bunny has become ragged and worn, and his stuffing is starting to come out, the boy still loves him more than ever.

I told them that the way God loves us is very much the same. God loves us so much that we become real. As St. Augustine says, God does not simply bring us into existence; He loves us into existence. It is that same unconditional love that stays with us all throughout our lives. Even when we feel ragged and worn, like the bunny in the story, God still loves us and cares for us. He will never abandon us. That knowledge is at the heart of reconciliation, and the forgiveness we experience in that sacrament.

And do you know what? Those 2nd Graders were wide open to that story of God’s unconditional love! They were excited about their First Penance coming up, and filled with joy about making their First Communion in just a few short months. They rejoiced in what God was doing in their lives.

I began to ask myself:

“Am I that open to the way God is working in my life? Do I rejoice that much in the sacraments and in the unconditional love of God for me? In short: Am I as holy as a 2nd Grader!”

It’s not an option, you know. We do not have a choice when it comes to the way we see God and the world around us. Jesus Christ Himself says, in the Gospel of St. Matthew:

Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
—Matthew 18:3

Unless you have a child-like trust and faith, and unless you can see the kingdom of God as a child would, than you will not see it at all!

Another way of putting it would be: Unless you are as holy as a 2nd Grader, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven!

This call to holiness is central to our gospel this Second Sunday of Advent. We hear the voice of St. John the Baptist as he prepares the way for Christ with that familiar cry: Repent!

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
—Matthew 3:2

Obviously, the command “repent” has a strong connection to our moral life. We are called to turn away from sin and turn back wholeheartedly to God. But the word itself in Greek—metanoiete—entails much more than just morality. Repentance or Metanoia means literally to change one’s mind, one’s entire attitude. It means to change the way we look at the world, the way we see God and those around us.

Now that Christ and His kingdom have come into this world, nothing is the same. We are challenged to see everything in the light of Jesus Christ, to behold all things with new eyes and a new vision.

That vision is one we find in our First Reading this weekend, from the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is writing about the Messianic times; he describes for us what the world will look like when the Messiah comes. It is a remarkable and radical worldview:

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lay down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
—Isaiah 11:6

That peace, harmony and tranquility is something that will only be complete when Christ comes back again and His kingdom and will are done “here on earth as it is in heaven.” Yet we as Christians are called to embrace that vision right here, right now.

For those who have the courage to live the Gospel, the courage to forgive, and to be forgiven, then we will experience already here on this earth that inner peace, harmony and tranquility. We will begin to see the world around us in a whole new light, and grow in our child-like trust and faith in God…which brings me back to our 2nd Graders.

At the end of this week I received a stack of thank you cards from them. I would like to share with you two of them.

The first one said:

“Thank you, Father, for reading us the book. I loved it so much and I can’t wait until we receive First Penance.”

Now, I can tell you honestly that I have never had an adult say something like that to me! No one has ever said, “Father, I just can’t wait until Saturday rolls around so that I can finally go to confession again.” But imagine what our parish would look like, and what our world would look like, if more people did.

The final card said:

“Dear Father, we are looking forward to our First Communion. Oh! And that story you read was great. I think we all learned from that wonderful book.”

Do we have that same attitude in our lives, that same excitement when it comes to hearing the story of God’s unconditional love for us, over and over again? Do we ever tire of hearing that story in the gospel week after week? Are we continuing to be transformed by it?

Are we looking forward to the next time we will receive the Sacrament of Penance or the Sacrament of the Eucharist?

This Second Sunday of Advent, we can all ask ourselves:

“Are we as holy as a 2nd Grader?”