Monday, August 5, 2013

Pouting...like a two year old...


The following homily was delivered at a Mass with the Diocesan Directors of Pro-Life Offices in Newton, Massachusetts today on the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.

Like many of you, I travel a lot, mostly giving talks to priests and conferences like this one.  Some weeks I feel like wherever two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of them.

And like many of you, I’ve had the privilege of sitting beside a two-year-old for a two and one half hour flight on British Airways.  I say privilege because, despite the occasional ear-piercing screams, the incessant pulling of my shirt sleeve, and the open juice box in my lap, this little fellow was a wonder to behold.

A wonder because his moods seemed, like most two-year-olds, to swing from joy to misery and back again in the blink of an eye,  joy was manifested by wide and darting eyes, a smile as wide as the ocean below, and a deep and satisfying giggle.  Misery resulted in a close approximation of the fetal position with every facial feature imploding into a pathetic scowl of rage.

But what most interested me about this impressive little boy was the clear and consistent cause of his joy or misery.  Each time his mother would smile at him, tickle him, play with him or otherwise give him her attention, he would launch into shrills of joyous laughter.  It was only when he was ignored, hushed, or otherwise made to feel neglected, that he would hunch down into pure misery.

And am I really that different from him?

When everything goes right, when we defeat assisted suicide and the abortion clinic in my town has closed down, when the new State Rep is pro-life and the Diocesan budget committee gave me the 5%, and I am convinced that God is caring for me full time and that he pays me close, personal attention, my heart overflows with joy.  I am the center of the universe, and any day now God will hear all my prayers and come in glory!

But when the least little thing goes wrong, and I fear that God really isn’t listening, that things may not change on my timetable, that he doesn’t really care...I am quickly tempted by Soren Kierkegaard once called “fear and trembling, and sickness unto death.”

And it’s so often over the stupidest of things.  I arrived in London a few months ago for a meeting and went to take my debit card out to get some cash to get a taxi to the meeting, when I noticed the strip on the back of the card had been scratched.  Sure enough, when I put it into the machine, it failed to work.

Great, I thought, no cash and stuck at Heathrow.  For at least a couple seconds I was tempted to believe there was no God, or if there was, he certainly wasn’t concerned with a Priest trying to get to central London.  So what did I do?  Did I pray?  Did I thank God for the safe trip thus far?  No.  I pouted.  Like a two year old.

And amidst my pouting it suddenly came to me that I could use one of my credit cards to get cash.  Grumbling through my wallet I stuck in the plastic, looked up the password, typed it in, and pounds came flowing out of the machine.  Thank you Lord! I muttered, more out of reflex than devotion.  And now my heart began to sing again and I was ready to preach a homily about how much God really cares for us.  Two minutes to the second after my infantile pout in despair over a God who no longer cared.

Each of our days is filled with such moments.  Moments when we reflexively blame God for every little thing that goes wrong.  Moments when we’re convinced, if not of his absence, at least of his delinquency in failing to make our debit cards,, our children, our parents, and our lives just as perfect as they can be.  We predicate our joy on everything going our way and protest life’s frequent and annoying little exigencies with the miserable pouting of a little child.
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I’m like the Israelites sitting lst in the desert: “Would that we had died at the LORD's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!" I'm like the disciples looking for Jesus to multiply some more loaves and fishes, to do the next healing or magic trick. Skeptical, morose, and depressed.

And then he gives us bread from heaven, manna and even the flesh of the Son of Man, and we are filled with joy.

How different are we, really, than that two-year-old child...overjoyed when God does our will and depressed when he calls us to do his.

Let us instead, be like that two-year-old at the end of the flight to London, as he fell asleep in his mother’s arms...filled with trust...filled with hope....filed with peace... Not swinging from mania to depression depending on our moods, but trusting that our heavenly Father will look on us with mercy and save us ‘through the intercession of the Mother of his Son and our Lord.’

In trust.