Sunday, January 5, 2014

Go Forth

First of all, I want to extend a great thanks to corporations like Kroger who bought the remaining Bengals tickets and gave away free seats so that we could watch the game, not blocked-out.  In fact, many of the tickets went to members of the military.  Nice going.
     I believe that same sentiment comes from the Holy Father, Pope Francis, if you read carefully his latest apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel.”  “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort.”
     The Holy Father encourages us believers to make a gift of our lives.  Giving away -- like the magi gave away gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  But I propose that:  in order to give, we first have to leave the comforts of our isolation.  We need to go forth.  Like the magi, we need to go forth into the world of the cold, the mysterious, into the worlds of the innocent, the suffering and the poor
     Have you ever heard the phrase "comfort zone?"
     Especially in cold weather, in an open football stadium, we are very aware of our comfort zone back at home.  But, more than just a warm living room, our comfort zone can be a place of fear.  It is often a place of security and complacency where we rest in habits tried and true.  The Holy Father says that our life of generosity weakens when we are isolated, and cut off from the real world in our own comfort zones.
     We don’t like venturing out of our comfort zone because it requires challenge, confronting the unknown, or giving away some of our comforts for the sake of others.  Many Catholic high schools try to encourage students to do service work, go on missions trips, and the like, in order to think outside the box, move beyond their comfort zone in order to live the Gospel.  In one sense, my accepting this role as pastor was a moving out of my comfort zone of the Chicago St Ignatius and coming to new place of challenge.
     Again, Pope Francis: “Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.”
     Today’s Gospel shows us three wise men who left security back on the shore, followed a mysterious star, and set out on mission to bring their gifts in service of God.
     And so message of the Epiphany is to take courage. Move outside your comfort zone.  Go forth and make your life a gift.
     The first reading from Isaiah speaks of our light that has come and “the glory of Lord that shines upon us.” This light shining through the darkness and the clouds is a wonderful image reminding us that we have indeed been showered with great gifts.  And as you know from the story of the kings, gifts are for giving.
     The psalm response focuses on the nations coming to adore the Lord.  “Lord every nation on earth will adore you” and then speaks of kings from foreign lands bringing gifts to the Lord.  They had left their comfort zone.
     The Gospel reading shows us the contrast between a man stuck in isolation, Herod, who is locked in his comfort zone, against the courageous magi who travel in mystery simply to pay homage (service) to someone poor and innocent.  After they go forth and pay homage to the newborn king, they travel even further out of their comfort zone and return to their country by another way.
     Continuing in his apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis mentions three other figures from Scriptures who went forth into the world:  Abraham received the call to set out for a new land.  Moses heard God’s call: “Go, I send you” out of his comfort zone.  To Jeremiah, God says: “To all whom I send you, you shall go.”  The same call goes out to us to take on this missionary going forth.
     The Pope writes:  “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.”
What star do you follow?  Maybe it’s Pope Francis.  Maybe a saint or two?  A relative?  What are you reading or listening to that moves you out of your comfort zone?  That star the Magi followed is a reminder that we need divine guidance to find where Christ leads us. The bright lights of the commercial Christmas we just passed through can blind and distract us from seeing the real Messiah. So as the Christmas tree comes down this week, and decorations get packed away, find that interior light.  That star within which leads you outside your comfort zone so as to make a gift of yourself to those in distant lands.  Now, one last way I am going to step out of my comfort zone is to read an anonymous poem in my homily.  I found it but adapted it for today’s Feast of the Epiphany.  Hope you like it.

I used to have a comfort zone where I knew I wouldn’t fail.
The same four walls and busywork were really more like jail.
I longed so much to do the things I’d never done before,
But stayed inside my comfort zone and paced the same old floor.

I said it didn’t matter that I wasn’t doing much.
I said I didn’t care for things like mission work and such.
I claimed to be so busy with myself inside the zone,
But deep inside I longed to journey somewhere yet unknown.

I couldn’t let my life go by just holding gifts within.
I held my breath; I stepped outside and let the change begin.
I took a step and with God’s help I’d never felt before,
I kissed my comfort zone goodbye and closed and locked the door.

If you’re in a comfort zone, afraid to venture out,
Remember that the saints above were one time filled with doubt.
A step or two and words of prayer can grant you courage too.
Begin your journey with a smile; the gift is there for you!

Guide us to Thy perfect light.

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