Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God (A) – January 1, 2023
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
Where were you? Where are you now? Where are you going?
As a kid, I remember how slow time passed—you remember that? Like, the days leading up to Christmas? The worst! But now? Now, I don’t live one day at a time, it’s more like one week at a time, one month at a time. I can’t keep track of which year is which. Especially as a priest: the days are long, but the years just fly by. So one of the things I like to do at New Year’s is to go back through my calendar and just see where I’ve been. I’m not going to bore you with the list I made, but when I did that this past week, it was humbling, a little overwhelming to see just everything that has happened this year, all I’ve been privileged to be a part of.
And when I do this, I like to ask myself three questions. Where was I? Where am I now? And where am I going? Why? Well, I do it because of something I read by Annie Dillard. Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” It’s so easy to spend our days just sprinting, trying to keep up with everything, trying to manage each new thing that life throws our way, just trying “to keep our head above water.” Or maybe it’s the opposite: we’re retired (or close to retirement), and the days just drag on—and so I just watch TV and wait. And so I like to take time at the beginning of the New Year to ask: Where were you (at the beginning of 2022)? Where are you now? And where are you going? Are you, is your life, where you’re at in life—are you going in the right direction? Not your career, not your kids’ grades, not your debt—you! (I know, self reflection is hard! It is much easier to think about all the day-to-day tasks, and just “do.”) But ask: Where was I? Where am I now? Where am I going?
Because I think—and I know this isn’t true for everyone, but I know it’s true for a lot more of us than we presume—I think a lot of us, when we begin to ask those questions, when we begin to honestly answer those three questions … I think a lot of us end up responding with three questions: “Where am I? How did I get here? And how do I get on the right path?”
New Year, New Goals, Same Need
Because here’s the thing: every New Year, each one of us probably makes some serious or not-so-serious goals, yeah? And maybe we accomplish them, maybe we don’t. But each New Year, the same need is there, the same desire. And it’s not for more money, or more time, or less stress or whatever—yeah, those are on our mind. But no, our desire, our ever-present need is for something amazing, something unexpected, something we can’t seem to produce for ourselves.
I was talking to a person once about the topic of faith, about God and all that. And he just doesn’t buy any of it. And finally, he asked me, “Don’t you realize that man has been to the moon?” In other words, he was cleverly trying to say, “Why do you believe this? Why do you do the ‘church thing’? Why do you have ‘faith’? With all that we’ve discovered, all the progress we have made, why do you need this? Don’t you realize that man has been to the moon? Don’t you realize we’re passed all that ‘religion stuff’?”
Ok, we’ve been to the moon, we’ve made some big advances. And yet this need, this desire … it remains. All the advances we have made have’t addressed this. And so we have two options. One, just fall into nihilism and depression; give up; resign yourself to the endless trudge of life. Or two, acknowledge this need, this desire, which is nothing but your own heart reaching out; pay attention to that desire inside of you that expects something, that needs something, that is begging for something—waiting for something, for Someone!
What we’re doing here, this, Christianity, being a Catholic—this isn’t some big “bet”! We’re not here making a wager that if we go to Church on Sundays, and try to be a good person then we get to go to candy land when we die. No! We’re here because what we’re waiting for has a name, a face—and he came to respond to that something.
We’re here, like our second reading said—we’re here because “God sent his son…to [rescue us]…so that we might receive adoption as [children]” (Galatians 4:4-5). Do we remember Christmas? Yeah. What happened? “God sent his son.” And is Jesus just here to be cute? No. He is here “to rescue us.” Why? So that He can have some people that feel miserable because they’re forced to “go to church” and “be a good person”—slaves to some weird religious system? No! “So that we might be adopted, become his children.” Children. “No longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir.” This is about being heirs to everything our Father has—so heirs to everything!
