February 5, 2017 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings of the day: Isaiah 58:7-10, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Matthew 5:13-16
Homily originally delivered at St. Pius X Parish, Indianapolis in 2014:
The theme of today’s readings is clear. The message we hear is about light – our light and our ability to shine that light, to share that light with others.
From the prophet Isaiah we hear: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…” And from Matthew’s Gospel: “You are the light of the world.” We are also presented the image of a lamp being set on lampstand, where it can give light to all in the house.
It is a powerful image, and one of my favorite Gospel passages. I have used this image many times when giving talks to young people on leadership retreats. I impress upon them that God gives each one of us incredible gifts, and we have an obligation to share those gifts – to let them shine brightly for the world to see.
If you have a beautiful voice, you need to sing. If you have artistic ability, you need to draw, paint, or sculpt something beautiful to share with the world. If you are gifted academically, you need to put those gifts to work. If you have leadership gifts, then you need to lead.
If you do not share these gifts, if you hide them under a bushel basket, you are being selfish. You would be rejecting a gift from God. This is powerful message.
However, when I read the Gospel this time, within the context of the other readings, another message emerged. I wonder if my focus has been too narrow in the past.
I still believe that we are called to share our God-given gifts, of course, but the source of the light is in question. Does it come from us? From our gifts?
I think the light Isaiah and Matthew refer to is not our light, it is the light of Christ shining through us, and that opens up new possibilities. What are those possibilities? It would mean that even if I wasn’t given the gift of a beautiful voice, I could choose to sing anyway, and allow the light of Christ to shine through me. If I wasn’t given the gift of artistic ability, I could create anyway, and allow the light of Christ to shine through me. If I wasn’t given great academic gifts, I could choose to work hard and study right alongside my more gifted classmates, and allow the light of Christ to shine through me.
The light of Christ is not intended to simply bounce off our God-given gifts and radiate out to the world. Rather, it is intended to shine through us and reflect both who we are and who Christ is to others.
I coached CYO football here at St. Pius for a number of years. I was fortunate one year to receive an award from the CYO for my years of coaching youth. Over the years, many parishioners here at St. Pius have won the same award.
We went to St. Philip Neri for Mass and the award ceremony. The Archbishop at the time was Archbishop Edward O’Meara. At the end of the Mass, all of the award recipients, maybe twenty of us from all over the Archdiocese, got in line alphabetically to receive our awards. Of course, I am a ‘W’ so I was near the back of the line.
As I got closer, I could hear the Archbishop saying the same thing to each recipient. He said, “Thank you for your efforts; but your work is not yet done.” Even though he said the same thing to every other person, I felt like he was speaking directly to me.
He handed me my plaque, shook my hand, and looked me square in the eye, and said, “Thank you for your efforts; but your work is not yet done.”
It gave me chills, and at the same time made me uncomfortable. What work was not done? Coaching? Helping CYO? Working with youth?
His face and those words stayed with me for years. As a matter of fact, he appeared in many of my dreams. Sometimes he would have a speaking part and say those same words to me, “Thank you for your efforts; but your work is not yet done.” Then he would wave or smile. Other times he didn’t speak at all, but would just show up in my dream and look at me. It didn’t matter if my dream took place on a football field, at the grocery, or on an airplane, Archbishop O’Meara would be there, fully vested and smiling.
I remember one dream in particular. We had two young children at the time. In the dream, Carol and I loaded everyone in the station wagon (one of those cool ones with wood on the side) to go somewhere. I needed to back the car out of the driveway, so I looked in the rearview mirror.
There, sitting between my two kids in their car seats, was Archbishop O’Meara, miter and all. I did not seem caught off guard by this. I acted as though it was a normal occurrence.
I nodded and said, “Archbishop.” He nodded back and smiled.
I said, “Could you take off your hat? I can’t see to back up.”
He said, “Sure” and took off the miter.
Then he said, “Thank you for your efforts; but your work is not yet done.”
As I prepared the homily for this weekend, the Archbishop dreams popped back into my head. I spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out why.
This is what I came up with: When Archbishop O’Meara said, “Thank you for your efforts,” he was acknowledging that I was sharing my God-given gifts. I was allowing my light to shine just as those with beautiful voices or artistic talent do. My gifts were my gifts to use or not use – to put on a lampstand or hide under a bushel basket. If I used them, I was to be commended.
But that wasn’t enough, so he told me, “…your work is not yet done.” I needed to be open to allowing Christ’s light to shine through me.
We all need to be open to it. We need to reach beyond our obvious gifts. We need to climb out of our comfort zones and step into unchartered waters.
If we don’t, our work is not yet done. If we do, we are likely to discover that our greatest gift is to be a gift to others.
Isaiah spells it out for us: “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth…”
In a later chapter in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus encourages us to share the gift of service when he says, “…whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.”
Serving others, and charitable thoughts and actions, don’t require special talents; but they do require that we be open to allowing Christ’s light to shine through us.
No lampstand required.