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Saturday, March 13, 2010

CGI Jesus in 3-D

I thought I'd share with you the homily referenced in the previous post:

Today’s readings contain two dramatic and epic moments which, if adapted into a movie might require the talents of a director like James Cameron, Ridley Scott or Peter Jackson. They are moments that while foreign to us, might not seem out of place in, say, the Middlearth of The Lord of the Rings.

While care would have to be taken to make sure no animals were really harmed in the filming of the encounter between God and Abram from the first reading, just imagine what it would be like to see that giant smoldering pot and the flaming torch floating through the air toward a disoriented and hypnotized Abram, a testament to God’s friendship with him and his descendants. Abram could not but fall on his knees in awe of such a display.

Or imagine putting on your 3-D glasses and watching as the CGI Jesus bursts into a figure of dazzling white light, and settles into a conversation with an equally dazzling Moses and Elijah. Like Peter, awakened to this spectacle, your reaction, like his suggestion of the building of tents, might very well appear unequal to the moment. How do you respond to something the likes of which you’ve never seen before? And, then, even as you realize Jesus’ puzzlement at your babbling, large, menacing clouds start to fill the sky, and with them comes a voice, demanding your attention, proclaiming of this newly revealed Jesus, “This is my chosen Son. Listen to him.” And then, suddenly, as if it were all a dream, everything looks as it did when you first arrived.

As you take off your 3-D glasses, and rise from your seat, you might ask in wonder, “Man, why can’t I have encounters with God like that?” Then, I would really know that God was a part of my life. That is, of course, if afterwards you didn’t convince yourself that it was all a hallucination or a dream.

But is this really what we would need to kickstart our relationship with God, or might it instead just scare the Jesus out of us?

For while such spectacles might wake us up, dazzle us and grab our attention, the real question is: can they keep it? Do they keep our attention?

Perhaps it is not the image of the fiery torch and pot from that first reading that is meant to stay with us. Maybe the more enduring image we’re meant to take away is the far more ordinary one of Abram gazing up at the sky, trying to count the stars. Haven’t we all at some time in our lives known the wonder of doing something more ordinary, like that? Of looking up in the starlit sky, or at the ocean, or even the wonder of things built by the inspiration of human imagination, and thinking that there is something more at work in the world than just molecules and us.

God shows Abram those stars to make him a promise about the future, and the future of his descendants, the same promise being made in the more dramatic episode to follow. Yet, that drama would have had no meaning if Abram hadn’t first looked to the stars and as a result, we are told, put his faith in the Lord. The pot and the torch are pretty impressive, but from now on, if Abram wants a reminder of God’s promises to him, he only needs to look up at the sky.

So, if you are waiting for that epic, Hollywood moment to really get you started in your life with God, you are probably in for a long, and frustrating, search. Epic moments like the Transfiguration of Jesus are few and far between. And they don’t come to many. Notice that only 3 of the 12 Apostles were even present for this one. And, honestly, billowing clouds and voices from the sky don’t speak so convincingly to us of God’s presence as do quiet moments in prayer, times of joy and sadness and the intimate moments that come when we care for each other.

Almost ten years ago I accompanied eleven Fordham students to Calcutta, India for two weeks. It was my first time there. I was, of course, struck by the poverty. I expected that we would find God in our work with Mother Teresa’ Missionaries of Charity. And certainly we did. But for me, God was made most present when I watched the students that were with me, as they took the time to feed those too weak to feed themselves, as they played with the children at the orphanage where many of them worked and in the attention they paid to the poor children we met on the street. I’ve seen few greater examples in my life of someone doing precisely what Jesus says in the Gospel as when one of our students literally took the shirt off his back, and gave it to a child who didn’t have one. It was an intimate expression of God’s care that wasn’t lost on me, even if, at the time, it didn’t even occur to him.

Now, of course, we don’t have to go all the way to Calcutta to see God working this way in our lives, and in the lives of others. But sometimes we do need a change of scenery, or at least a change in perspective to discover that we may have missed out on the fact that God was there with us, all along. I didn’t have to go all the way to India to see how powerfully God could work through the love and generosity of a Fordham student. It happens here everyday. Heck, when I wasn’t frightened for my life, I’ve even seen it on the Ram van. That’s right, I said it, you can find God on the Ram Van sometimes. And to see how many of you have come here to Church this Sunday night, dare I say that you might just be able to find God in that person sitting next to you, or behind you.

We’ll also get to see that in a special way here tonight as we commission those students who will be spending their Spring Break in various places around the country and the world getting that change of scenery and perspective which hopefully will help them to see God working in their lives and in the lives of others, especially in an encounter with those most in need of not just material things, but in simply knowing God’s presence with them in the love, and the care of other human beings. This is a fitting example for Lent, a time when we speak of “giving things up.” Some may not even realize it yet, but they may be giving up other things they could be doing for Spring Break for an experience that might change their lives in ways they never imagined. But even if you’re spending your break working, or going on vacation or, God forbid, doing homework, that doesn’t mean the opportunity is not there for you as well.

What these moments in the readings today are meant to represent to us is the fact that God finds all sorts of ways to be present in our lives, even ways that might strike as unusual. There are people like Cardinal Avery Dulles, who taught here for many years, whose lives were changed simply because one day he took the time to consider the beauty of a tree. There are others like Mother Teresa whose life was changed by stopping to help a man who was dying in the street. And there are others, like all of us, who can catch a glimpse of God by watching John the Fordham student take the shirt off his back, and give it to a child who didn’t have one. But most of the ways we encounter God would hardly make good Hollywood drama because they come to us in the everyday events and people of our lives, and we can’t imagine how often we once missed them when some change of scenery, or maybe just a new way of thinking causes us, like those 3-D glasses, to see things in a different way.