I wasn’t initially sure I was going to share this homily…for that matter, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to give this homily. See, I was on vacation last week in a wonderful seaside town that many of you know and love: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was a great getaway, filled with golf, lazy beach afternoons, and lots of laughs with good friends. And it almost never ended.
That’s not just because I didn’t want to come back. (Does anyone ever really want to come back after vacation?). Rather, it’s because of a little incident that happened that you might have heard about: the hack of the Colonial Pipeline. I had heard of the pipeline shutdown before I ever left for vacation, but frankly, I didn’t think it would become a big deal. If it were a long-term shutdown, then yes, there would be massive problems, but this seemed like something that would be resolved quickly. So, paying it no mind, I left.
I arrived safely on Sunday afternoon with no issues. Monday was a quiet, peaceful day on the beach. Tuesday was a golf day, and it was coming back from the course that we started to realize something was amiss. Gas stations were super congested. In fact, lines of cars, some almost a mile long, were waiting to get into said stations. Perhaps there was something to this after all…
…by Wednesday morning, almost a third of all gas stations in the city were dry. By dinner that night, it was almost half. By the next morning, two-thirds were empty, and the number was growing. Let me be clear: there was no reason for this. Sure, some of those cars may legitimately have needed to fill their tanks, but most of this was panic buying. And we all saw sensationalized reports on the news of people filling all kinds of containers with fuel, safety be damned.
I admit, I was a little panicky myself. I was doing most of the driving down there (my vehicle was the only big enough for four guys and golf clubs), and I was marching closer and closer to ‘E’. At a certain point, I resigned myself to fate: I just might have to extend this trip a few more days. And if it got really bleak? Well, the Charleston Diocese might be willing to take on a new priest.
God provided, of course, as He does, and I was able to fill up at the crack of dawn on Saturday. After finishing packing and cleaning up, we celebrated one last Mass and hit the open road for home. It’s a long drive back, especially alone, but it was a beautiful day and I don’t mind long trips. Usually. There was one not-so-small problem: the great state of North Carolina. No offense to any Tarheels who might be reading this, but… those folks don’t know how to drive on the highway very well. I tend to drive “with purpose” (interpret that as you will), and it was rather annoying to find that some folks just like to camp out in the left-hand lane on the highway, If we all follow the rules, things will move much more efficiently, and efficiency was something I was concerned about: I wanted to get as far as I can just in case I encountered further fuel shortages down the line. The trip was more frustrating than it should have been (and yes, I need to grow in the virtue of patience), but I did eventually make it home safely. No accidents, no tickets, and no empty tanks.
Somewhere in West Virginia, when it became clear that I would, in fact, get home, I realized I needed to come up with a homily for the weekend. So, with those frustrations in mind, I came up with this…
The fact that folks were panic-buying and hoarding fuel, and the fact that people drive like the highway belongs to them, is indicative of a larger problem with the culture today. We’re all inherently selfish creatures. That sounds a bit harsh, I know, and perhaps it is. It is also true. We don’t realize how selfish we are, and indeed, I don’t think many of us want or intend to act in selfish ways…but that’s absolutely what we’ve been taught (conditioned?) to do. “Look out for number one.” “If you’re not first, you’re last.” “To the victor go the spoils.” And so on. None of that is explicitly saying to do things that might harm our neighbors, but it’s certainly implied. And since these maxims are somewhat ingrained in our society, we do silly things like hoard gas, making it harder for people to get where they have to go. We stay in the left lane because we’re comfortable there; who cares what traffic looks like behind me? We gossip. We use people. We marginalize others. And we do it all without really thinking about it, because that’s just the way the world works.
Except it was never supposed to work that way, and it’s a way of life that is entirely in opposition to the life of Christ. This weekend’s Scriptures certainly speak to that. The second reading today was, as it has been for the last few weeks, from the first letter of Saint John. Perhaps the most central theme to this letter is John’s insistence – really, Christ’s insistence – that the community of believers loves one another. Jesus has made very clear what that love for the other looks like: turning the other cheek; walking the extra mile; asking for and granting forgiveness; laying down one’s life for one’s friends. These are all selfless acts. They often seem difficult to embrace, but at the same time, we dare to approach the altar to receive our Lord in the Eucharist – is not His giving of His Body and Blood as our food and drink a selfless act? Was not His crucifixion? He has indeed, as Saint Peter writes, given us a model to follow.
Speaking of Saint Peter, we see him and the other Apostles at work in the first reading. Because of Judas’ betrayal, the apostolic band is one member short, and in order to fulfill the mandate given them by the Savior, they know they will need to find a replacement for him. That alone is worthy of some reflection – it would be far safer, and far more convenient for them, to not choose a replacement and to not go out on mission – but they know that this mission is not simply theirs or even about them, It’s about something far greater than themselves. They remain committed to the work, committed to the greater good, committed to the community. Embracing the risks, they decide to forge on, and begin by electing a new apostle. They go about it by gathering the one hundred and twenty or so people that had been with them for the majority of Jesus’ public ministry, and together they pray about the mission, the ministry, and the choice. The lot falls to Matthias, who becomes Judas’ replacement – but it happens because the community of believers worked and prayed together. Matthias didn’t polish and hone his resume; he didn’t write the perfect cover letter; it was the community in prayer that chose him.
Finally, we turn to the Gospel itself, and this lengthy, beautiful, intimate moment of prayer, of Jesus speaking to His Father. His prayer is that his believers – that we – might all be one. We will need to be united, he says, because the world will hate us for following the truth. The truth Jesus preaches – that which He heard from His Father – is something that the world will hate, because it will lead us out of this world and towards the Kingdom of Heaven. Keeping his word will mean that we will be assailed by the Evil One. But in keeping his word we are also protected, because through his Death and Resurrection, he will conquer the world. Our unity, the unity of the church, is the clear and visible sign of our keeping His word. The question we must ask ourselves is how well we are keeping that word. Perhaps a better question is: are we even trying? These are certainly difficult times, in the church and in the world, but we must continue to strive for unity, putting aside particular desires, preferences, and not clinging to things “because we’ve always done it this way.”
Next week we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, what some call the birthday of the Church. (I hate that phrase, but that’s another rant.). Whatever you call it, the reality of the feast is the same: the descent of the Holy Spirit to fire up the Church to go out into the world to proclaim the Good News. The Spirit will give many different gifts to many different people to accomplish that mission – as He still does today. If they work together, the work can be accomplished. So, in this week of anticipation, it would serve us well to examine our own hearts to see if we have allowed them to turn in on themselves. Have we – knowingly or not – allowed ourselves to become selfish? And if we have, we need to invite Jesus in to heal those defects and make our hearts more like His Sacred Heart, so that we can receive the fullness of the Spirit He promises us.
The world needs us, needs the Church, now more than ever. It needs us to be the universal sign of salvation that we are called to be. It needs us to be unified. Let us ask the Lord for our healing, so that we can not only receive the Spirit, but use the gifts he gives us for the work of building up God’s Kingdom here on earth, so that one day all of us – together – can be happy in the Kingdom of Heaven.