2020-01-12 Father Francois Beyrouti's Homily: "Is your Spiritual life in Cruise Control?"
This is the link to Sunday’s homily: https://youtu.be/-8TtYSSrzRw
The full text of the readings and homily are below.
Is your Spiritual life in Cruise Control?
Sunday, January 12, 2020 homily by Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th.
Hebrews 13:7-16. Matthew 4:12-17.
The Sunday after the Theophany of our Lord.
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Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th.
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church
451 West Madison Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870-4537
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Epistle: Hebrews 13:7-16.
Brethren, remember your superiors who spoke to you the word of God. Consider how they ended their lives, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. Do not be led away by various and strange doctrines. For it is good to make the heart steadfast by grace, not by foods, in which those who walked found no profit. We have an altar; from which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought in to the Holies by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people by his blood, suffered outside the gate. Let us therefore go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach; for here we have no permanent city, but we seek for the city that is to come. Through him therefore, let us offer up a sacrifice of praise always to God, that is, fruit of lips praising his name. And do not forget kindness and love, for by such sacrifices God’s favor is obtained.
Gospel: Matthew 4:12-17.
At that time, When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled: "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen." From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
About twenty years ago I was driving with someone who bought a brand new fully loaded car. He was so proud of this car that as we were driving he kept saying “look, look” then he began to press almost every single button and turn every single knob in the car.
Finally, it came time to show me the most impressive feature that his previous car did not have: the impressive cruise control. “Look, look, you press one button” he told me “then you take your foot off the gas pedal, and the car keeps going at exactly the same speed.” He was so excited he lifted his knee up next to the steering wheel and said: “Look, look, my foot is not even near the gas pedal.”
He then got a little too excited. In addition to lifting his foot off the pedal, he took both hands off the steering wheel and said: “Look, look, no feet and no hands. I’m in cruise control.” I immediately grabbed the steering wheel and said: “That is not how cruise control works. You can take your foot off the gas pedal for a few minutes but you can’t take your hands off the steering wheel even for one second.”
As odd as this may sound, we sometimes live our spiritual lives like we are driving a car with cruise control. We believe in the basics of our faith, but then take our feet off the gas pedal and say: “Look, look, I’m still a good person. I don’t need to learn new things about the Bible anymore.” Regardless of whether we’re making progress or not, we’re sometimes content that our speed is just fine. Then we might start taking our spiritual life for granted a little more. After taking our feet off the pedal, we then take one hand off the wheel by saying: “Look, look, everything is still ok even when I skip my daily prayers or stop praying at all.” “Look, look, I’m still making good decisions in life.”
We then might end up taking the other hand off the wheel and start to drive down the highway of life with our feet nowhere near the gas or brake pedals and our hands nowhere near the steering wheel and we say “Look, look, things are still ok, without all that religion stuff.”
If there is no one around us and the road is flat, then for a few seconds we can drive in cruise control with our hands and feet up in the air, but that thrill doesn’t last very long. Likewise, if we do not hold on to our spiritual wheel of faith to remind ourselves that our spiritual lives cannot be lived in cruise control then we will not be on a spiritual highway for very long.
We heard in today’s Gospel: “Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ ” (Matthew 4:17). The word “repent” can mean different things. One way to understand this rich word is by looking at how cruise control works. God made all of us with more exciting features than any new car. But despite all these features we always have to keep our eyes on the road and our hands on the steering wheel. We always have to be careful and we can never completely let go of the steering wheel nor keep our feet far from the pedal. Repenting reminds us that we always have to “look, look.”
We may be a talented athlete or singer, we might really excel in school, we might be very successful at work or other aspects of our life, but these will not endure if we take our hands off the steering wheel. Professional athletes and singers practice for hours not because they are not good but because they want to make sure they are the best they can be. They are the best in their field because they are willing to spend ten hours a day to make sure that their 10-minute performance is as close to perfect as possible.
We can say the same about our faith. The saints are great examples for us. They spent many hours a day praying, they spent many hours a day reading the Bible or spiritual books, and they put great effort into repenting of every thought or action that is not consistent with being a follower of Jesus.
They did not spend many hours praying because they were bad people but because they wanted to be better people and wanted to grow in their daily relationship with God. They did not spend many hours reading and studying the Bible because they did not know what was in it, but because they wanted to see how their lives can better reflect what is in it. They did not put great effort into repenting of every thought or action because they had so many of them but because they knew that even the smallest thought or action if allowed to grow will have a negative impact on their lives and decrease the intensity of their love for Jesus.
We should enjoy our talents and accomplishments, but even small faults can undermine everything. For example, ask people who smoke how they started. Many will say “I just wanted to try it once, but then I got hooked.” Ask someone how he or she became an alcoholic or developed an addiction to gambling and they will say “That first time was so enjoyable.” Ask anyone who has ruined their lives and the lives of their family because of infidelity “What happened?” and they will tell you “I don’t know. It started so innocently.”
The word “gospel” means good news. The good news of Jesus Christ is that we all need to repent. The good news of repentance is that it allows us to truly see who we are as beloved children of God. It is important to think of the word “repent” in a very positive way.
We are superstar athletes, we are master musicians, we are top scholars, we are successful in every aspect of our life, we are made in the image and likeness of God, and we are more brilliant and more holy than we have a capacity to appreciate. But, that world of ours could easily crumble if we do not turn away from even what we may consider to be small sins and “repent.”
Cruise control is a great and exciting invention but if it is not used correctly we will hurt ourselves and others. Spiritual cruise control is even more dangerous because without self-assessment, even after we do much damage we can be blind of what we have done.
Sometimes we get distracted and swerve from right to left, but the word “repent” reminds us that to get to our destination we have to keep our feet near the gas and brake pedals in order to learn wisdom. We have to keep our hands on the steering wheel in order to remain firm in our intentions. And we have to keep our eyes on the road in order to stay inspired by the good that we have accomplished and want to accomplish.
Today in addition to all the wonderful things we are doing, let us also look for opportunities to repent of any harm we may have done to ourselves or to others. When we repent we are not saying that we are bad people but are saying that with God’s help we can be so much better.
When we find the courage to repent, we are able to rejoice because we see that we can only make it past the bumps or holes on the road of life with God holding our hands. This is the kind of cruise control we want to show off and say “Look, look we’re cruising to a deeper and deeper joy in who we are as children of such a loving God.”