Sunday, January 27, 2013

St. Paul, Clarence, and “The Holes”

George (played by Jimmy Stewart) and Clarence (played by Henry Travers)

(Third Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on Sunday, January 27, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday 2012]

In today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul says, “God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended;” or, as the verse is translated in another version of the Bible: “God has set each member of the body in the place he wanted it to be.”  (1 Corinthians 12: 18)

That line makes me think of a great scene from the movie I spoke about in my Christmas homily, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Clarence, the guardian angel of the main character, George Bailey, was trying to dissuade George from killing himself by showing George what the world would have been like if he had never been born.  But it wasn’t an easy task for Clarence!  For a long time, George convinced himself that the changes he was seeing in his friends, family and surroundings were just the work of his very creative imagination—or the result of some magic trick performed by Clarence.

What finally made it clear to George that what he was seeing around him was real, was when he tried to visit his mother (who, of course, didn’t recognize him and called him crazy), and when he went to the place where “Bailey Park” used to be.  (Bailey Park was the housing development that George had helped to finance through his Building and Loan Company.) 

In place of the beautiful homes that used to be there, all George saw in front of him were gravestones.  Clarence said to him, “Are you sure this is Bailey Park?”  George responded, “Well, this should be Bailey Park.  But where are all the houses?”  Clarence answered, “You weren’t here to build them.”

Then George looked to one side, and he spotted a gravestone that had the name of his brother, Harry Bailey, chiseled into it.  George had saved Harry from drowning when they were children.  Harry had gone on to become a war hero during the Second World War.  But the dates on his gravestone read 1911-1919.

As George knelt on the ground looking at the stone in disbelief, Clarence said to him, “Your brother, Harry Bailey, broke through the ice and was drowned at the age of nine.”

George immediately jumped up and screamed, “That’s a lie!  Harry Bailey went to war!  He got the Congressional Medal of Honor!  He saved every man on that transport!”

Clarence shot back, “Every man on that transport died!  Harry wasn’t there to save them because you weren’t there to save Harry!”

It was the perfect illustration of what Clarence had said to George a little earlier in the film: “Strange, isn’t it?  Each man’s life touches so many other lives.  When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” 

St. Paul would most definitely agree, based on that line from 1 Corinthians 12 that I quoted to you just a few moments ago: “God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.”

According to the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12, we, together, make up the body of Christ, which is the Church.  This means that, individually, we are like the various parts of a physical body: we each have different roles, different gifts, different functions in God’s plan for the salvation of the world.  And yet, just as all the different parts of a physical body are supposed to interact with one another and work together for the good of the body as a whole, so too we in the Church (and in the world) are supposed to interact with one another and work together for the good of all.

That’s the will of our good and loving God.

So obviously what we do (and what we don’t do) in this life affects not only ourselves; to some extent what we do and what we don’t do affects everyone else, because our lives are so closely intertwined with the lives of others.  St. Paul makes that point here by saying that, if one part of the body suffers, all the other parts of the body suffer with it.

We all know this by experience, I’m sure.  If you have a toothache or an earache, for example, it’s not just your tooth or ear that suffers.

That one hurting part of your body affects your entire physical organism in a negative way.  And it ends up making you miserable—from head to toe!

It’s a terrible thing when one part of your body hurts and everything else seems to hurt with it. 

But do you know what’s even worse, my brothers and sisters?  What’s even worse is when you’re missing a part of your body!  What’s even worse is when all the parts of your body that should be there aren’t!  

Just ask anyone who’s had a part of their body amputated, or who was born without one or more of their limbs.

This was the lesson George Bailey learned from Clarence, when he got to see what the world would have been like if he had never been born.  He came to understand that he was a missing part of “the body”—and that his whole town was suffering because of his absence.

And so it is in the real world, when God wants people around, and they aren’t!

As Clarence said so prophetically, when a person isn’t around who is supposed to be around, “he leaves an awful hole.”

I ask you this morning, how many “holes” have been left in our world because of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month, and because of the many other murders and acts of violence that take place in our country every day?

How many “holes” have been left in our nation because of abortion, since that horrific practice was legalized 40 years ago this very month?

Last I knew, about 55 million!

If God has a plan for each and every human person (and he does!)—a plan which involves their interaction with other people in the body of Christ and in the world—then what happens when someone who’s an important part of that plan isn’t there?

If you have a young son or daughter, for example, and it was part of God’s plan for that son or daughter to marry one of the children killed in Newtown, Connecticut, last month, how will your child’s life be affected in the future?  Or what if the person whom God wanted your son or daughter to marry was aborted and never made it out of the womb?

Or what if, in the plan of God, one of those children from Newtown was destined to become a great scientist—maybe the scientist who would unlock the secret to Parkinson’s Disease and discover a cure?

The “hole” that person leaves will certainly have a negative impact on my life!  I can guarantee that.

I remember seeing a cartoon several years ago that made the point in an extremely powerful way.  In this cartoon, a man looks up to heaven and cries out, “God, why haven’t you sent us people with cures for cancer and Aids, and answers to world hunger and all our social problems?”  A voice comes from heaven: “I did.”  The man says, “But, where are they?”  The Lord responds, “You aborted them!”

Among the almost 55 million who have been killed in the womb in the last 4 decades, don’t you think there were at least a few great scientific minds?  And perhaps a few economists, who would have had the insights that we need to turn our sick economy around?  And perhaps a few people who would have developed successful businesses to put some of our unemployed citizens back to work?  And maybe even a few good priests and religious who could have saved some souls who otherwise will die in the state of mortal sin?

Clarence, the angel, was right: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives.  When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole.”

May God help us all to take this truth seriously, and then to make every effort—by our words, by our deeds, and yes, even by our votes—to prevent any more “holes” from afflicting our world.