Sunday, January 21, 2007

How To Deal With The Two ‘Strangers’ In Our Homes

"Hello! Allow us to introduce ourselves . . . "

(Third Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on Sunday, January 21, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Nehemiah 8: 1-12; 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30; Luke 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of the Year 2007]

My sister sent me this, via email, a few months ago:

A few years after I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small town. From the beginning, dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer, and he soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around from then on.

As I grew up, I never questioned his place in my family. In my young mind, he had a special niche. My parents were complementary instructors: mom taught me good from evil, and dad taught me to obey.

But the stranger—he was our storyteller! He would keep us spellbound for hours on end with adventures, mysteries and comedies.

If I wanted to know anything about politics, history or science, he always knew the answers about the past, understood the present, and even seemed to be able to predict the future!

He took my family to our first major league baseball game.

He made me laugh, and he made me cry. He also never stopped talking—but my dad didn’t seem to mind.

Sometimes, mom would get up quietly while the rest of us were “shushing” each other so that we could listen to what the stranger had to say, and she would go into the kitchen for some peace and quiet.

I wonder now if she ever prayed for him to leave.

Dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions, but the stranger never felt obligated to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our home. Not from us, or from our friends, or from any visitors.

The stranger, however, got away with saying four letter words that burned my ears. They made my dad squirm and my mother blush.

My dad didn’t permit the liberal use of alcohol, however the stranger encouraged us to try it on a regular basis. He made cigarettes look cool, cigars manly and pipes distinguished.

He talked freely—much too freely!—about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing.

I now know that my early concepts about relationships were influenced strongly by the stranger. Time after time, he opposed the values of my parents, yet he was seldom ever rebuked—and he was NEVER asked to leave!

More than fifty years have passed since the stranger moved in with our family. He has now blended right in, and is not nearly as fascinating as he was at first. Still, if you walk into my parents’ den today, you will find him sitting over in his corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures.

What’s his name, you ask?

We just call him, Television!

I should also mention that he has a younger sister who moved in a couple of years ago. Her name is Computer.

There are some families out there who do not own a TV set, but they are few and far between. An even smaller number lack computers. That means for the rest of us—the majority—this little story is reality! We’ve invited a couple of strangers into our homes who’ve brought us a great deal of enjoyment, but who, at the very same time, have brought poison into our lives—spiritual and relational poison.

The antidote, of course, is the truth of God’s word. The antidote to the poison of the world that comes to us through television and the internet and from other sources is the truth of God’s holy word, especially that portion of the word that we find in Sacred Scripture. And we all need to take this antidote in some fashion every day, because we’re all exposed to this poison on a daily basis (even if we don’t own a TV set or a computer!).

Do you? Do you make a conscious effort to take in “God’s antidote” each and every day?

Many Christians do not.

In today’s responsorial psalm—psalm 19—we read, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye.”

According to that text, the truth of God’s word brings joy and enlightenment. That is to say, it counteracts the poison of despair and confusion that comes to us through the television and the computer and from other such places.

We see this fact verified for us in today’s first reading from Nehemiah, chapter 8. There Ezra, the scribe, reads the Old Testament scriptures to the people—the Jews who had just returned home from the Babylonian Exile. We are told that he did this “from daybreak till midday. (So please do not complain that I'm too long!)

Six or seven hours later, when Ezra finally stopped reading the Lord’s word, we’re told that (and here I quote) “all the people went to eat and drink, to distribute portions, and to celebrate with great joy, for they understood the words that had been expounded.”

Hearing—and internalizing—the message of God’s word, brought those Jews joy and enlightenment.

The Scriptures also have the power to keep us from buying into some of the lies that are currently destroying our culture! That’s another blessing they bring to us. Television and Computer, for example, lie to us all the time by telling us that some human beings are not worthy of life and should not be protected by our laws. The antidote to that poisonous idea—to that evil lie from hell—is found in God’s word, in passages like the one we heard a few moments ago from 1 Corinthians 12. St. Paul tells us there that we are all members of Christ’s body. ALL of us! That includes EVERYBODY, from the moment of their conception until the moment of their natural death! Thus no part of the body can say to any other part, “I do not need you”—even if that other part is very old and sick, or even if it’s in the first nine months of its life.

And what’s the message of the second half of today’s Gospel—this text from Luke, chapter 4? Simply put, the message is that Jesus is the Messiah—the Anointed One of God who is to be the ultimate moral and spiritual authority in our lives! That, of course, is not the message we generally get from those two strangers, Television and Computer,—unless we happen to be watching a station like EWTN or surfing their web site!

In most other locations on the television dial and in cyberspace, we encounter the voices of other “messiahs”: other self-proclaimed “authorities”, who frequently tell us that their way is better than Jesus’ way.

My simple prayer this morning is that I’ve somehow managed to convince you that reading the Bible is important—because it is.

If you’re not in the habit of doing it, I would say start small. Read it for just 5 minutes a day, and begin with the New Testament (because those books are more familiar to us and relatively easy to understand).

Put your Bible in a location where you’ll have easy access to it. In other words, take it off the bookshelf or off the coffee table where it’s presently collecting dust! Put it next to your bed or wherever you do a lot of reading.

“But, Fr. Ray, the only place I read on a regular basis is in the bathroom!”

Wonderful! If that’s where it has to be, then that’s where it has to be!

Just make sure you store your Bible in a respectable location in your bathroom between your reading sessions!

Remember, those two strangers will probably not be leaving your house anytime soon. Very few of you will go home from Mass today and throw your TVs and computers out the window! And because they’ll always be around, you won’t be able to monitor them 100 percent of the time (as we all know, even during sporting events like the Super Bowl, Television can bring images into our living rooms that shouldn’t be there).

To counteract that negative influence, we need to make a special place for God’s word in our homes and in our lives.

Or to put it another way, to keep from being influenced by the two strangers, we must make the word of God our treasured friend.

It’s really that simple.