OPRAH IS NOT EQUAL TO JESUS (Shocker, isn’t it?)
Hi everyone - here’s my homily for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Sunday November 15, 2009. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/111509.shtml . I appreciate you’re reading this and sharing it as well as all of your comments and feedback
God Bless- Father Jim
I am not an Oprah Winfrey fan. This may or may not shock you. It’s nothing personal. I’m not much of a talk show fan, period. So I could just as easily (and accurately say) I am not a Jay Leno fan or a David Letterman fan. I can’t stand their shows. I'd much rather watch episodes of “The Office” or “Seinfeld.” Anyway, back to Oprah, no, I’m not a fan of hers. And I realize that puts me at odds with what is popular or what is considered “mainstream” in America.
Because, by many standards, Oprah is the epitome of “mainstream”. Actually, to give credit where credit is due, she helps define what is mainstream. She sticks an “O” sticker on a book, and it’s #1 in the NY Times Best Sellers' list. That’s why former Vice President nominee, Sarah Palin, who was a political rival to the ticket Oprah was supporting in last year’s presidential election, will make her first appearance on Oprah’s show this week in anticipation of her book’s release – after all, it can’t hurt.
Oprah is a multi-media phenomenon; she has her own radio channel on XM satellite Radio, her own magazine (with her own picture on it every month – a little much, isn’t that?). She’s been involved in TV shows, movies, broadway musicals. Commentator Bill O’Reilly said about her, "This is a woman that came from nothing to rise up to be the most powerful woman, I think, in the world."
O’Reilly has a point. After being a dominating presence in the United States, conquering every realm of media, Oprah can be seen in 140 countries. According to the 'Wall Street Journal', one channel in Saudi Arabia centers their entire programming on reruns of her television show because of the record number of female viewers it draws. The reason, they say is because women in that culture see Winfrey dressed modestly, telling her own story of how she overcame adversity and abuse to get where she is today.
For those of us who are used to (and maybe a bit tired of) her media influence, we've probably forgotten that’s why she has captured so many people’s attention. People see this successful women, speaking candidly and in some cases heroically about her own struggles and how she overcame them. This, in turn, taps into people’s own pains, their own struggles, their own fears and so they become optimistic – if she can do it, well, so can I. And so they listen to her words. They buy her books, they follow her advice and endorsements. Oprah in many ways epitomizes optimism, and optimism, especially in times of adversity, sells.
Fr. Willian O’Malley, who is a Jesuit priest, who is hysterically, brutally honest and real made the following observation. He said, “I’ve learned the big difference between optimism and hope. Optimism is 'Annie' [that’s the little orphan red curl-headed kid] belting out, 'The sun’ll come out tomorrow! Bet yer bottom dollar there’ll be sun.' Good luck, kid. The forecast says rain for the rest of the week. Hope’s different. Hope says, 'Okay, so it’s gonna rain. We’ll get the job done anyway.' Hope says, 'It’s the last inning, and we’re down by three, but let’s go out swinging!' Unlike optimism, hope knows that quite often nice guys do finish last, but that it’s a helluva lot better to be a nice guy than to be first.”
Which is why Jesus is different from Oprah (wow, never imagined I’d be saying that sentence). Jesus isn’t selling us optimism. Jesus is offering us Hope.
Today’s Gospel passage has Jesus telling us how the world is going to end – tribulations - the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, stars will be falling from the sky, the powers in the heavens will be shaken - and this is some pretty scary stuff. For many people, though, it remains a distant event they don’t worry about right now because they've got more frightening things to deal with. The family going through a rough time. A loved one sick. Unemployment. Someone they're close to dying. Struggling with addiction. Any one of those things - or a combination of them - can definitely make someone feel as if the sun has truly disappeared.
In the midst of those struggles, we want optimistic words. We want someone to tell us it’s going to be alright. Everything’s going to be fine. We want things to go back to the way they were. 'The sun will come out, tomorrow.' And if it doesn’t? Then what?
If things don't turn out the way we want them to, we don't have to give into pessimism. But we do need to be honest.
Jesus is honest; He doesn’t sugarcoat this truth. Yes, there will be tribulation and darkness - not just at the end of the world, but probably through many moments of our lives. Things might get so terrible that we feel things will 'never be the same.' But – wait for it - here are the words of hope from tonight’s Gospel – listen to them once again:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
If we’re looking for a quick fix, these words will pass away. Because Jesus isn’t promising a quick fix. He’s not promising to make things the way they were before, or the way we would likr them to be in the future. His words are not going to get you a job tomorrow morning, immediately cure your illness or miraculously pull up your GPA.
The point it, if that’s just what we’re looking for - a quick fix, an increase of pleasure and a decrease in pain - we will, ultimately, be disappointed in life - disappointed not just by Jesus, but by Oprah and any who market the 'power of positive thinking' as a religion, or tell us the Gospel is all about 'prosperity' ('pie in the sky when you die, and steak on the plate while you wait'). The Gospel, Jesus - the Word of God - is all about Hope. Hope is borne of deep love and trust in the One who loved us into existence, the One who constantly lifts us up after we fall, the One who promises us - even though the road ahead of us may be difficult, will be difficult - that He will never leave us, and that His words of hope will never pass away.
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern