Fr. Paul MacNeil
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Feb. 5th 2023
My homily today is organized around four quotations that I heard in the last few weeks that I found very moving, as I'm sure you will as well.
Quote 1: Alan Alda
"Until I was twenty, I was sure there was a being who could see everything I did and who didn't like most of it. He seemed to care about minute aspects of my life, like on what day of the week I ate a piece of meat. And yet, he let earthquakes and mudslides take out whole communities, apparently ignoring the saints among them who ate their meat on the assigned days. Eventually, I realized that I didn't believe there was such a being. It didn't seem reasonable. And I assumed that I was an atheist.
We are being presented here with a bit of a challenge. Is that what some people think Christianity is? Is that what people think Catholicism is all about? Not eating meat on Friday?
First of all, we must agree that this idea of God watching everything you do and not liking most of it is a very naive understanding of Catholicism. You only have to open the Gospel anywhere and see how Jesus puts people above rules and regulations. I’m reminded of a monk I once met, Thomas Keating, who spoke directly about this. A parent tells a child, “Don’t eat those cookies because God is watching you.” God is most certainly watching you, and he’d probably say here, take another cookie”
So the question is, what is Christianity really about if it’s not about eating meat on Friday, at least not the heart of it?
This leads me to my second quotation, which is from an Article that appeared in the local paper on Jan. 28th. This was the headline:
Confessions of a shoplifter: as food costs soar and self-checkouts multiply, more people are stealing, and they’re not sorry.
In the article, we hear from Tony, not his real name. The article continues:
“The easiest way to save money for myself and afford other expenses was to take advantage of the self-checkouts at big-box grocery stores and bag products that I hadn’t paid for,” Tony said.
Other shoplifters said self-checkouts allow them to discretely replace an expensive product’s scanning code with one for a cheaper item.
“If an item I feel is unfairly priced, I don’t have any qualms not paying for it,” Tony said, adding that “these are staple items like eggs, milk, deodorant, bread, toothpaste. These are not luxury items.” Tony stressed that if he shops at a small business or independent grocer he’ll pay, but “if I’m going to Loblaws or Shoppers Drug Mart, owned by one of the wealthiest families in Canada, and they’re asking $10 for a jar of peanut butter, I see no issue with just putting it in my bag and walking out.”
Just for a bit of context, another article ran in the same paper on Jan 12th:
"According to some industry data, an average-sized food retail store in Canada can have between $2,000 and $5,000 worth of groceries stolen every week. With the relatively narrow profit margins in grocery, this amount is huge. To cover losses, grocers need to raise prices, so in the end, we all pay for grocery theft.
So if we're asking about he heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, it must have something to do with following the 10 commandments. Maybe Tony is a very conscientious Catholic and doesn’t eat any of his stolen meat on Fridays. But even if he is, eating meat on Friday can’t be what we’re about, if it is, I would have left catholicism long ago.
So, quote number 3: Isaiah 56:6-10, with apologies to Alan Alda:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.
I think this is the light that Jesus is talking about, not only the light of talent or ability but the light of love.
Quote number 4: Here is another interesting headline: SOMERSET, Mass. - "A Massachusetts police officer declined to charge two women accused of trying to steal groceries for the children — and instead bought them Christmas dinner."
The article continues:
Somerset Officer Matt Lima responded to a report of shoplifting Dec. 20 at Stop & Shop, where two women with two young children were accused of putting groceries into bags at a self-checkout kiosk without scanning them. The women said they had fallen on hard times and were trying to provide a Christmas dinner for the children. Lima says he was reminded of his own children and used his own money to buy $250 in grocery gift cards.
This brings me to my final quotation, from today's Gospel:
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. People do not light a lamp and put it under the bushel basket; rather, they put it on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
This is what it means to be Catholic. To love God, love others, and follow Christ.