FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 8th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, March 3, 2019:
Let me ask a question today – how many of us wish that we were luckier in life? And I mean that in just about every way – not just the lottery, but luckier in work, in love, in friendships, and more. I think we all wish we were luckier in life. Well, there is some good news. I came across a study recently out of the University of Hartfordshire in England that explored this question of luck and the answers were interesting. Just when you begin to think that some people have all the luck in the world, this study shows that there are in fact some common qualities to lucky people.
Lucky people for example smile twice as often as unlucky people, and engage in more eye contact. Lucky people tend to be optimistic and have positive expectations in life – from people and circumstances. Unlucky people, on the other hand, have a much more negative view of the world, of people, of their lives, and of circumstances in general. They tend to see the very same situations and instead of seeing the lucky possibilities, they see only the negatives.
I think a member of my community I lived with a number of years ago. He was the type who always seems to see the cloud around every silver lining. For example, faced with an unexpected warm, Spring-like day in the midst of this long winter; as everyone else rejoices in this gift, his response would be, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. I’ll probably just be cold again tomorrow.” Or after a great Bruins or Red Sox win, as everyone is celebrating, his response would be, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. They’ll probably just lose next time.” Or after being being praised for a job well done, as anyone else would be happy with the kind words, he’d likely say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. They praise you today, they’ll tear you down tomorrow.” We all know someone like this, and if we’re honest, sometimes we are that person.
The British study found that the luckiness and happiness also go hand-in-hand. The people more inclined towards good luck, also tended to be happier over all. The study offered a few suggestions to increase both luck and happiness in our lives First, keep an open mind that is willing to look for opportunities, not one that sees only negativity. Second, have an optimistic view of the positive things in life. Focusing on the negative crushes our spirits and lowers our expectations. Finally, try something new. Routines can quickly become ruts, but an openness to change can bring about new possibilities that we could never have imagined.
This is what Jesus is getting at in our Gospel today as He speaks about splinters and beams in people’s eyes, and what kind of fruit a tree will bear. Jesus is asking us a very basic question today – what is your view of the world? Do you see the world as an inherently negative place where life is a drudgery and everyone is out to get us? Do you have a view that only sees the things that are wrong with everyone? Or do you see the world through the eyes of God – a God who created everything and so it is good; a God who desires goodness, and holiness; healing and joy for all of His creation? A God who only wants what is best for His people?
As Jesus said today, “A good person out of the store of goodness in their heart produces good.” Jesus reminds us that we can look only at splinters and be part of the negativity around us; or we can share in His light and shine that light to the world. We can produce goodness from the store of goodness He gave us.
This is also at the heart of what Pope Francis has been trying to encourage in us during these years of his pontificate. In his encyclical The Joy of the Gospel he speaks about the contrast between joyful proclaimers of the Gospel and what he calls “sourpusses.” He said, for example, “Rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation, we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.” It makes me think of a quote I heard many years ago from a speaker who said, “Why is it that some Christians go around looking as though they were baptized in pickle juice?”
Pope Francis is continually inviting us to live lives that are characterized not by negativity, but by the joy that is a gift from God. The Pope said, “Joy always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” And, there is the heart of the matter – we are joyful because we know that we are infinitely loved by God. And we can be certain of this because we hear it in the First Letter of John, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us...We love because he first loved us.” God loved us first and best – and the certainty of that love is what gives birth to our joy. My friends, as we gather in this church today, do you know how much God loves you? Have you let that certainty sink into the depths of your heart? You are loved by God; you are His beloved. Nothing can change that or take it away – and that is the source of our joy!
One last quote from the Pope. He said, “A Christian is a man or a woman of joy. Jesus teaches us this, the Church teaches us this. Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. It is like an anointing of the Spirit. And this joy is the certainty that Jesus is with us and with the Father. The Christian sings with joy, and walks with joy, and carries this joy.”
My friends, just imagine what our world could look like when we are the people who proclaim peace in the midst of wars and violence in our world; who invite unity in the face of the political and cultural divisions all around us; who live community and equality in a society filled with prejudice and racism; homelessness, drug addiction and poverty. Our world today lacks the joy that comes from God. And Jesus is inviting us once again to be His face, His hands, His voice to the world – He invites us to be the people who bring that joy wherever we go.
“A good person out of the store of goodness in their heart produces good.” With Christ, let us be the change, the joy, our world needs.
May the Lord give you peace.