Sunday, December 06, 2009

Good News for ‘Nasty’ People

Scrooge (Jim Carrey) and Tiny Tim (Gary Oldman) in the new Disney version of 'A Christmas Carol'

(Second Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 6, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 3: 1-6.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Advent 2009]

The following is part of a Christmas meditation by Bishop Fulton Sheen; but it also has an important message for us during the season of Advent, which is why I share it with you today:

The name that was given to God who became man was Jesus, which means “Savior,” Savior from our sins. [Thus] Christmas is not for “nice” people; it is for “nasty” people. “Nice” people think they are good and need no Savior. “Nasty” people come to him because they are convertible, aware of their own imperfections and deep sense of needing to be cleansed. Their emptiness is not meaningless, like that of a Grand Canyon, but rather like the emptiness of the manger that can be filled. They have a hunger and thirst for something not of themselves, and so they look to the Lord in the manger, who is very fond of “nasty” people.

Five minutes ago, if I had asked you the question, “Are you a nice person?” you probably would have responded, “Of course, Fr. Ray!”

But now, after listening to Bishop Sheen, you might choose to rethink your answer.

And I wouldn’t blame you for that!

The point here is not that it’s “good” to be “bad”—that it’s good to be “nasty”—which is the lie that the world tells us every day. Charlie Sheen’s character on the sitcom, “Two and a Half Men” is a perfect example of the phenomenon. He’s bad, but the writers portray him in such a way that he ends up becoming an endearing character to the audience, in spite of his “badness.”

The point of Bishop Sheen’s reflection is that even “nice” people are bad in various ways, because they’re sinners. We all are. And when nice people are bad, it’s bad for them not to recognize that they’re bad (follow me, so far?). It’s bad for a number of reasons. First of all, if they don’t recognize their badness, they stay “bad” in whatever ways they’ve been bad—and everyone around them has to suffer the consequences. Furthermore, they have to live with their selfish and miserable selves (which is no picnic, either!). And lastly (and most importantly), they cut themselves off from the one thing that can cure them of their badness—the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ; the grace and mercy he came to this earth and died on the cross to give them!

And so the Church in her wisdom presents us with John the Baptist every second Sunday of Advent in the gospel reading, to cause us to reflect on our badness—on our nastiness—so that we will be motivated to go to Jesus in his goodness—if at all possible, in the sacrament of Confession.

The fact is that each of us is a mixture of some “niceness” and also some “nastiness”. The “nice” people in Bishop Sheen’s meditation simply don’t recognize that fact and thus never deal with their nastiness.

In many ways, they’re just like Ebenezer Scrooge—before he was visited by his 3 ghost-friends on Christmas Eve. By the way, have you seen the new movie version of “A Christmas Carol” starring Jim Carrey as the voice of Scrooge? It’s very well-done—extremely faithful to Charles Dickens’ book (although it may be a little too intense for younger children).

Scrooge, you see, thought he was a nice guy! He thought he was a fine, law-abiding, hard working citizen—and from one point of view he was!

But in many ways he was also extremely “nasty”—and his nastiness affected Bob Cratchit and his family, as well as a lot of other people.

It even affected Scrooge himself. It turned him into a selfish, miserable recluse and miser.

But because of the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, he did get a second chance.

And that was his big worry, wasn’t it?—especially when he was confronted by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

He was worried that he wouldn’t have a chance to demonstrate that he was a changed man. He was afraid that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was showing him the things that would be, and not the things that might be if he didn’t change for the better.

Jesus came that we might have a second chance; in fact, Jesus Christ came, and suffered, and died, and rose again, so that we could have as many second chances as we needed in this life.

But, like the nasty people in Bishop Sheen’s meditation, we have to recognize our need for a second chance; and, like Ebenezer Scrooge, we have to do what needs to be done to take advantage of the second chance that’s offered to us.

Near each of the 2 doors on either side of our church there’s a sign that reads, “Reconciliation Room”. That sign could read, “Second Chances Given Here” and it would essentially mean the same thing.

The Lord Jesus, working through Fr. Giudice and yours truly, will be giving out “second chances” to nasty people next Saturday afternoon from 2:30 until 4:30pm.

It would be very, very “nice” to see you there—especially if you haven’t made a good confession yet this Advent.