Monday, December 25, 2006

Which Will It Be: the Open Door or the Closed Window?

A good friend of Mr. Bird

(Christmas 2006: This homily was given on December 25, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 1: 18-25.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christmas 2006]

I’ll begin my homily this Christmas Day by giving you a description of the rectory garage. This is probably the first time in history that a Christmas homily—or any other homily for that matter—has begun with a description of a garage, but I assure you there’s a valid reason for it—a reason that will become clear to you in a few moments.

The St. Pius X rectory garage has three stalls. It also has two clear glass windows on each of the two side walls. The windows are 60 inches long and 30 inches wide (I know because I measured them the other day. I wanted to be precise here in my homily).

So much for the description; now for the story . . .

One day not so long ago, at about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the door to the left stall and the door to the center stall of the garage were both open. They had been that way since mid-morning. Everything was quiet and peaceful; as far as I could tell no one was around.

I entered the garage, and was just about to get into my car (which was parked, as always, in the center stall) when all of a sudden I heard this banging and fluttering and screeching coming from somewhere to the left of me.

I jumped back about three feet!

Once I recovered from the initial shock, I looked over and saw what was going on: a little bird was trying desperately to get out one of the side windows. The only problem was the window was shut! So every time he attempted to fly out, he’d fly close to—or into—the glass! (Obviously, this was not a very bright bird.) There was also a ladder hanging across the window, so every once in awhile Mr. Bird would take a short break and perch himself on the ladder (which is where he was when I first entered the garage—that’s why it was so quiet); but once he caught his breath he’d go at it again: fly, smash, screech; fly, smash, screech—rest.

Then I noticed that on the outside of the window another bird of the same species was flying around in circles. Now I do not know if this was Mr. Bird’s wife, or simply a good friend of his from Birdland; but, since everybody enjoys a love story, let’s just say that this little creature outside the window was indeed Mrs. Bird. There she was, calling to her beau, “Come to me, my darling (tweet, tweet); come, let us fly south together.”

And there he was, smashing himself again and again against the glass!

Now some people mistakenly think that Fr. Ray does not love animals. Not true! I admit it, I’m no St. Francis of Assisi, but I do like animals, and my heart went out at that moment to poor, distressed Mr. Bird.

I thought to myself, “What can I do to help this little creature get out of my garage, so that I can go for my daily hour at the gym (which is where I think I was going at the time)?

Then it came to me. I thought, “I know what I’ll do. I will go to the outside of the window, and tap on it a few times. This will frighten Mr. Bird, and he will immediately fly away from the window. When he does that, he will see that the garage door is wide open, and he will fly out to freedom—to live happily ever after with Mrs. Bird.”

So that’s what I did: I went outside the garage, and gave a couple of soft taps on the window. And just as I expected, Mr. Bird became frightened and flew away immediately.

I was feeling rather good about myself at that moment, and thinking that St. Francis would have been proud of me for what I had done, until I came around to the front of the garage.

I took one look at the situation and I said, “This bird is a lot dumber than I thought!”

As difficult as it may be for you to believe, my little feathered friend had actually flown right past the two huge garage doors that were opened.

And where did he end up?

You guessed it: at the little glass window on the opposite side of the building (also closed), where he was resuming his pathetic ritual: fly, smash, screech; fly, smash, screech!

Now some people also think that I am not very merciful; but, once again, they are wrong! Jesus gives second chances, and so do I!

I said to Mr. Bird, “My friend, you are not very bright—now I know where the expression ‘bird brain’ comes from—but I will try it one more time.” I then opened the door to the right hand stall of the garage (since that one was still closed), and I tapped on the glass once again.

I then ran around to the front, just in time to see Mr. Bird fly out through door of the middle stall; off, I trust, to join Mrs. Bird and his other little birdie friends in the wild-blue yonder.

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking to yourselves, “Very nice story, Fr. Ray. Thanks for sharing it. But what does all of this have to do with Christmas?

Glad you asked.

When I first encountered Mr. Bird in my garage all those weeks ago, he was, in a certain sense, looking for the same things we human beings look for in our lives: happiness and freedom. He was also looking for a way out of a bad situation that he had gotten himself into!

And he thought he had found it! He thought he had found the path to freedom and contentment at the garage window!

But he hadn’t. It seemed to be the right way to go—after all, he could see the love of his life, Mrs. Bird, flying around just a few feet in front of him! But every time he tried to get to her—every time he tried to take that particular path to happiness and freedom—he hit a dead end. Now interestingly enough, the true path to freedom and joy was right there—only a few, short yards away. But fear and confusion and frustration had such a hold on poor Mr. Bird that he never saw the open door—even though it was a lot bigger than the closed window.

And then, amazingly, instead of going immediately out the door when I startled him, he actually went to another closed window on the opposite end of the building.

Jesus Christ came into this world on Christmas Day—and offered his life on the cross on Good Friday—and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday—to open the door for us: the door to God; the door that Adam and Eve had closed when they committed the very first sin. This is what Gabriel meant when he said to Mary, “You shall name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

And so it shouldn’t surprise us that during his earthly ministry Jesus made this statement about himself: “I am the way”—I am the way (the door, if you will) to the Father; I am the way to heaven; I am the way to freedom; I am the way out of your ‘garage’ of sin—the garage you have put yourself into (like Mr. Bird); I am the way to inner peace and ultimate happiness.

But sometimes we can be just like that sorry little bird, can’t we? We will try any ‘window’ that seems to hold out the promise of freedom and happiness without a real commitment to the Lord. We will try anything—and everything—except Jesus Christ (the ‘door’) and his one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church!

And there are lots of windows that we can choose to fly to:

  • The ‘window’ of materialism: “Just a little more money, just a bigger house, just one big hit at the casino, and I’ll be happy. That’ll do it.”
  • The ‘window’ of hedonism and promiscuity: “Just one more girl; just a few more ‘one night stands’; just one more pornographic web page and I’ll be satisfied.”
  • The ‘window’ of self-indulgence: “All I need is one more drink; all I need is one more pill, and my problems will go away.”
  • The ‘window’ of easy religions: “I want a religion that makes me feel good all the time—not one that challenges me to change. That’s what will make me happy.”

But it never works. Sooner or later, we end up just like that little bird: frustrated, depressed and confused. And the really sad thing is that many people will spend years—or even their entire lives—going from one closed window to another. They’ll go back and forth, back and forth, and never get out of their “garage” of sin and hopelessness.

Today, God asks us to learn a lesson from Mr. Bird. You know, he might not have been very smart, but, to his great credit, Mr. Bird eventually found the open door to freedom and happiness.

Will we? (That’s the real question.) Have we?

The open door is Jesus Christ. And flying through it is a choice—a personal, daily choice. It’s the choice to leave the closed windows behind (which can be difficult); it’s a choice that involves putting Jesus Christ into first place in our lives (and that includes on Sunday mornings—or Saturday nights—when he calls us to worship him here at Mass). It’s a choice that involves repentance for all of our sins, not just for some of them. [That repentance, incidentally, might also need to include sacramental confession. But don’t worry, if I was merciful to Mr. Bird, I will certainly be merciful to you! So will any good priest—even if you’ve been away from Confession for many years.] It’s a choice that involves a humble admission that we need a Savior; that we can’t deal with this life or make it to heaven on our own.

So which will it be for you this Christmas? Which will it be for me? Will it be the open door—or will it be another closed window? When all is said and done, my brothers and sisters, those are really the only two options we have in this life.

Dear Lord, help us all to see the open doorand to fly through it, today and every day—like Mr. Bird.