In this beautiful homily for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly shows us how easy it is to be good!
First Reading: Isaiah 58:7-10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: First Corinthians 2:1-5
Gospel: Matthew 5:13-16
I’m sure you remember last week we had the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are very, very special and we continue them today.
Jesus, after speaking, brought his disciples up to a high mountain. In a way, it was like Moses appearing once again to the people because Moses gave them the first covenant, so many centuries before, and a hope that someday a Messiah would come.
And it was natural that Jesus would go up the mountainside, surrounded by his disciples. And all the people filled the mountain to hear what he had to say.
And, of course, last week was: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” and “Blessed are the meek,” and “Blessed are those who labour and suffer,” and blessed are all the people that we ought really not to be.
And, as we mentioned last week, Jesus was saying you should be happy, you should rejoice, because God is with you. God is with you and He will give you a whole new way to look at yourself and to look into your hearts and to feel the presence of God in a kind of way that nobody from the history of the world until then would ever begin to understand.
Jesus came, not to tell us what we could become – we could become this and become that. He was telling these people what they really are, what their true identity was. And if you look at that crowd of people you would be quite surprised to find that most of them were those who knew their need for God, or they came out of curiosity or because a famous man was giving a famous talk.
But Jesus says that he is now going to tell them who they really are. “You are the children of God,” he tells them. “You are created in love. You are precious in your Father’s eyes. He loves you. He cherishes you.”
And then Jesus also came to give us a new way of looking at life itself, the life around us, not only our own lives, but the lives that all come together in the communities that we ourselves make, ourselves with other people.
It’s such great love that this is why Jesus tells us and shows us, because he is one of us in a special way. He worries about us. Why? He delights in us. Why? He sheds tears for us and over us and forgives all our failures. Our true value comes from this new life, this identity with Jesus himself so that we become the sons and daughters as he is Son in his Father’s eyes. And this is why our true value comes from a new life and that new life is the presence of God Himself.
Very often, we tend to become spectators. In our present day and age, if you look at all the entertainment and everything that we do, you’ll find there’s a lot of looking. The Super Bowl is going to begin and perhaps the whole world, or a good part of it, will be looking at other men running around the ball field, passing a football for three hours, spellbound by it all. In many ways, we’ve lost the initiative to create our own entertainment, our own ways of doing things. We tend to follow, in a way, what the crowd follows and be passive in receiving.
Jesus tells us that there’s no place for passive observance if you’re going to be a disciple. If you’re going to be a Christian, you cannot sit on the sidelines and watch the others perform on some kind of arena.
When I was in Chinatown, many years ago, a family came into Chinatown, the Chiu family. There was a father, a mother, a son and three sisters, and they had just come from Hong Kong. It was many years ago. And they were delighted just running up and down the street because everything was new in Chinatown for them. And it snowed when they came. And I went out to meet them, because they were all Catholic, and they were just kind of tasting the snow and catching the snow and they were so taken up with the snow. It was a real treat.
Anyhow, on that weekend, a few weekends later, there was the celebration of Easter. And, of course, at Easter, the big celebration in New York City is the Easter parade. It takes place on Fifth Avenue outside of St Patrick’s Cathedral. And, basically, you know what the Easter parade is.
And they were told, the three girls, that they should go and see the Easter parade. And they expected when they went down there, that what they would see is this: they would see bands and men and women and children lining the sidelines, watching this parade come marching up and down. And they couldn’t find it.
The whole street was filled with people, walking up and down and all around. They said, “We must have the wrong street.” So they went over to the policeman and the policeman said to them, “Can I help you?” And they said, “Yes, Mr Policeman, we’re looking for the Easter parade.” And the cop kind of smiled at them and he said, “You are in the Easter parade.” The Easter parade is when everybody parades around that area of New York and with great joy and happiness and chatting and talking and feeling they’re wearing their very best and feeling good about themselves and good about the world.
That’s what Jesus has come to do to us, to be participants. We’re not supposed to be watching the Easter parade; we are the Easter parade.
For this reason, God must forgive us. He really must forgive us because, no matter how hard we try, we still don’t reach our own ideals of what we should be. We have faults, we have failures, but God constantly forgives us.
As St Augustine rightly said to him after many, many years of wasting his time in ambitious ways that ended up with nothing but his own sorrow, he said, “If you had condemned me, Lord, when I was your enemy, how could I now call you my friend?”
And that’s why God has to forgive. Can you imagine if He didn’t forgive? It would be impossible not to forgive. Sometimes, we feel the priest forgives us in confession and he does, but he’s only an instrument of God, one way of showing how God forgives.
