(Editor’s note: Father Stephen Page, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt, delivered the following homily during Mass last month.)
Question: “Do any human beings ever realize their mortality, or the fullness of life or the finiteness of life while they live?” It’s a philosophical pondering; a spiritual search; an existential yearning.
The American playwright, Thornton Wilder, used that theme in his 1938 play, “Our Town.” The main character, Emily, dies in childbirth. In the afterlife, she is granted her one wish, to return one day in her previous life. She chooses the privilege of watching herself and her family and friends on her 12th birthday.
Perched on the “outside,” looking in, she is shocked and dismayed at how she and the others fail to pay serious attention to one another. They seem to be so unaware of the preciousness of time and life. They do not seem to recognize, as she now does, that the day will not last forever, and the brevity of the moment is fleeting.
The moral of the play, if there is one, is that most human beings fail to realize what is truly important and what is not, what is truly precious and what is not.
If you will, when Jesus says, he has “nowhere to lay his head,” it means he is an “outsider.” How so? Consider that being born in a stable, as Luke recounts the beginning of Jesus’ life, is to be not just “born in the stable” literally but to be on the outside of life. And in his ministry, did he not work from the outside of the religious and political systems of his day? Jesus did fulfill his religious duties by spending time in communal worship at synagogue. He didn’t take a pass with that. Yet he spent his time with “those outside the pale of life:” tax collectors, drinkers, prostitutes, common folk, the blind, the lame, the lepers. And looking beyond his own suffering on earth, Jesus told those who would listen to him that he would be found in “the outsiders.”
In today’s Gospel, the would-be followers thought they were intent on following Jesus but wanted to get back to their lives and take care of other things first. Jesus pointed out that because none of them were willing to stand outside of the norms, the customs and patterns of their day, they probably wouldn’t be joining him. Had they been willing, they would have had the vantage point necessary not only to be of service to God and neighbor, but also to get a new perspective on the value of human life, that is to see what’s deserving of their time, their attention and importance.
For us today? Well, one time a bishop asked confirmation candidates what in their understanding or opinion were the most important words of the Mass. Little Johnny shot up his hand. “Yes,” said the bishop, “what are they?” Little Johnny said: “Go, the Mass has ended!” Everyone in the church looked in shock at little Johnny. The bishop didn’t blink one eye. “Yes!” said the bishop. “Go!” Which we all simply know means, “Go out into the whole world and continue the work of Christ…”