FRIDAY HOMILY: Join the Dance
There were two distinct songs being heard by the people of that time: a festive dance and a funeral dirge. While they were being played, the "children" refused to participate. The first was the song of the Savior; Christ Himself had come into the world and was sharing his message of the Kingdom. His words were life-giving. Just look at the Sermon on the Mount and his teaching on becoming a blessed people - "Blessed is he." Throughout his ministry, he called the nation to join the dance.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Have you ever been around a child who just doesn't seem to be satisfied? They can sit at the dinner table and declare, "I don't want to eat this!" When then given something that might be their favorite food as an alternative, they may still complain, "I don't want that either!" Nothing you do will satisfy. They are having a tantrum.
Our Lord has often used children as an example of how to apprehend the Kingdom of God. Not too long after he had come down from the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus and his disciples were in Capernaum. They came to him with a question - "Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?"
There was a child nearby who he had come and stand in the middle of the group. He then said to his followers, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Mt. 18:3,4)
How wonderful to think of having childlike faith, with the innocence and humility of our early years. Everything is a wonder and a new discovery. Those in authority are often looked at with awe; their words carried great weight.
But, there's a big difference between being childlike and childish, which is the image of the child I described at the beginning and the ones in our gospel passage from Matthew 11:16-19 for today. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describes this child well in a popular nursery rhyme:
There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good
She was very very good
But when she was bad she was horrid!
This is the childishness that Christ is talking about when he was describing that generation; a depiction that we can often apply in this day and time.
"But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates, 'We piped to you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.'" (Mt. 11:16, 17)
There were two distinct songs being heard by the people of that time: a festive dance and a funeral dirge. While they were being played, the "children" refused to participate.
The first was the song of the Savior; Christ Himself had come into the world and was sharing his message of the Kingdom. His words were life-giving. Just look at the Sermon on the Mount and his teaching on becoming a blessed people - "Blessed is he." Throughout his ministry, he called the nation to join the dance but many ignored Him.
Everyone had a different excuse, some were too busy, some simply shrugged and some walked away. Others felt they had justification, discounting the message by saying, "Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!" as Matthew stated.
John the Baptist also had a message - repent and believe. His was the funeral dirge; we were called to bury our sins and rebellion in the waters of baptism and turn to God. He was calling us to a deeper level of holiness, where we would put off the lust of the eye, lust of the flesh and the pride of life to follow after the King of Kings.
Again, when the Baptist spoke not everyone listened. In fact, the prophet was beheaded as he continued to call the people to repentance.
St. Cyril of Alexandria observed, "They accepted neither the gloominess of John the Baptist nor the freedom of Christ." Although, they were hearing a life-changing message many were not willing to listen. For those who did, however, nothing was ever the same again. They were transformed by the Gospel. They had joined the dance!
During this Advent season we are again being visited by both songs. In fact, the entire liturgical year contains a feast of faith regarding our call to holiness of life. Week after week the Liturgy of the Word during Mass offers us the opportunity to join in the dance or the dirge.
Unfortunately, many of us don't heed the invitations we're being given and don't partake of the grace that is offered. We've also used many excuses: "the messenger was too boring," "the message didn't grab me," "maybe after I take care of other things," "most of these people are just hypocrites," etc.
As one writer put it, we must repent of not repenting! We have put off His invitation to surrender too many times.
This Advent is our opportunity to quit trying to find yet another reason to remain lukewarm. We can commit ourselves, as St. Paul admonishes, to start afresh, "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:13, 14)
Forgetting what lies behind.
Often our reluctance to join in the dance comes from being weighed down by our sins. The call of Christ just sounds off key and what we've accumulated from the past sours our heart. It is at this very point we need to remember the call of St. John the Baptist to repent.
Repentance is often misunderstood, thinking that we have to figuratively sit in dust, throwing dirt in the air while shouting , "woe is me."
Repentance ("metanoia" in the Greek) means "to change one's mind," "to change direction." As we are convicted of the sins in our life, we are called to accountability but one where we can jettison our junk and move in a new direction, living for Christ; participating in His dance!
How wonderful to go to Confession. Through the powerful sacrament we are able to truly let go of those things in the past which bind us and keep us from moving forward.
Straining forward to what lies ahead.
The image that St. Paul wants to create in this particular passage comes directly from the Olympic Games. The runner has trained hard to make sure every muscle is toned to the peak of perfection and that his body has learned how to make the most out of every stride.
Straining forward is not just about the body but the soul. We must be fixed on the race and committed to making this our major focus.
Nothing else matters. The past has been put aside, the future is found in the lane we run. This begins at the starting gate and doesn't end until we cross the finish line.
For the spiritual runner, we participate in the race through our times of prayer, reading, worship, and service. We are doing this not to get our name in the Church Bulletin but in the Book of Life.
I press on toward the goal.
The successful runner does not pay much attention to what is happening in the other lanes. He simply runs his race with his eyes fixed forward toward the finish line.
For many of us today, this is hard to do. We have so many distractions and not just from those running in other lanes with whom we compare ourselves. This diversion is bad enough, as we try to figure out who does more, who has more and who is more valuable. What a devastating way to live life.
We are also distracted by what we see on the sidelines - possessions, pay and power. All of these call to us and invite us to join in a different dance.
For those who want to run the race to the finish, there is only one goal: the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. As the apostle reminds us, the finish line is heaven and the beatific vision. Our desire is union with Christ for all eternity, to join His dance.
This Advent our Lord is reminding us not to be childish but childlike in our response. The latter characteristic brings humility and an opportunity to join in the dance of Christ. The former only brings futility, where we are left in our sins and to our own desires.
The writer of Hebrews leaves us with a great invitation as we seek to move forward. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-3)
Cast off those childish ways and join the dance!
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus."
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