What does He expect of us then? What does He want us to do?
My father was not in good health when he went back to Ireland and my sister was reluctant to let him go back, but we all knew that he wanted to die in Ireland and not in New York City. And so we all agreed that he had given us freedom all through our lives and, if this was his wish, we would let him go back.
And he sent me this postcard. And I’ll read it. It’s very short. It says, “Saturday. Greetings from Ireland. I arrived here on Thursday after a great trip. Be good. Dad.” That’s all. It was the last letter that we ever received from him because, very shortly afterwards, he took ill in Ireland and it was his final illness.
Why do I pick that at this time?
He always said that to me. I said, “What do you want me to be?” He said, “Be good.” I said, “Well, where shall I go and what shall I do?” “Be good.”
And it finally dawned on me, what he was telling me was his whole philosophy of life: be good for people. Be good to people. Be good to take care of your mother and father. Be good to take care of the ones you love. Be good to find work for those who are not in work. Be good to help people who are poor, who are needy. Be good to all of these things and that’s all you have to do in life is to be good.
And it’s a great philosophy. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to go to school and learn all about it. Just anyone that walks into your life, be good to them and open your heart to them.
And now I’ll finish this with another story from my mother’s side because, as you know, we’re celebrating New Year’s and New Year’s means family, so it’s only right if I mention my father, and if I think of them very much today during this new year’s season, I must mention my mother.
My mother came from a different family, a well-to-do family in Ireland. Her father was the provider of the Lord de Freyne. The Lord de Freyne had a great house and my grandfather provided him with all the provisions that go with a great house. And he was very well known in town. And he used to have a place where you could buy just about everything from automobiles to peanuts. And he used to sit in the room in the shop and everybody that came in, he would chat with. And my mother was only about seven years old and she used to listen to every word.
And one day Mr McNulty came in. And Mr McNulty was an expert. He only had one thing that he was an expert at and that thing was he was an expert at treacle. Do you know what treacle is? Well, treacle is molasses. They used to have it in huge barrels in stores that my grandfather had. And you could do everything with treacle. You could cure cats. You could (inaudible). You could use it for sticking things. It was dark and dirty and you pulled it out like molasses and it slipped through your fingers.
Anyhow, my grandfather’s friend, Seamus, was an expert on treacle. And it was treacle this and treacle that and treacle up and treacle down and, you know, one of the most current uses of treacle that they’re doing in Dublin right now is such and such and such and such.
And, in the meantime, my grandmother, who was a snobbish lady, God rest her, she was trying to get my grandfather’s attention. And she would come in, and he would go on with the treacle, treacle, treacle, and her husband would pay no attention to her at the end of the shop. And she’d walk in again and she’d go out. And she was getting more and more angry. And, finally, the treacle man, he decided to leave and he said, “Thank you, Mr Kelly. It was wonderful talking to you about this very important subject, treacle.” And off he went, smiling and happy.
Well, my grandmother came in and, as the saying in Ireland is, she went for her husband all (inaudible). She was really angry and she said, “Didn’t you know I had to see you and I was standing there trying to get in and you’re listening to this nonsense about the treacle man and the treacle this and the treacle that and who cares about the treacle?” And, finally, she turned around and stormed out of the shop.
And my father looked at my mother, who was only about seven years old, and he said, “Sarah Jane, remember this: Never steal from any man his song.” Never steal from any man his song.
Why do I mention it at this time? Because if you want to be in the Easter Parade, and you’re in it, not just to observing things that Jesus does and says and that, but you’re committed to carrying them out in your own life.
You’re not supposed to win people for Jesus or do something extraordinary. You just have to take the people that come into your life and realise everyone has a song to sing and the best way you can love them and care for them is to allow them to sing it to you and thank them for it.
It is easy to save the world if you don’t set out to save the world. If you’re kind and generous and caring about everybody that walks into your house, you have already saved the world.
So, today, what I’d like to do to finally come to an end of this, is to read something that was written by a priest that I know and it was on the subject of you are the light of the world.
The most important thing about each one of us is our capacity for goodness. We can be a source of light. Why? We have hands that can care, we have eyes that can see, ears that can hear, tongues that can speak, feet that can walk and, above all, each of us a heart that can love, heal and care for others.
Unfortunately, though, sometimes laziness, selfishness, and perhaps worst of all, fear, cowardice, our life perhaps could be dimmed so that we become shadows of the people that we really are and that God puts His trust and faith in.
And so we pray: Lord help us to believe in our own goodness and to let the light of that goodness shine about us. On seeing this light, perhaps others will find their way out of the darkness and your name (inaudible).
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.