Sunday, December 17, 2006

Would Ben Franklin Say You Are Insane?

Ben Franklin

(Third Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 17, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Zephaniah 3: 14-18a; Philippians 4: 4-7.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Advent 2006]

My original intention was to begin this homily by asking everyone in the congregation the following question: Are you insane?

But then I realized some of you would probably be offended if I did that, so I decided to alter the question just a bit. Consequently, instead of asking, Are you insane?, I will begin by asking, Would Ben Franklin say you are insane?

Now if you don’t like the question, you can blame Ben Franklin, not Fr. Ray! And Ben won’t mind at all if you blame him, because he’s been dead for over 200 years!

Ben Franklin, you see, is considered to be the source of the following well-known statement: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

As most of us know, the season of Advent (which is improperly called “the Christmas season” by many people) is a time when otherwise normal, well-adjusted, rational men and women seem to lose all contact with reality! They become—at least according to the definition of Ben Franklin—insane!

And I’m not just alluding here to the wild and crazy conduct of people at the shopping malls (although that’s certainly a part of it). I’m talking about something much deeper.

I ask you, how many men and women—each and every year—make the same exact resolutions after Thanksgiving? They say things like: “I’m not getting caught up in all the commercialism this year. No way! I will resist it!” “I will spend more quality time with my family this December in preparation for Christmas.” “I will pray more this Advent, trying to get in touch with the real meaning of our Savior’s birth.” “I will really try to improve my relationship with God during the next month; I will make time for those in need; I will not get all wrapped up in myself!”

Good ideas; good intentions; great resolutions! But then it happens: within a week, all of them go out the window, and these well-intentioned people get caught up in the madness of the season, just like so many others. And then it starts again—what I would call the disgruntled holiday mantra: “I can’t wait for it to end! I’m so exhausted! I can’t wait for Christmas to be over! December 26th, come quickly! Please!”

Now I could understand if this happened during one Advent in a particular year; I could even understand if it happened two years in a row. But for some, this is an annual occurrence! They do the same thing every Advent season: they make these good resolutions, and follow through on none of them! And they expect the outcome to be different: “Well, maybe it won’t be quite so bad this time! Maybe I won’t need as much blood pressure medication as I needed last December!”

According to Ben Franklin, that qualifies as certifiable lunacy! Remember, insanity means doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

I often wonder how Catholics like this deal with Gaudete Sunday. In Latin “gaudete” means, “rejoice!” On this Sunday of the year, we are supposed to be rejoicing as the birth of Jesus approaches. (That’s why the pink candle on the Advent wreath is lit today.)

Those who are experiencing Ben Franklin’s kind of insanity must have a terribly difficult time entering into the spirit of this weekend! That should be obvious. They must cringe at these Scripture passages: Zephaniah 3: “Shout for joy, O daughter Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.”

“Joy? Where’s the joy? With all I have to do? I don’t have time to feel any joy!”

And how about the second reading from Philippians 4?—this one must really get to them—“Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”

That one must nearly put them over the edge!

About 10 years ago there was a popular fitness program on the market called, “Stop the Insanity!”

Well, that’s precisely my message to all Catholics and other Christians in this homily!

If you haven’t already done it this Advent, do it now: Make the decision to stop the insanity for the rest of this sacred season!

Now the only way to do that is to consciously and deliberately adopt a new approach to things—an approach that will help you to put your eyes on Jesus and take them off yourself!

Let me offer, now, a few concrete suggestions:

  1. Finish your Christmas shopping ASAP—no later than Monday night. “But, Fr. Ray, I still have so many people to buy for!” My response: Don’t worry about that! In fact, I have the perfect way to deal with that particular difficulty: Apologize to those you don’t get gifts for and then promise them 2 gifts after Christmas when everything is half price! They’ll love you for getting them twice as much! You’ll be a hero!
  2. Don’t worry about cooking and baking so much! Don’t let that take up too much of your time. Be reasonable, not excessive! And think about it: if you cook and bake less, you won’t have to go on a diet in January! You’ll save yourself all that trouble.
  3. Pray in a quiet place—either in church or in your room—for at least 15 minutes a day. Meditate on the meaning of Jesus’ coming by using Scripture, or by praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. And at some point during the course of that 15 minutes practice “rejoicing.” “But, Fr. Ray, I don’t feel like rejoicing. I’m going through a difficult time right now.” That has nothing to do with it! All the more you should practice rejoicing! Remember, rejoicing does not mean “feeling happy”. Rejoicing is an act of the will; it’s not an emotion (although it often affects our emotions in a positive way). To rejoice means to choose to praise God for who he is and for all he has done in your life. “Lord, I rejoice that you gave me natural life; I rejoice that you gave me supernatural life when I was baptized; I rejoice that you offer me your mercy every day; I rejoice that you sent your Son to die for me, an unworthy sinner; I rejoice that you’ve given me hope in the midst of my problems; I rejoice that you’ve put good people in my life.” This is what it means to rejoice! Obviously it doesn’t mean that we’re always supposed to “feel happy”—if it did St. Paul wouldn’t have told us in today’s second reading to “rejoice ALWAYS”! Paul understood that no one is ALWAYS happy. But he also knew that even when we aren’t, we can still choose to rejoice! And sometimes, as I said a few moments ago, that will actually make us feel a bit happier.
  4. Another possibility: Take the family to see the new movie that just came out, “The Nativity Story.” I went to see it this past week. It’s excellent. And then take your family out for pizza to discuss what you saw!
  5. One final suggestion: Visit a person in need—perhaps a friend or relative who’s having a difficult time right now because of the death of a loved one. Remember what Jesus said: “There is more joy in giving than in receiving.”

These are just a few concrete ways to “stop the insanity”—the insanity that can easily affect all of us at this time of year. I’m sure if you put your mind to it, you can come up with many others.

I’ll close today with this thought: If insanity is defined as making the same mistake over and over again and expecting different results, then “sanity” should be defined as making the right decision, with good results, and then repeating that process—over and over and over again!

Dear Jesus, give us all the precious gift of “sanity”—this Advent, and every Advent in the future. Amen.