Sunday, January 06, 2013

How To Get Away From The ‘Herods’

(Epiphany 2013: This homily was given on January 6, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 2: 1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Epiphany 2013]

Today’s homily is entitled, “How to get away from the ‘Herods’.”  Notice that “Herods” there is plural.  It’s plural because there are lots of Herods around these days.  Adam Lanza, the man who murdered his own mother, and 20 children and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, was definitely a “Herod.”  In fact, his behavior would have made the original Herod quite proud.  As the original butchered the Holy Innocents when the Magi failed to return to him after their visit to the Christ child in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, so Adam Lanza killed 27 innocent human beings in Newtown, Connecticut the other day.

But it’s not only mass murderers like Lanza who fit into this category.  In point of fact anyone who advocates or supports the destruction of innocent human life is, in some sense, a “Herod.”  This would include abortionists as well as all the politicians and lawyers and judges who enable them to do their dirty work!  It would include the medical doctors who withdraw nutrition and hydration too quickly from terminally ill patients, such that those patients actually die from the lack of food and water, and not from their respective diseases.  It would even include the purveyors of violence in the entertainment industry in our country: the makers of violent video games and the producers of blood and gore movies and TV programs.

On that note, I went to see a movie at Regal Cinemas in Stonington a couple of weeks ago and I was forced to sit through 20 minutes of previews!  (I’m not exaggerating either; it was 20 solid minutes—I timed it!  The movie was scheduled to start at 6:30, and it began at 6:50!  No wonder so many people are late for Mass and for just about everything else that they do in life.  They’re being trained at the movie theater to be late!)   Now the reason I mention this today is because for at least 15 of those 20 minutes, I was forced (as was everyone else) to watch images of people being shot or blown up or beaten up or physically attacked in some other way.

Please don’t tell me that this kind of entertainment has absolutely no effect on the daily conduct of people in our society!  If nothing else, this kind of stuff helps to create an “atmosphere of violence”; and all of us, like it or not, breathe in that atmosphere every day.

Herod, of course, would absolutely love it!  He, after all, was a man who murdered lots of people in addition to the Holy Innocents—including several members of his own family!  That’s why Caesar Augustus reportedly once said that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than it was to be Herod’s son!

Sad to say, Augustus was probably right.  Herod’s whole life as a ruler was lived in an atmosphere of almost incessant violence.

Which seems to be where we’re headed in our country, at least as of late. 

The challenge we face as Catholic Christians in 2013 is to create a new atmosphere—a different atmosphere—a different culture—a different environment: an atmosphere, a culture, an environment of life, whereby we first decrease the number of Herods who are around, and then minimize the negative influence of the ones who continue to live among us.  That, incidentally, is what I mean by “getting away from the Herods.”

Because we live in a fallen world, there will always be some Herods that we have to contend with.  That’s the bad news.  But the good news is that it is possible to decrease their number and minimize the negative influence of the ones who do remain with us.  In that sense, at least, it is possible to “get away from them.”

And here we can learn some very important lessons from the Magi, who did a great job of getting away from the original Herod 2,000 years ago!  We heard about that in our gospel reading this morning.  Herod wanted the Magi to return to him after they visited the newborn King of the Jews, but St. Matthew tells us that they took another route back to their home country, and consequently never saw Herod again.

Now if you read the story carefully, you see that there were reasons why this was the case: reasons why they ended up staying away from this evil, violent man.  I’ll mention a few of the more important reasons in this homily—all of which apply to our situation today.

First of all, the magi followed the right light, and they heeded God’s warning.  If the Magi had followed another star—any other star in the heavens—they would not have met Jesus in Bethlehem.  They would have ended up somewhere else—and perhaps eventually back in Herod’s clutches.  But they did follow the right star—and they heeded the warning God gave them—and thus they stayed away from the evil king.  As it says in the last line of this gospel passage, “[God warned them] in a dream not to return to Herod, [and so] they departed for their [own] country by another way.”

As Catholics, we are blessed to have the “light” of the fullness of the gospel—the “light” of the fullness of God’s revealed truth in Jesus Christ—to guide us through the “minefields” of this life and keep us away from the majority of the Herods out there.  But how many Catholics really follow that light?  In other words, how many Catholics know and understand and embrace the teaching of the Church on doctrinal and moral matters?  If you believe the polls that are always cited in the media, not enough do.  And how many Catholics heed the warnings that God gives to them through people like the Pope—warnings against the hedonism and materialism and secularism of the world?

Once again, if you believe the polling data that’s out there, not enough do.

Is it any wonder the Herods are so numerous and so active in our modern American society?

The Magi also bent their knees (so to speak) to the Savior.  Actually the text says they did more than get down on their knees: they actually prostrated themselves before the Christ child!  That action was a sign of their total submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ!

If we want to get away from the Herods of the modern world, we have to do the same.  The fact is, the further we distance ourselves as a society from God and his Son Jesus Christ, the more lawless we become.  Kick God and his moral law out, in other words, and the Herods will very happily and very quickly fill the vacuum!

Someone sent me an email the other day that makes this very point.  Many of you have probably seen it.  It contains a photograph of a T-shirt, and on the T-shirt are the following words:

Dear God, why do you allow so much violence in our schools? 

Signed, A Concerned Student. 

Dear Concerned Student, I’m not allowed in your schools. 

Signed, God.

But unfortunately sometimes the Herods are allowed in—Herods of one kind or another.

And that’s why this final point is so crucial: To get away from the Herods, we also have to give what we can give—just like the Magi 2,000 years ago gave what they could give (namely, their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh). 

I’ll give you a perfect example of what I mean by this: One of the reasons that abortion became legal in this country 39 years ago was because in the late 1960s and early 1970s many pro-life Catholic doctors and nurses and lawyers and judges and university professors did not “give” what they could have given: they failed to “give” a clear, intelligent public defense of innocent human life in the womb!  They were, to a great extent, silent on the matter.  And so the Herods got what they wanted in the Roe v. Wade decision in January of 1973.

The Herods win if we fail to give INSTRUCTION AND GUIDANCE to our children on moral matters.



Make no mistake about it, if we don’t “give” in these and similar ways, the Herods “get”.

And everyone suffers for it.

So today, Lord, we pray that more Catholics, more Christians, more believers will do what these Magi did—these Magi who followed the right light, and who heeded your warning, and who submitted to your Lordship, and who gave all that they could give—and who, in the process, got away from Herod.