Fr. Richard's Sunday Homily, December 2, 2018
Twenty-Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Let Us Be Attentive
Epistle: Colossians 1:12-18
Gospel: Luke 18:18-27
I want to talk a little bit about focusing. Or, as we say in the Liturgy, being attentive, paying attention. We all know that with young children it is not always so easy to get them to focus on what you would like them to do. You can try your best but most of the time they will pay attention to what they want to do. Young children can be totally absorbed in an activity or an object, completely focused. But it's also true that they can be easily distracted and drop the object of their attention to move on to the new thing that has now caught their eye.
Many, many, many years ago when I was a young priest, I found it rather easy to get distracted sometimes during the Liturgy. Sometimes it was because of thoughts that pop into my head such as we are all familiar with. But other times it was because of people. I'd turn around to give a blessing and I would see someone doing something that was strange or curious and it would grab my mind, and every once in a while, I would forget what I was supposed to be saying. The servers used to distract me as well, especially because they are closer to me. Now, after these many, many, many years that very rarely happens. I've learned not to pay them any attention at all unless I smell something burning that shouldn't be or see large flames out of the corner of my eye.
I see the problem with the ruler in today's Gospel. When he comes to Jesus and says that he wants to be able to enter into eternal life, I believe he is most sincere about that, and it seems Jesus takes him seriously. The man claims that he keeps the commandments of the Lord, and we have no reason to doubt him. He's not a bad person. He's a good guy. But he loses the opportunity for eternal life. He walks away from it. And why? I think it is fair to say that he lost his focus. The man wanted eternal life, but he was too distracted by his wealth to remain focused on his good intention. This was not a distraction that he had been aware of, it was not a distraction that was obvious to everyone, but it was, in a sense, a very fatal distraction because it cost him eternal life as he walked away from Jesus. How could he be so short-sighted, so easily turned away?
Well, we're good guys too, but that doesn't mean we are not also distracted from eternal life, distracted from what is good, distracted from Jesus. Sometimes distractions come, and we simply can't help them, because we are flesh and blood and therefore thoughts, ideas, wishes, desires, temptations come to us, good, bad or neutral and we cannot always help that. The trouble begins when we embrace unworthy or bad distractions, either because they are bad in themselves, or they may not be bad in themselves but by acting on them we may be neglecting other persons or duties or needs that we should be taking care of. There is nothing wrong with being on Facebook in itself, but if it causes me to neglect my prayers or my family then it becomes a bad distraction.
Where will we focus? On whom or what will we focus? And especially, especially at this time of year it is a very relevant question. I remember reading some years ago about the fist fights that occurred at Walmarts all across the country the day after Thanksgiving. Imagine. “I’m going to beat you up because I’m getting ready for Christmas!” But where is our focus going to be the rest of this month until the Feast? When the bank teller or the cashier at the store asks the required question, “Are you ready for the holidays?” will that question bring to mind our fasting, our prayer, our good works? Or will it only cause us to think of shopping, food and what’s wrong with our in-laws?
I suggest it would be a good thing for us to consider, and that we pay attention to what and Whom we want to focus on, so that we are not so easily distracted from what we know is important to us. Or what we want to be important to us. To be on automatic pilot is probably not the best idea, because it usually ends up flying us much more into weaknesses than our strengths and that's why we crash so often in our good intentions. What a great thing if we could train ourselves to wake up every day this month and the first thoughts we have are, “Blessed be the name of the Lord! Thank you, Lord, for giving me this day and help me to live it for You.” If we can stay focused as much as possible during these next 23 days, how can we regret that? If we treat the people we love, lovingly; if we exercise patience, humility, forgiveness and service; if we love to find peace of mind and heart in no other place than from Christ our Lord; if we can keep a daily focus on Jesus, Who is not only the reason we celebrate Christmas, but He is the Life-giver who wants us to live in His love not only in this world but in the world that is to come at the end of our days—if we can stay focused, and not allow the countless distractions that keep coming our way to keep us from paying attention to what is most important in our life, rather than what seems important for right now—we shall not turn away in sadness this Christmas distracted from the Savior, but find ourselves drawn even closer to Him. The rich man fatally lost his focus and allowed a distraction to ruin his good desire. May it not be so for us. Not ever.
Jesus is Wisdom. Let us be attentive.