Everything Matters - Except Everything

(Homily for Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B )

Bottom line: As Chesterton says, for people today "everything matters - except everything." This is fatal because it causes us to forget our true home. Remember me, Lord, that I might remember you.

My homily this Sunday is about our human tendency to forget God. To put this tendency into context, I would like to begin with an observation by G.K. Chesterton. He said that one of the characteristics of the modern world is our willingness to talk about everything - nothing is off the table. He added, though, that there is one thing we are embarrassed to talk about: everything! As Chesterton says, for us "everything matter - except everything."

What does Chesterton mean when he says that we talk about "everything except everything"? Well, people have opinions about politics, movie stars, crime, fashions, climate, the causes of illnesses and the latest scandals - you name it and people have their opinion and they express it freely. But we shy away from talking about everything itself: What is this universe, this existence we have been thrown into? And what - or who - is behind it all?

We steer away from those questions. Our reluctance - even our embarrassment - to talk about everything itself has had an effect on us. We are busy about many things. We are concerned about many things - but we have forgotten everything.

The Israelites were in a similar situation during the Babylonian Exile. We heard about it in the first reading. In Babylon the Jewish people encountered new problems - and new opportunities. Many of them prospered in Babylon. Perhaps because of that prosperity, they tended to forget their home - to forget Jerusalem. The Psalm writer gives a warning, "If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten." To forget Jerusalem would be to forget God. That would be fatal.

Now, Babylon on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers was attractive, even exciting. The exiles faced a temptation to get comfortable in Babylon. If they did that, however, they risked losing the one thing that really mattered - their home, Jerusalem, God himself. The Psalmist, therefore, speaks out: "May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, if I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy."

You and I can also forget our true home. We can get so busy, so concerned with everything that we forget everything itself. Like the exiles we need a reminder. Let me give you an example (this is a true story):*

Once a middle-age priest had a visit from two young nuns. Since he didn't have any food in his refrigerator, he invited them to a nearby restaurant. It was a nice a day and they walked. As they were going down the street, the priest noticed heads turning. At first the priest thought they were looking at him, but he quickly realized they were not looking at him, but at the Sisters. It was not that there weren't other nice looking young ladies or even strangely dressed ones. There was something about the veil those Sisters were wearing. They were calling attention not to themselves, but to the Bridegroom. Some weeks later the priest ran into a lady who said, "I am not a Catholic, but I saw those Sisters the other day with you. I just felt something good inside of me."

Those young Sisters - simply by the authenticity of their lives - they helped people remember God: To pause from all things worrying them, to forget about everything happening and to think about everything itself. To remember God.

How do we remember God? It's not like trying to recall where I put the keys. It's not a question of racking one's mind. The truth is that none of us can remember God unless he remembers us. God has to take the intiative. And he does. As we heard in the Gospel, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son."

To remember God, the first thing is to recognize that He is other. He is distinct from us and we from him. We are not splinters of God. We did not emanate from him - like rays of the light from the sun. We are, rather, his image - like a reflection in a mirror. When I look in a mirror - after I get over the initial disappointment - I recognize that is me. But of course the image only exists if I continue in front of the mirror. The image is distinct from me, but it does not exist apart from me.

So it is with us and God. Our existence depends on him. But we did not ooze from him. He made us in his image and likeness. And He gave us all, including the great gift of freedom - but we used our freedom to turn our backs on Him. In a word, we sinned.

Because of our sins, we try to hide from our Maker. We want to forget Him, pretend we have some existence apart from Him. That has become our natural tendency. We have spent so much time forgetful of God we cannot now remember Him unless He remembers us. That is why the Bible has so many prayers such as, "Remember your people, O Lord" or more simply, "Remember me." Those are good prayers, especially these last weeks of Lent. It's not because God has to be reminded, but we certainly do. Remember me, Lord, that I might remember you.

We need silence to remember God. We need something else - a willingness to let light shine on our lives. That can be a little scary. All of us have things we would rather others did not know about - and maybe we are even afraid for God to know about. For that reason Jesus says, "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." God does not want to condemn us. He wants to save us. He has saved us - in his Son Jesus. Remember me, Lord, that I might remember you.

To sum up: We have opinions about everything at all, but we shy from everything itself. As Chesterton says, for us "everything matters - except everything." This is fatal because it causes us to forget our true home. "If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten!" Remember me, Lord, that I might remember you.

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*The middle-aged priest was me. I adapted the account so any homilist can use the illustration.

Versión Castellana

From the Archives:

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2009: The Beauty of Humility
2006: A Passion Which Transforms
2003: No Refuge from the Love of God
2000: The Memory of God

Year A (RCIA):
Small Gesture with Enormous Promise (2008)
Seeing and Knowing (2005)
Men Who Went Blind (2002)
Fatal Blindness (1999)

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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