Sunday, December 25, 2005

'The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe': An Opportunity For A Metanoia Experience

(Christmas 2005: This homily was given on December 25, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 1: 1-14.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christmas 2005]

I love Jesus Christ. I’m not ashamed to say that. I love Jesus Christ. He is my Lord, my Savior, my Redeemer.

And I want everyone else to love him.

That is the deepest desire of my heart; it’s why I became a priest.

I want people to know, love and serve the Lord, because that’s why they were created (whether they know it or not!).

They were made to glorify God here on this earth, so that they will someday live with him forever in his eternal and glorious kingdom.

This is the message that I and many others all over the world preach every single Sunday: the message of repentance, the message of hope, the message of salvation in and through Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

And believe it or not, there are many who listen. Praise God! They take the words we preach to heart, fall in love with the Lord, and make concrete, visible changes in their lives.

They come to recognize the presence of Christ in the Scriptures and in the Holy Eucharist, and so they make the commitment to be faithful to Mass. In fact, it soon gets to the point where they wouldn’t even think of missing on either a Sunday or a holy day.

They also start to go to Confession on a regular basis. That’s because they’ve met Jesus in a personal way. Before they met the Lord, they almost never went to Confession, because they normally compared themselves to other people, and they thought they looked pretty good. (“I’m not as bad as she is!” “I’m a lot better than that guy!”) But now they compare themselves to Jesus, and they realize how far they have to go to achieve perfection.

They even begin to see other people in a different light—as their brothers and sisters in the Lord. Consequently, their charity grows, because they’re no longer focused only on themselves and their own wants and desires.

There’s a technical name for this type of spiritual transformation. It’s called “metanoia”. The word literally means “to turn around”: to stop walking away from God, and to begin walking toward him.

Thankfully, metanoia-type conversions happen all over the world every day. They occur in the lives of ordinary men and women when they hear the word of God, and take it to heart.

But, sadly, it doesn’t happen for everyone. As we all know, there are many who hear God’s word proclaimed to them at Christmas, or at Easter, or at some other time of the year—and who think it’s nice (so much so, that they may even compliment the homilist at the end of the Liturgy). But when all is said and done, their lives are no different. Everything else—and anything else—remains more important than Jesus, the sacraments, and living a life of charity and holiness.

Obviously, for these men and women, something more is required. They need to hear (as we all do) the Gospel message preached to them from the pulpit, but they also need to encounter Jesus and his truth in other settings and through other channels, if they’re going to open their hearts up to the Lord. Mel Gibson understood this, which is why he made the film, “The Passion of the Christ.” He knew that some people would be converted through that movie who probably never would have been converted in a specifically religious setting. That’s because there are certain men and women who rarely go to church, but who go to the movies all the time!

So here’s my idea: In order to reach out to these lost souls who need a “metanoia-type conversion,” I’m going to write a book—a children’s book. Isn’t that wonderful? Every child loves a good story, right?

But it won’t be exclusively for children; even adults will love it!

Now here’s the plot I’m thinking of . . . (you can let me know what you think of it after Mass):

I’ll begin by having a child, or 2 children—or maybe even 3 or 4 children—pass from this world into an imaginary, magical one. I’m not sure how I’ll do that; but I can figure out those details later. Maybe I’ll have them walk through a closet of some kind.

Anyway, in this new world they’ll meet all kinds of wild and exotic creatures. There will be centaurs, and dragons, and dwarfs, and giants, and fauns—and even a beaver or two, since beavers are cute and rather cuddly and friendly.

And they’ll all live in a land where it’s been winter for a hundred years, but never Christmas. That, of course, will be a crucial detail in the story. The hundred year winter will represent the world before Jesus, when all the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve lived with a barrier between themselves and God the Father, a barrier that they could not tear down themselves, even with millions and millions and millions of prayers and good deeds.

You see, from the day Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord and ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—from that moment until Christmas, Satan had a claim on all of humanity. He was in control, which is why it’s constantly winter in my imaginary world at the start of the story. Satan rules; and he’s created an existence without joy or love or warmth.

Now I must admit, I struggled for some time as to how to portray the devil in my story. I was thinking about putting him in red tights and giving him a big pitchfork, but then I decided that would be a little too obvious. Besides, he’s much more subtle than that. In fact, St. Paul says that Satan can sometimes disguise himself as an angel of light, pretending to be our friend and enticing us with attractive things—like Turkish Delight candies—which satisfy us for a time, but ultimately leave us empty, and can easily lead to despair.

You’ll probably never guess how I decided to cast the devil, so I’ll tell you. After thinking about it for a long time, I decided to portray him as a witch, a “White Witch.” This witch will be strange; she’ll be both attractive and repulsive at the very same time (because that’s the way Satan is).

Now the turning point in my story will come when one of the children—let’s pick a name out of the air and call him Edmund—gives in to the temptation of the witch and betrays the other 3. She gives him some Turkish Delight to draw him in, then she promises that she will make him a king, and give him the chance to rule over the others. He likes that idea, and buys into her lie, because he’s filled with pride (as we can all be at times).

Can Edmund be saved? Will this magical land ever see spring and summer again?

The other 3 children can’t do it, because they’re weak and sinful: they’re sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. The savior in the story has to be strong and powerful and without any sin or evil within him. Like Jesus.

So who could it be? I’ve got it! How about a lion? Do you think that will work? Yes, that’s it! I’ll have a magical lion come on the scene—the lion who created this fanciful world. And that will be the perfect animal to use, because in the Old Testament one of the titles for the Messiah is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah.”

When this magnificent lion comes it will be Christmas at last; and then everything will begin to thaw as his presence is felt all over the land. The long winter will finally be over. Then he’ll confront the white witch and do her in and finally rescue Edmund.

But not before she demands his blood; not before she claims the right to kill him! And she’ll be correct, you know. As St. Paul tells us in Scripture, “the wages of sin is death.” Edmund sinned by betraying the other 3, and now his blood belongs to the witch.

But in the greatest act of love imaginable, the lion will actually offer his life for Edmund’s! Even though in his great power he will have the ability to destroy them all, this extraordinary lion will allow the witch and her minions to taunt him and spit at him and beat him and finally kill him.

And just like on Good Friday, it will seem as if the devil has won.

But no! Because this lion is without sin and has offered himself in sacrifice for an unworthy sinner, he will rise from the dead and roar again! He’ll destroy the witch, and bring back to life by his breath—his spirit—all those good fauns and animals that the witch had killed. And then he’ll make repentant Edmund and the other 3 children kings and queens of this magical land. And all 4 will reign with the lion (as we reign with Christ through Baptism and by remaining in the state of grace throughout our lives here on this earth).

So what do you think? Do you like my story?

Some of you are acting like you’ve heard it before.

Well I guess you have, haven’t you?

A former atheist, who was a professor at Oxford and Cambridge for many years, C.S. Lewis, wrote it after his conversion to Christianity. It’s called “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” He wrote it as a reflection on what it would have been like if the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity had come to a magical world like Narnia in order to save it.

The movie version of the story was released on December 9. I highly encourage you to see it. If you know the real message behind the story (and now you all do!), it can be a religious experience.

You will understand that you are Edmund—and so am I.

You will understand the meaning of Jesus’ birth at Christmas, his sacrificial death on Good Friday, and his glorious resurrection at Easter.

And if you’re open to the grace God will be offering you at that moment, you may even have the kind of life-changing metanoia experience that I spoke about at the beginning of my homily.

And then no one and no created thing will be more important to you than Jesus.