Friday, February 10, 2006

He Tuned Out Distracting And Dissenting Voices—And He Was Greatly Blessed!

(Sixth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on February 12, 2006, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Mark 1: 40-45.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of the Year 2006]


He was a man who “tuned out” distracting, dissenting voices. And in the process, he was greatly blessed!

I’m talking about the leper in today’s Gospel story from Mark 1.

This is something we can discern once we look back at the first reading. There Moses (the author of the first 5 books of the Bible) proclaims the Hebrew law concerning lepers. In the last two verses of the text, it says: “The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13: 44-46)

All of which means that this sick, diseased man shouldn’t have been anywhere near Jesus! He should have been with his fellow lepers, miles away from those who were fit and healthy.

Given that fact, what do you think the eyewitnesses of this event were saying? What do you think their response was when they saw this leper approaching? Do you think they were saying, “Come, friend; come closer to us; come and see Jesus”?

I don’t think so!

They were probably screaming at the guy: “Get away! What the matter with you? Don’t you know the law? Get out of here!”

This leper, thankfully, was not deterred! As I said in the first line of my homily, he “tuned out” all the distracting and dissenting voices around him (that is, the voices that were commanding him to stay away). He tuned them out, came right up to Jesus, and knelt down within an arms-length of our Lord. (We know that, incidentally, because St. Mark says that at one point Jesus reached out with his arm and touched the leper with his hand.)

And because he tuned out all the negative voices and then “tuned in” to Jesus, this leper was greatly blessed. He was, as we heard a few moments ago, completely healed of his horrible disease. Perhaps the words of today’s responsorial psalm refrain were his words afterward: “I turn to you Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.”

What a great lesson there is here for all of us—and in particular for our young people: If you want Jesus to bless your life in extraordinary ways, then you need to “tune in” to him, AFTER YOU TUNE OUT THE DISSENTING AND DISTRACTING VOICES OF THIS WORLD!

Needless to say, in our extremely noisy, anti-God culture, this is a challenge—a very big challenge! It’s hard for all of us to “shut out” the voices of dissent and distraction; it’s equally as hard to “tune in” to the person and message of Jesus.

I’ll give you one example to illustrate the difficulty. . . .

A few weeks ago, we began to prepare for this year’s trip to the Steubenville East youth conference, which will take place (as always) in mid-July. We did that by gathering some of the chaperones together for a brief meeting here in church. During the course of our discussion that night, some of the “veteran” adults (i.e., those who’ve been coming for many years) made an interesting observation. They noted that, on our most recent trips to the conference, we’ve had to deal with many more “resistant” and “disconnected” teens than we had to deal with in previous years.

Some resistance, of course, is always to be expected. God never forces himself on anyone; he always respects a person’s free will. Even when Jesus preached the Gospel in person 2,000 years ago, some freely resisted and refused to say Amen to what they heard.

Thankfully, most of the young people who come with us each year do open up to the Lord and have a great experience at the conference. But some don’t. Unfortunately, the number of those who “don’t” has noticeably increased of late—and our adults have noticed.

Personally, I don’t think this is peculiar to our group, either. I think every group that goes has had a similar problem.

Why?

We’re convinced that one of the biggest reasons for this is that many of our teenagers are no longer getting away from distracting, dissenting voices when they attend the conference! For the most part they used to, but not anymore—especially because of the new technology that’s out there.

If a teen goes to Steubenville East, for example, with a negative attitude (as some do!), and then he spends every free moment he has on his cell phone, talking with his friends back home—friends who are reinforcing his negativity with their discouraging and sarcastic comments—what chance does that young person have of opening up to Christ at some point during the weekend?

The answer is: Very little.

Teenagers, that’s why we will be very strict this year—stricter than ever before—when it comes to cell phones, pagers, ipods, CD players, etc!

If we find one of those little items on your person, we will confiscate it immediately! You’ll get it back when we return to St. Pius on Sunday.

We will do this, of course, for your own good: so that you will not be negatively influenced when you’re there! Remember, the reason they call it a “retreat,” is because that’s what you’re supposed to do—retreat! You’re supposed to pull away from your everyday circumstances, activities and acquaintances, so that you can tune in to Christ on a deeper level, and receive the graces and blessings that he wants to give you!

A man who made an Adult Search at St. Dominic Savio Youth Center many years ago reminded me the other day that, when he arrived at the retreat house on Friday evening, the people in charge took his watch away! And they kept it for the entire weekend! That’s because they didn’t even want “time” to be a distraction for him on the retreat! A woman in the parish told me that the same thing happened to her and her husband when they made a Marriage Encounter several years back.

So this is obviously not something that’s peculiar to teenagers! All of us, young and not-so-young, are easily affected by negative voices that seek to keep us from focusing on God, and from bringing ourselves to Jesus in the way that this leper did.

He was a man who consciously and resolutely “tuned out” the distracting and dissenting voices around him.

If we want to be blessed as powerfully as he was blessed, we need to follow his example.

May the Lord help us all to do so.