Chrism Mass Homily 2016
I had a revelation this past week and it was a painful one: I should never bother to fill out an NCAA tournament bracket. Even if there was no money involved, having my bracket busted badly in the first weekend has become a yearly event. Especially when my Mother beats me year after year. And when my 12 year-old niece is doing so this year as well.
Some revelations can be painful to receive, but not all. Some can be a cause for great joy, something good to hear. Such is the case with our reading from the Book of Revelation. The exile John has received the revelation in which Jesus Christ tells him – and now us – that the Lord God is “the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” The alpha and the omega, of course, refer to the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, meaning the beginning and the end. Christ is both the beginning of all that is and the end of all that is. We see the letters in many different places throughout our church buildings. At the Easter Vigil, the letters are inscribed on the Easter Candle with the words, “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him, and all ages; to him be glory and power, through every age.” Yes, Christ is our alpha and our omega, our beginning and our end. Or at least, he should be.
The phrase “alpha and omega” is not reserved to Christianity. There are two uses of this phrase that I have found of particular interest. One is a recent theory being proposed in physics that all of creation is moving forward from an alpha event – its beginning – towards an omega event – its end. I don’t pretend to understand the theory involved, something to do with string theory and bagel shapes, but I find it particularly intriguing that this “alpha and omega” theory is directed towards the same object as that of the book of Revelation, the beginning and the end of creation.
The second usage of the phrase has been applied to a particular organizational theory within the business world. This alpha and omega theory says that everything that a company does should begin (alpha) and end (omega) with a clear “why” – why you are doing what you do: what’s your purpose, what’s your cause, what’s your belief? As explained, this business theory says that every organization knows what they do: “we build cars, we invest money, we shelter the homeless, we treat the sick, etc”. But the really successful and the great organizations focus on “why” they do what they do. Most organizations start from the “what” and maybe move to the “why” but the really inspired organizations work in the other direction – from the “why.” So a company like Apple for example just doesn’t build computers and phones. They do it because they want to make the world a more imaginative and creative place and when you buy their products you’re also buying that. That’s what makes them different from other computer companies. The answer to the “why” questions becomes the beginning and the end – alpha and omega – to all that they do. It is very attractive and very successful.
Let me unpack this a little bit as applied to ourselves as a Church. If we think of ourselves as a Church from the “what – how – why” model, we start with what we are about, what we do: we have parishes and schools, we care for the poor and the needy, we worship together, we have events and gatherings and fundraisers – we do all kinds of things that – and here’s the kicker –that a lot other organizations do. The are other schools, other churches and faiths, other self-help groups, others who care for the marginalized, others who do good works, other like-minded people who come together, who gather in groups, other fraternal organizations who do what we do. Here’s the kicker: you don’t necessarily have to be a “believer” in anything or anyone to do these things. So if we start with “what” we do, how are we different from anyone else? What makes us different from all of them?
Now think about how everything changes when we start with “why” question – why do what we do? Here we can consider once again the words we hear at the beginning of the Easter Vigil as the Easter candle is inscribed, “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him, and all ages; to him be glory and power, through every age.” Why do we do what we do and why should anyone care? Everything we do, we believe in doing it differently because of Jesus Christ, our Alpha and Omega. We believe in challenging the status quo, in changing the world, in making things different because of Jesus Christ. We believe in a message of salvation offered to each and every person. Why? Because we believe in Jesus Christ. The person of Jesus Christ and our faith in Him makes us who we are. He is the being of our substance, the esse of our essence, the Head of the Church of which we are the Body. We only succeed in who we are and in what we do because of Him. People may come to our Churches because of what we do, but they will only stay and be one with us because of “why” we do what we do: “Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all.”
Focusing on the “why” first rather than the “what” is transformative for each of us. To my brother priests: Why were we ordained? Jesus Christ. Why do we evangelize and catechize? Jesus Christ. Why have we consecrated our lives as a free gift to the Church in celibacy? Jesus Christ. Why do we lead Devotions, pray the Office, and celebrate the Sacraments for ourselves and for the Church? Jesus. Why do we get up in the middle of the night to rush to the hospital or nursing home or any home to pray and offer the Sacraments for the sick and the dying? Jesus. Why do we go to meetings, teach classes, attend dinners and fundraisers, drop in on sports events, and offer counsel and guidance when necessary? Jesus. Why are we filled with the joy and happiness of knowing from whom we come and to whom we go? Jesus. Who is our Alpha and Omega? Who gives meaning to our lives? Jesus. Or, at least, I hope so ….
To my fellow Catholics gathered here with me in this church: Why do we live the life we do, as committed Catholics? Jesus. Why do we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, ransom the captive, bury the dead? Jesus. Why do we forgive easily, bear wrongs patiently, comfort the afflicted, and pray for the living and the dead? Jesus. Why do you attend Mass on the weekend when you could be doing something else with your busy lives? Jesus. Why do you volunteer at church and in your communities, why do you financially support your parish and the Diocese, why do you raise your children in the faith, send them to Catholic schools and religious education, why do you love and protect all human life? Jesus. Why do you begin and end each day in prayer? Jesus. Why are you here today? Why are we filled with the joy and happiness of knowing from whom we come and to whom we go? Jesus. Who is our Alpha and Omega? Who gives meaning to our lives? Jesus. Or, at least, I hope so ….
When I was in the seminary studying to be a priest – not so many years ago (thank you very much), there was a faculty member who was famous for the brevity of his daily Mass homilies. One time, after the Prodigal Son parable was read at Mass, his homily went like this (he always spoke in very slow and precise words): “The story of the Prodigal Son, which we have just heard, is a great story and like all great stories, it speaks for itself.” And then he sat down. Another time, after we heard the Gospel story of Simeon in the temple from Luke chapter 2, his homily went along these lines, “In the gospel passage we just heard, Simeon is described as a man who is ‘righteous and devout and the Holy Spirit was upon him.’ And so, gentlemen, I ask you, if others were to describe you would they say, he is ‘righteous and devout and the Holy Spirit is upon him?’ If not, why not?” And then he sat down.
Allow me now to borrow that question from his homily and raise it today. Is Christ our alpha and our omega? If not, why not? Is he the beginning and the end of all that we do? If not, why not? Is he our Lord, our God, our all? If not, why not? Is Christ the reason why we are gathered here today? Is He the answer to the “why” for all that we do? If our answer is “yes,” then rejoice and be glad for today the words of Scripture and the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ is being fulfilled in our hearing. But, if the answer to these questions is, “I’m not sure,” or sadly even, “no,” can we ask, “why not” and and doing so respond more deeply to the offer of God’s grace and mercy?
My friends, You and I know we can.