04 November 2013

Love Changes Us

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
            When I was a junior in high school, there was this girl I had a big crush on.  She sat right in front of me in Spanish class.  She was attractive, kind, and into her faith: the trifecta of beauty.  But she and I weren’t really good friends.  So I had to figure out a way to get to talk with her, and more than just comparing notes for Spanish class.  I soon learned that she was into country music, so I started listening to country, too.  Before that, my only exposure to America’s music had been the classic stuff (like George Jones or Merle Haggard) I’d hear at my grandparents on a Saturday morning listening to WITL as they cooked pancakes and sausage for us.  But, I started listening to both old and new so this girl and I could talk.
            I’m sure I’m not the only guy who has “expanded his horizons” in order to talk more with a girl.  In fact, I’d guess that most of you husbands have changed certain things in order to impress your wives, even if it was just learning how to put the seat down.  And many wives here have probably learned to put up with idiosyncrasies they never envisioned because they love their husbands.
According to tradition, the Sycamore
tree which Zacchaeus climbed
to see Jesus in Jericho
            Love of a person, whether it be just a crush, or even into marriage, changes us, and hopefully for the better.  When we love someone, we are willing to do things differently for the one we love.  We see that in our Gospel today.  Zacchaeus comes into contact with Jesus, whom he loves, and Zacchaeus changes.  Jesus doesn’t even say anything to him, other than asking to eat at his house, and Zacchaeus affirms, “‘Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.’”  Zacchaeus loves Jesus enough that he is willing to give away half of what he owns to the poor, and to make good any cheating that he had done before when collecting people’s taxes.
            Here we are, the People of God, sons and daughters adopted by God the Father in baptism, many of us coming into contact with Jesus at least once a week as we hear His Word, are reminded of His presence through the ministry of the priest, and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus into us.  We have come to meet Jesus and He makes Himself known to us in the People, in His Word, in the Priest, and especially in the Eucharist, and are we different?  Are we willing to change for the one we claim to love?  If not, how much do we really love Him?
            One of my favorite scenes from “The Godfather III” is when Michael Corleone is making his confession.  Cardinal Lamberto, who is hearing his confession, picks up a little rock that has been sitting in a fountain and says, “Look at this stone.  It has been lying in the water for a very long time, but the water has not penetrated it.”  He breaks the stone.  “Look.” he says, “Perfectly dry.  The same thing has happened to men in Europe.  For centuries they have been surrounded by Christianity, but Christ has not penetrated.  Christ doesn’t breathe within them.”  We could say the same thing about us Americans.  For over two centuries we have had the faith active in the US, sometimes under great persecution, but has Christ effected us?  Has Jesus changed us?  Do we love Jesus enough that we want to change how we live?
            Will it be hard to change?  More difficult from some than for others.  We are enmeshed in a culture of death that sacrifices the life of an innocent child for the sake of a comfortable lifestyle; that desires comfort above all else; that objectifies men and women as tools to satisfy our lust and libido, whether on the internet, or in real life, even in marriages; that denies that anyone can say one thing is true and another is false because everyone has their point of view, and we can’t really know truth; that rewards power and mocks obedience to legitimate authority.  It is the culture in which I grew up; it is the culture in which many of you grew up; it is the culture in which we all now live.  But it is not significantly different from the culture in AD 33, or 67, or 90.  The only thing that is different is that in our country, we have the right to freely practice our religion, at least for now.  We face a similar culture as the Greco-Roman culture of the time of the greatest flourishing of our faith, the largest explosion of heart-felt conversions.  The pagans didn’t change their life because the philosophy and the rules of the Christians made more sense or made life easier, they changed their life because they fell in love with Jesus, and every other change they had to make was worth it because of His love and the gift of eternal life that He offered to those who follow Him. 
            This New Evangelization that we keep talking about is all about getting to know and love Jesus.  We have received the Sacraments, which are catalysts for a relationship with Jesus, but I dare say that many of us in this celebration of the Mass are practical strangers to Jesus.  We know Jesus as well as we know President Obama, or Pope Francis, or Miguel Cabrera.  We know of them, maybe we know a lot about them, but we don’t know them personally.  And because we don’t know Jesus personally, we cannot be in love with Him; we cannot love a person that we don’t know.  Zacchaeus was willing to go out on a limb—literally—to get to know Jesus, and so was able to love Him and be transformed by that love.  What are we willing to do to get to know Jesus?
            If we are willing to change what music we listen to, or how we appear, or what we do for a person we merely crush on, let alone another human person we truly love, why are we not willing to change for the Divine Person who loved us so much, even when we were unlovable, that He died for us?  Why do we pretend that being a stranger to Jesus is an acceptable way to live our Catholic faith?  Are we afraid to change?  Are we afraid of what Jesus will demand?  Pope Benedict XVI once said:
Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way?  If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that he might take something away from us?  Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful?  Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom?  …No!  If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.  No!  Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide.  Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed.  Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.  And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of a long personal experience of life, I say to you…Do not be afraid of Christ!  He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.  When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return.  Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ—and you will find true life.”

            Luckily, as our first reading states, the Lord is merciful and patient.  He gives us time to know Him more deeply and love Him.  He stands knocking at the doors of our hearts, waiting for us to answer.  But we do not have unlimited time.  Brothers and sisters, “now is the acceptable time!  Now is the day of salvation!”  Join a Bible study; join a faith-sharing group; serve at a soup kitchen; read books on the faith like the US Catholic Catechism for Adults, YouthCat, and books on the lives of the saints.  Do all you can to see Jesus, to know Jesus, to love Jesus.  “Do not be afraid!”