like deja-vu, all over again

The great baseball hall-of-fame catcher and manager Yogi Berra was well-known as a master of malapropisms. One of my favorites has always been “It’s like deja-vu, all over again,” for despite its obvious tautological phrasing, in a very real sense it evokes a light-hearted metaphor for our tendency to make mistakes, too often the same ones over and over again. It would appear that we seldom learn from our mistakes, no matter how often we make them; it is indeed “like deja-vu, all over again.”

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son

Anyone who has ever engaged in a game of “Why?” with a precocious three-year old will readily understand how challenging it can be—after a seemingly endless string of whys—to end the game on a positive note. Let’s face it, we either give in or give up, generally frustrated and angry with our child and with ourselves.

Is it any wonder God displayed such frustration and anger at his chosen people, Israel? They were finally free from bondage, escaping slavery with God’s divine assistance, and almost immediately they turn to a false god, making for themselves a molten calf, worshipping it, and giving it undeserved credit for their freedom. Do you blame God for saying, “I see how stiff-necked this people is, let me alone then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them?” Enough is enough! Why not consume those ungrateful miscreants and begin anew?

Yet God is a merciful and forgiving parent, infinitely patient, always willing to give his wayward and petulant children endless opportunities to turn back to him. God relented in his threat to destroy the people of Israel; he gave them another chance. But, just how well did that turn out? How faithful have the people of God—all of humanity throughout the ages—kept faith with him, obedient to his commandments and his Word?

The Israelites turned away from God to worship an image made of gold, a man-made object which while pleasing to the eye was nothing more than a lump of molten metal. And yet, so enamored were they by all that empty glitter, they dismissed without thought the one true God, the one who had brought them out of Egypt and slavery into freedom and the promised land.

Has humanity, God’s creation, changed at all since then? Yes, although most certainly for the worse; in many ways, much worse. Instead of a golden calf we now worship a plethora of man-made gods, gods which entice us, lure us away, and keep us from acknowledging and worshipping the one true God.

Saint Paul gratefully acknowledged God’s patience and mercy, admitting how he had once been a blasphemer and a persecutor of the followers of ‘the way’—the disciples of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He believed at the time that he was doing what was right; out of ignorance he sought, captured, and persecuted those whom he believed were heretics and apostates to the Jewish faith.

What is most clear is how great Saint Paul’s radical change of heart was: from arrogance and selfishness to humility and selflessness. Through Jesus Christ, he was made aware of the evil that he was doing and the evil that was in the world. He came to believe that through the grace of God, Jesus Christ, his only Son, was sent into the world to save sinners—that is, all of us—but only if we set aside all our worldly gods for God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Seldom do we admit to worshipping false gods yet what must it be other than idolatry when we can find little or no time for God but all the time for worldly things?

How many of us seek to acquire more than we need, all that we desire: more money, bigger houses, fancy cars, more, more, more, always more and better stuff?

Aren’t we just as guilty when we place ourselves and our possessions before God? How often do we excuse ourselves from prayer or worship to attend secular activities and events?

Unless we are willing and able to see the evil that surrounds us, we can never be agents of God’s mercy and forgiveness. We are but moral idiots when we are willing to make excuses or refuse to see evil for what it is, to see the worship of false gods as not so bad or somehow acceptable or excusable.

Saint Paul admits to the evil that he once did. He neither glosses over it nor does he make himself a moral idiot. He obtained God’s mercy because God could see the man he could become.

And we are called to do likewise. When you see others—be it a parent, friend, co-worker, or stranger—in sinful conduct, you must see it clearly for what it is, evil. Yet you must not see the sin as the sum and substance of the sinner for assuredly that person now is not the same as in the past nor what may be in the future.

When you look into the eyes of a sinner, you can only see a glimmer of whom or what a person is, a momentary snapshot of now. You cannot see what has come before nor can you know what is yet to be. You cannot know what lies within, only what is visible on the outside.

The worship of false gods takes many forms. The prodigal son desired his freedom and his inheritance, far more than he deserved, certainly more than he had earned. He declared his father dead and worshipped on the altar of idolatry by his life of dissipation.

And when he came to his senses and went crawling back to his father, he fully expected—rightfully so—to be treated as the dissolute reprobate that he had become, to get what he deserved. But what he got from his father was completely undeserved. Instead of disdain and rejection, he received forgiveness, mercy and unconditional love.

God does not wish to deny us from having those things that bring us enjoyment and pleasure. All He asks is that we love Him above all things and before all else.

St. Augustine, in his Confessions described how the desire to possess things kept him from God.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all.

We are all sinners for we are human, burdened with concupiscence, the inclination to sin. Even the saints, those holy people of God, were sinners, some guilty of grave and deadly sin. Saint Paul admitted to being a blasphemer and a persecutor of God’s people. Saint Augustine, a venerated Doctor of the Church, lived a hedonistic lifestyle, had a lover until his conversion, and fathered a son out of wedlock.

Saint Monica raised her son Augustine to be a Christian. But like the prodigal son, Augustine chose to reject God and live a life of dissipation for over twenty years. Neither his mother nor God ever gave up on him; his mother prayed every day for his redemption, while God knew what he was destined to become.

From a very personal point of view I must confess that I have been the beneficiary of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love. Like Augustine, for over thirty years I plunged into the lovely things which God created. God was with me but I was seldom with God. For many years I lacked the courage to return to Him, to admit my mistakes and sins, and to ask Him for forgiveness.

But God is infinitely patient and will wait for as long as it takes for you to come to your senses, to quit being moral idiots. May God, our heavenly Father, and his only Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit have mercy on we sinners, one and all. Amen.

 

Homily # 086
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Cycle C
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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