19 January 2012

He's not a celebrity. . .he's the Son of God!

2nd Week OT (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

Listen Here (5.30 Mass)

While studying in Rome, I met several “church celebrities”: Cardinal Cottier (JPII's personal theologian) and Fr. Giertych (BXVI's), both Dominicans; Archbishops Burke and Rigali; and while teaching in Dallas, I served as tour guide and emcee for Cardinal Arinze during one of his visits. Though I've never met a pope, I did get to stand directly behind Pope Benedict during a Good Friday liturgy at St. Peter's. That's about it for my brushes with fame! And that's perfectly fine with me. I'm a bad fan, meaning I'm not one to get all crazy over an actor or a politician or even a pope. So, today's gospel provoked a question for me: Philip, you would be in that crowd chasing down Jesus, clamoring for his attention? I don't know. Ask anyone who visits St Peter's when the Holy Father is celebrating Mass and they will tell you that the most dangerous place to be at that moment is between the Pope and a little Italian nun! I'm 6'1” and 300+ lbs., standing there in full habit and le sorelle plow over me like a Roman taxi driver late for his nap! Clamoring for the attention of a celebrity is undignified; it's demeaning and. . .well, it's vulgar. But what if that celebrity is Christ? And you were blind or suffered from leprosy or were possessed by an unclean spirit? How about then? Well, now, that's a different story altogether, isn't it. . .? He is, after all, the Son of God.

Would you be among those chasing Jesus around the countryside? I mean, if you weren't sick or disabled or possessed? Would you follow him around just to watch him heal others or hear him preach? Maybe you've heard of him and just want to see for yourself what all the fuss is about? Is this guy for real? Too good to be true? You know that celebrities inevitable disappoint us, right? Athletes lose games. Actors make bad movies. Even popes sometimes fail to live up to the ideals they profess. The most apparently perfect celeb is still only human, only a man or a woman whose celebrity hides their many imperfections. Just like us regular folks they crack under pressure, succumb to temptation, and fall short of the glory of God. That's to be expected: they aren't God, and neither are we. When the pedestal we've put them on starts to wobble, we might groan and weep but can we really be surprised? What supernatural feats have any of them accomplished? Have any of them taught a truth so profound that we were astonished by their authority? Who among them serves as the foundation stone for an institution begun more than 2,000 years ago? Let their pedestal tumble. But don't mourn their fall. It's the Christ we celebrate; it's Jesus we here to hear!

Jesus' celebrity in his native land is easy to understand. He brings healing to those who would otherwise suffer and die from their afflictions. Medical science at the time was little more than folklore and herbalism. He cleans the uncleanable and brings back into the life of the community those thought forever cast out. He frees those held in slavery by unclean spirits, restoring their freedom and giving them back their dignity. He adds purpose to their lives, gives direction and strength, and he grants the one virtue most had probably never practiced: hope. He did all this then, and he does all this now. Instead of chasing him around the hill country like a rock star, we gather in his name. Instead of seeing him in the distance or hearing him as an echo, we sit at his feet and we listen. Instead of fighting over the chance to touch his tunic, we eat at his table. And we do all this by his invitation, by his grace. The Christ came to save us with his body and blood not wow us with his celebrity. We honor him when we make known that the invitation to his table is always open and the feast is always free.

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