But where are you? Right now your butt is in a pew in the Father’s house, but where are you? It’s like being at dinner with someone, and yeah, they’re there, but you ask them, “Hey, where are you? Because you seem a million miles away.” It makes me think of the story of the Prodigal Son: he was in his Father’s house, but he wanted to live life his own way. And so he does, and he gets everything he wanted—money, girls, parties. But he wakes up one day, literally in the muck, and asks himself, “Where am I? How did I get here? And how do I get home?”
Maybe that’s not you, maybe it is. But I would be willing to bet that each one of us knows at least one person, here in our community, that is experiencing that. Someone that has drifted away from God, away from the Church, and is a little lost. Maybe that’s you. And maybe, even though you’re here today, you’re a million miles away.
Because of this, here at St. Paul we’re going to embark on a journey of sorts this Spring. And we call it “Rerouting…” It starts on January 22 (so in a few weeks) and continues through the Spring. And during these weeks that we are on journey together, we want to help bridge the gap between the “faith”—what we do on Sunday, the church things—and our real life, what goes on out there.
Because God has revealed to us the answers to all of these questions. The questions of, “Where am I? How did I get here? And how do I get on the right path?” God has given us the path to finding lasting and enduring happiness—even now, not just when we’re dead! He’s told us our purpose, our destiny. And he’s revealed to us why we can trust him like no other. All of these things are found in his Word, in His Sacraments, in His Church. But let’s be honest: how many of us have taken the time to dig into our faith in this way? And let’s also be honest, do we even know where to begin?
“Rerouting…”—as the name suggests—“Rerouting…” is designed to help us find our way back to God and His Church, to immerse ourselves in His story, in all that He has done for us; and to discover who you were born to be.
In other words, we want to take a deep dive into the story, the story. We want to approach our faith with new eyes, a new curiosity, a new desire. So beginning on January 22, and through the Spring, we’re going to dedicate the homily on Sunday to doing this. But also, we want to really encourage people to participate in a small group on one day during the week as well. I’m also going to put out an extra video each week, which will not be a repeat of what I said on Sunday, but a “deeper dive” into whatever the topic was. And there will be discussion guides for small groups to go along with that.
We want to have these small groups because they allow everything to really sink in, to take root; and they allows us to ask our questions (which is kind of hard to do during a homily). There are a number of small groups already in the parish that are going to do this, but we’re going to offer a few more opportunities. But the really exciting part is that you could host your own group, get a few of your friends and get together for an hour once a week when it’s convenient for you—we are going to provide all the materials and support for that.We’re doing everything we can to make this accessible for everyone. We’re going to have all of this online: the Sunday homily, the Deeper Dive video, and discussion guides. And so I just want to encourage as many people as possible to participate in some form of a small group as well. Give it a try! I have literally watched people’s lives be transformed once they took a courageous step to get involved in a small group. Even if it’s with your friends, in your own home—we want everyone to do this, because this is where true transformation happens. Jesus didn’t hand people a Bible and say, “Good luck!” He called them to be with him, the disciples were a small group gathered around him.
Why are we doing this? Because there is that burning need, that desire within you to encounter Him, or to encounter him again—so that we might surrender our life to him. I’m not oblivious to how easy it is to go through the motions. If you want Mass to be more than just another box you check off during the week, if you want to enrich your prayer life, if you want to engage your faith in a new and meaningful way—this will show you how.
A New Year’s Resolution
If you’re wondering about the name, “Rerouting…”—“Rerouting…” is the phrase that pops up on your GPS when you make a wrong turn. It’s what happens in order to get you back on the right path. Again, maybe you need to get back on the path, or maybe you know someone that you would like to walk with, invite, accompany on that path. But ultimately, “Rerouting…” is about you finding your way back to God and His Church, entering more deeply into relationship with God and His Church, and discovering who you were born to be.
I would encourage you, if you need one goal for this New Year: take this one meaningful step in your faith.
Again, ask yourself those three questions: “Where am I? How did I get here? And how do I get on the right path?” This is the path forward for you. This is the path forward for that someone you love that has drifted away.