Saturday, December 25, 2010

"The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," and the Presence of Jesus in OUR World

(Christmas 2010: This homily was given on December 25, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 1: 18-25.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christmas 2010]

One night last week I decided to go and see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. That’s the new movie that just came out, based on the C.S. Lewis book of the same title. It’s one of the seven novels that form his famous Chronicles of Narnia series.

The Chronicles, of course, were written for children, but many adults also read and appreciate them—first of all because they’re good stories, and secondly because they have a deeply spiritual—and explicitly Christian—message.

This film is good, incidentally, and I highly recommend it for older children and their parents (I say older children because there’s quite a bit of violence in it). However, I will issue this caveat: Don’t expect the movie to be the book “on film,” because it isn’t. It’s based on the book, that’s true; but the moviemakers have changed a number of things (in typical Hollywood style!): they’ve switched the order of some events; they’ve added some characters and sub-plots that aren’t in the original story; and they’ve left out some of the very important Christian imagery. In short, they’ve made a very good adventure film about good versus evil which is loosely based on C.S. Lewis’ work.

But the book is much, much better! So my advice is: See the movie, and allow that to motivate you to read the book, if you haven’t already read it.

Now there is one exchange that takes place in the novel that the moviemakers did include in the film—and they get an A+ for doing it, because it reveals C.S. Lewis’ primary reason for writing the entire Chronicles of Narnia series.

The scene in question occurs at the very end of the movie. Edmund and Lucy, two of the children who were magically transported from our world to the fantasy world of Narnia, are told that they have to return to their home in mid-20th century England, and that they won’t come back to Narnia again.

The one who tells them this, of course, is Aslan—the Great Lion, who just happens to symbolize Jesus Christ in these stories.

Why did C.S. Lewis make Jesus a lion in his fictitious world? Because the Messiah is called “the Lion of Judah” in the Old Testament.

Christians who know their Bibles pick up on that imagery very quickly and easily.

Let me now read to you this part of the story from the novel itself:

“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy. “Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do make it soon.”

“Dearest,” said Aslan very gently, “you and your brother will never come back to Narnia.”

“Oh, Aslan!!” said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.

“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”

“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We [won’t] meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.

“Are—are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

And his name, the Bible tells us, is Jesus.

When Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, was born on Christmas Day 2,000 years ago, very few people realized that Almighty God was in their midst, wrapped in human flesh. Mary and Joseph knew; so did a few shepherds and some magi from the east.

But that was about it. The rest of the world was totally unaware of what was happening.

Well things haven’t changed much in 2,000 years, have they?

Jesus is still in our midst—he’s still with us in many different ways—but many people in our modern world (and that includes many Christians) are completely unaware of his presence. They’re like Edmund and Lucy before their trips to Narnia. Aslan had already been with them in England (using his proper name, Jesus), but they never realized it.

For example, Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” That means Jesus is with us whenever we gather for worship, and especially when we gather for Mass—where he comes to us Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist.

Do we realize that? Do we even believe that?

If we do, then how could we possibly ever miss Mass on a Sunday or holy day?!!

Jesus is also present in the sacrament of Reconciliation, where he speaks to us, through the priest, those comforting words of forgiveness: “I absolve you from your sins . . .”

How many people are carrying around terrible burdens of guilt—burdens they could easily get rid of—because they don’t know, or believe, that Jesus is really present there in Confession?

Jesus is present in his written word, the Bible—but many Catholics and other Christians don’t realize that. If they did, then they’d dust their Bibles off and actually read them—at least every once in awhile.

Jesus is present in other people—and in us. If we recognize that fact, we will be people of charity, as we remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me.”

Jesus can even be found in the sufferings of this life—which I think is great news! It’s great to know that I can find my God even when things are not going so well for me. In other words, it’s great to know that I can find my God and experience his help and strength when I need him the most!

Lord Jesus, as we celebrate your birth today, we ask you to open our eyes as you opened the eyes of Edmund and Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia. Make us more aware of your loving and constant presence: your presence in the Church, in the sacraments, in the Scriptures, in ourselves, in others—and in the many and varied circumstances of this life. And help us to be different people—better people, better disciples—because of that awareness. By knowing you here today for a little, may we know you better when we leave here—and every day hereafter. Amen.