FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 19, 2021:
Let me start with a question today. By a show of hands, how many of you would say you were the favorite child in your family? My older brother and I have had a long-running debate about who is the favorite child, the favorite grandchild. I say the debate was definitively ended a number of years ago when my grandmother was very ill. My Mom had called me one day and said, “Tommy, come to the hospital to anoint Grammy. The doctor’s say she won’t make the night.” When I got there, the family was gathered and my grandmother was not conscious at all. She was very unsettled, but not aware of anyone around. I invited everyone to lay their hands on Grammy as we began the Sacrament of the Sick, to pray that the Holy Spirit be with her. As I laid my hand on her forehead, her body immediately calmed and she began to breathe more easily. Then, when I finished anointing her with oil, her eyes opened, she looked up and said, “Is that Tommy, my angel?” And the debate over the favorite son was definitively answered!
We heard in our Gospel today, “Taking a child, [Jesus] placed it in their midst, and…said, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.’” Biblical scholars often speak of a pattern found in Bible stories that they call “the younger child motif.” They found that in stories that have to do with two brothers or sisters, almost always the younger one emerges as the hero, the good guy, the one who laughs last. Starting from the story of Cain and Abel, through those of Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers, Adonijah and Solomon, Leah and Rachel, the prodigal son and his elder brother, to that of Mary and Martha, we find it is usually the younger sibling who ends up more at peace with God and people – the favored one.
The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung gives a helpful theory. Jung said the human personality is driven by two energies, one he calls senex, meaning old person or senior, and the other puer eternis, or, the eternal child. The senior is more wise, prudent and calculating, always looking before leaping and so ends up often not leaping at all. The child, on the other hand, is more adventurous and takes more chances. The senior is conscious about security and preservation, while the child is more easy-come-easy-go, more prepared to change and to let go. The senior is geared towards competition, power and success, the child is attuned to cooperation and celebration. The senior is responsible while the child is lighthearted. Jung says, to be fully human, fully alive, these two perspectives, the senior and the child, must find balance and harmony in the personality.
When we look at the disciples in today’s Gospel, we find they are acting more like the senior than the children. For the second time, Jesus tells them in plain language of the suffering, death and resurrection that await him in Jerusalem. They don’t understand, yet also don’t ask for an explanation. That is typical of the senex mentality which says, “I can figure this out on my own.” Then the disciples argue about which of them was the greatest. They are relating to one another and working with one another on the basis of competition rather than cooperation. Now you can begin to understand where the little child comes in.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” In other words, when it comes to our lives of faith, it is better for us to engage the open and free energy of a child if we truly wish to follow Jesus. Jesus is calling us to have the freedom of the child; to be less worried about how we will be perceived, less afraid, and less concerned with rules, and with power and success. Like a child, Jesus wants us to be ready to take a leap of faith, to let go of our preconceived notions. Only then does truly believing and following Jesus completely become possible.
The problem for us is that our world is biased in favor of the senex way. Like the disciples we measure success by comparing ourselves with others. We even convince ourselves that this is what God wants, that prosperity and success and wealth are part of living in God’s ways. Time magazine did a cover story a few years ago on what is often called the Prosperity Gospel. Evangelical preachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers are the best known for this. Time magazine posed the question, “Does God want you to be rich?” The Prosperity Gospel says that what God wants more than anything is to shower you with material goods. Joyce Meyers put it this way, “Who would want a faith where you're miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven? I believe God wants to give us nice things.” Of course, we don’t have to look any further than Matthew’s Gospel to find the truth. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So, does God want us to be rich? Well, I think God doesn’t care so much about whether or not we’re rich materially, he’s much more concerned with the richness of our compassion, the wealth of our love, the extravagance of our forgiveness, the generosity of our care for the hungry, the lonely, those on the margins of our world. If we trust and follow God, He will shower His choicest blessings upon us – but not in silver and gold – they blessings of love, relationships, peace and harmony, holiness and purity – the things whose value can never be measured.
This is what happens when we make room for the child in our hearts. Jesus today challenges us to be adventurous in our life of faith, take a chance on God’s way, to make the leap of faith and celebrate the gifts that God has given you – and God will show you greater blessings than you could have ever imagined in your life. Whether we are nine years old or 99, the message of Jesus challenges us all to become young at heart – especially in our faith life. This is the only way to join the company of the sons and daughters to whom the Kingdom of God truly belongs. This is how we become God’s favorite!
“Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.’”
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.