“IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE” – yeah still havent seen it…

Hi everyone, here’s my homily for the THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – January 27, 2012. The readings for today can be found at https://usccb.org/bible/readings/012713.cfm. Thanks as always for reading, for your shares on Facebook and Twitter (I’m humbled to see how many people stop by the blog each week)- and for your feedback. God Bless – Fr. Jim

Another Christmas season has come and gone, and I have a confession to make. In my 39 years on this planet – 39 Christmas seasons that I have experienced, it is true, I still haven’t seen the movie “It’s a wonderful life.” Yep, without fail, whenever I say that to people I usually get the jaw drop with the, “Are you kidding me? Really??? You have never seen ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’?” Someone even accused me of being un-American for not doing so. (!!)

I’m not quite sure why I haven’t. It’s not like I’m anti-Jimmy Stewart or anything. Maybe because it’s black and white? Maybe because I have seen spoofs of it on SNL that have already kind of ruined what seems to be the most important scene of the film. I have heard enough about it to know that it is considered an all-time classic film ranking up there with “Gone with the Wind” or “Casablanca” (another film I’ve never seen). Despite hearing so much about it, I still haven’t sat down and watched it, yet.

A couple of years ago, something similar was happening with the film Captain America. I had students saying what a great film it was, people were posting about it on Facebook. Months after it was out of the movie theaters, I had made plans to hang out with a friend and he showed up with a six pack in the one hand and the Captain America DVD in the other and said “We’re watching this tonight, I’m telling you you’re going to love it.”

And you know what – he was right. It was awesome. It was the kind of movie I could have sat through and watched again right away. I’ve since bought the movie myself and seen it at least three more times. I even advocated that we would watch that again on our 23 hour bus trip to Florida rather than watching “Batman Begins” (another film I haven’t seen).

It’s not like I’m particularly discerning in my movie choices . . . I don’t see a lot of them and when I do, well, as anyone who’s seen the random and varied titles of DVD’s I own will tell you – they run the gamut from stupid comedies to serious, thoughtful dramas.

What makes the difference – why I have seen Captain America and not seen It’s a wonderful life – is simply because of what my friend did. He didn’t simply tell me what a great film it was. He didn’t simply hand me a copy of the DVD and tell me to watch it (where it would sit collecting dust with a couple of other great films people have told me you absolutely have to see); he liked the film enough and liked me enough to know that this was something that was worth his sharing of his time with me sitting through seeing something again. And because of that I became a fan.

It’s a simple example . . . Whether or not I saw Captain America (or ever see It’s a Wonderful Life) isn’t going to transform my life a great deal. But think about the importance of when someone is so passionate about something they’re willing to go out of themselves to share it with you. It changes your perspective, your openness to receiving what it is they’re sharing. It’s one thing when someone tells you, “That’s a great restaurant, you should go check it out.” It’s quite another when they say, “I found a restaurant that I really enjoyed and I think you would too . . . how about I take you there next week, my treat?”

That’s something that is going on in this Gospel passage we just heard. If you didn’t have the text in front of you as the Gospel was proclaimed, you might not have realized that the reading started with four verses from the first Chapter of the Gospel of Luke . . . then it jumped ahead past the Christmas story all the way to Chapter 4 verses 14-21 to get to this selection which is the beginning of Jesus’ preaching and teaching in Galilee. And on the surface, those first four verses don’t seem that important to warrant our attention in this Post-Christmas season. It’s basically like when you open a Stephen King book and see on one of the first pages, “To my Mom and Dad” or someone who’s important to him. We read Luke’s “dedication page.”

And just as we don’t know the people that most authors dedicate their works too, we don’t know who this guy Theophilus is. Theophilus – sounds like a disease or a cure for one! He’s only mentioned here, and in Luke’s sequel to the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles where Luke continues writing to Theophilus. So we have little to no historical information on who he was. So why does the Church want us to hear this dedication? I think it’s to remember that this Gospel wasn’t just written as a historical record recounting the occurrences of Jesus. A lot of people were talking about Jesus, what he said, what he did. Things that had happened that caused them to follow Jesus themselves as they said to others, “You should, too.”

But St. Luke is more passionate… so much so that he stops and says, “Theophilus – I know you’ve heard a lot of buzz about Jesus. I want to share my passion – my experience – my life’s witness to what I experienced.” See, Luke isn’t just passing on a critical review of Jesus’ message or giving information about Him. He’s sharing what’s moved him – what’s transformed him. His encounter with Christ was that important and he cared enough for Theophilus that Luke organized all his memories, all his thoughts to, as he says “write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, (Next time my friends ask me to do something I’m not going to take them seriously unless they call me ‘most excellent’); so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”

So with that background when Luke is sharing this moment where Jesus enters the temple of his hometown, where he grew up, had prayed as a boy, probably was Bar Mitzvahed as a young man, and read those words of the prophet Isaiah . . . Luke’s not just an observer to these things giving us a journalistic account of what happened. He’s sharing what he experienced, what he felt, what happened to him. In his encounter with Jesus, Luke’s testifying that in his poverty, Jesus brought glad tidings to him . . . In the areas of his life where he felt captive, imprisoned – Jesus was the one who liberated him. In whatever blindness Luke had experienced, there was a correction, there was a restoration of vision. Whatever it was that oppressed Luke, Jesus was able to provide the freedom. And, going even further, Luke felt the immense Love of God for him, recognizing that, when God’s people experience this good news, then that is a year acceptable to the Lord.

It is said that here, in the United States, the largest single denomination is Roman Catholics. You want to guess what the second largest group is? Former Roman Catholics. And one of the fastest growing groups in the country is those who claim no religious identification. While there’s a lot of reasons given for that, and a lot of fingers being pointed why that is, there’s one that is our responsibility. Do we have this personal relationship with Jesus, have we experienced Him and been transformed by Him? So often we can approach the Sacraments, or come to Mass as simply a weekly obligation. Just like I have to get my gas tank filled up, I gotta get my religious stuff done for the week. And we can have an equal sense of passion for both of those things.

We have to remember what our God has done and is continuing to do for us. How Jesus continues to come to us, proclaiming glad tidings to those in poverty. For us in this “first-world nation” that poverty is for a different, almost more urgent need. Mother Teresa observed, “There is more hunger for love and appreciation . . . than for bread.” Jesus wants to heal that. Jesus continues to want to free us from the imprisonment that sin causes, the blindness we can have to how self-focused, self-involved, self-deluded we can become, ignoring the pains and sufferings of those around us. Jesus’ proclamation of freedom is still awaiting the selfless sharing of every one of us to relieve the world’s oppression. That is Jesus’ mission, that is His mission for us . . . but that’s not going to happen simply because we happened to make it here to Mass today to hear these words.

Jesus is asking us to go deeper, to see what He has done for each of us personally. How the Gospel you and I have heard proclaimed, how the Eucharist – Jesus’ Body and Blood that we consume each week – has transformed us. Maybe we need to take a step back and think about that and remember that. Remembering the difference He has made – imagining how desolate different times and spaces in our life would’ve been without him . . . And then to pass on that hope and fullness and joy to others.

Whether I ever see It’s a wonderful Life, or not, my real goal, our real goal has to be testifying that because of our life in Christ, that we proclaim the truth of that title, each and every day of our lives.