Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Lesson on Foolishness and Wisdom, Courtesy of King Solomon and Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton during this year's home run derby contest

(Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 27, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 1 Kings 3: 5, 7-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventeenth Sunday 2008]

It’s so appropriate that King Solomon is the main character in our first reading on the very first Sunday after the Steubenville East Youth Conference.

Here, in this text from 1 Kings 3, we hear the story of a “Steubenville moment”—that is to say, a powerful moment of grace—in Solomon’s life.

The Lord appears to him in a dream, and asks the young ruler what he wants. Now from the way the story is written it appears that Solomon could have asked for anything good or morally neutral—even wealth or fame—and God would have given it to him. But Solomon made the choice to ask for something spiritual—something that would make him a better leader of his people, namely, wisdom.

And it didn’t take him very long to start utilizing the gift. Soon after he had this dream two prostitutes were brought before him because they were disputing over a little baby. Each claimed that the child was hers.

In his wisdom, Solomon decided that, since both of them were so adamant that the baby was theirs, the only reasonable solution would be to cut the child in half, and give one half to the first woman and the other half to the second.

Some of you are thinking, “Fr. Ray, that’s craziness, not wisdom!”

Ah, think again. As soon as the king made this proposal, one of the women cried out, “No! Please give the child to her. Don’t kill it.”

The other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours. Divide it.”

Solomon said, “Give the child to the first woman; she’s the mother.”

In his great wisdom, Solomon knew that the real mother would want her child to live—even if it wasn’t with her.

It’s too bad that it didn’t last—Solomon’s wisdom, that is.

Now it would be easy to say that it was all his wives’ fault (that’s “wives” in the plural, because according to Scripture he had seven hundred of them), but that would not be true. Solomon went from being a wise man who wrote proverbs and built the Temple in Jerusalem, to a fool who sowed the seeds for the breakup of the nation of Israel, because HE MADE THE WRONG CHOICES AND DIDN’T REPENT WHEN HE SHOULD HAVE!

The Bible says that many of Solomon’s wives were foreigners who “turned his heart to strange gods” and away from the worship of Yahweh. But no one forced him to marry them, and no one forced him to turn away.

That was his decision.

I said at the beginning of my homily that it’s very appropriate that King Solomon is the main character in our first reading on the first Sunday after Steubenville East.

In his life, he went from great wisdom to great foolishness. The Steubenville retreat helps young people to move in the opposite direction: from great foolishness to great wisdom! The lies of the world are clearly exposed by the light and truth of the gospel.

And, thanks be to God, most young people who go respond favorably to what they hear. They humbly recognize whatever foolishness has been present in their lives in the past, and they say Yes to the Lord’s eternal wisdom.

At least for the weekend they do! The challenge, of course, is to avoid going back to the world’s foolishness once the retreat is over! But that can be difficult, because the temptations to foolishness and sin don’t disappear while you’re at the conference.

If you need some encouragement to stay wise and on the right track in life—whether you came to Steubenville East or not—I would ask you today to remember the story of Josh Hamilton.

Josh Hamilton is an outfielder for the Texas Rangers baseball team. He was also one of the participants in this year’s home run derby on July 14th (the night before the All Star Game). As many of you will recall, the 3 or 4 hitters who came to the plate before him that evening really struggled—none of them hit more than 8 home runs (which isn’t very many for a home run derby). I happened to be watching, and, in all honesty, I was about to turn the channel—out of sheer boredom—when I made the decision to watch one more batter.

Well I’m glad I did. Josh came to the plate and proceeded to hit 28 balls out of Yankee Stadium—some of them over 500 feet. He had the crowd in a frenzy; believe it or not, fans in Yankee Stadium were actually cheering wildly for a player from an opposing team!

The whole thing went on for quite sometime; which was good because it allowed the television commentators to tell the story of Josh’s battle with drug and alcohol addiction—a battle that almost cost him his very promising baseball career.

The “Readers’ Digest version of the story” goes like this: In 1999, he was the number 1 draft pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He was then sent to one of their minor league teams, where he began to associate with the wrong group of people. One night, as he was hanging out with these new “friends” of his, he made the very foolish decision to abuse alcohol and try cocaine.

He says he was just curious about it all, but his curiosity quickly developed into an addiction. Over the next 3 years, he was in and out of rehab 8 times, and because of baseball’s drug policy it was doubtful that he would ever play again professionally. At the same time his drug abuse almost ruined his marriage.

What ultimately saved him was his faith in Jesus Christ—that’s the part you probably won’t hear on too many secular newscasts—but it’s true nonetheless.

His grandmother took him in when he was down-and-out, and while he was with her he began to pray and read the Bible again. I say “again” because when he was in high school he had a “Steubenville-like” experience and made the very wise decision to give his life to Christ.

But then he slipped away—as many do—making the foolish decision to let baseball become his god. That, of course, made him vulnerable to the temptations of the world.

And yet, at least at this point, his story has a happy ending, because he’s wisely come back to the Lord and has gotten rooted in a church where his faith is being nourished and supported. In an article I read the other day his wife Katie, who had a conversion of her own in the midst of all this, was quoted as saying, “Just watching the transformation that God has made in Josh’s life . . . I mean it’s just been so awesome and such a gift from the Lord to see what [God has] done in him.”

Josh himself added, “I was out of baseball [just a few years ago]. I didn’t have my family, my wife was going to leave me, and I was doing drugs. People think there are coincidences in life. There are no coincidences when God’s got a plan. It’s nothing I did except try to make the right choices and let God take over from there.”

He could have said, “It’s nothing I did except try to make the WISE CHOICES” and it would have meant the same thing.

Josh Hamilton has gone from foolish to wise (when had his initial conversion in high school) back to foolish; and now, thankfully, back to wise.

My prayer for him is that he will stay where he is—permanently. My prayer for the young people who “wised-up” this year at Steubenville East is that they will stay where they are—permanently. And, not surprisingly, my prayer is the same for every other person in the congregation this morning: everyone, that is, who has made the decision to give up their foolishness and embrace God’s wisdom.