First Sunday in Epiphany 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Whenever in retrospect we think about a period of time, a year, a decade, or an era, we invariably focus on the extremes: Hippies in the Haight-Ashbury in the late 60s, super flare bell-bottoms in the 70s, women’s shoulder pads in the 80s. I suspect that years from now, when people look back upon our own time, they will be envisioning a young person with their nose buried in an iPhone. A person mesmerized by a kind of Orwellian Newspeak: the shorthand communication of a Tweet, or the battlefield massacre of semantics and spelling commonly referred to as a text message.

That stereotypical, modern day, young person is very preoccupied. Whatever is on that little screen of hers has lured her away from the rest of the world. She is in the world her iPhone apps have created for her, and she is very busy there.

Busy, but busy at what business? Is she busy doing her own business? Perhaps that is true sometimes, but I suspect the little screen provides her more diversions from work than she would want to admit. Is she busy maintaining relationships with her family and friends? More often than not the shared Tweets and text messages are a poor man’s substitute for real human connection. They remind us we are a ship on someone’s radar screen, but we are a ship that other person never takes the time to anchor alongside and to board. What seems like virtual connectedness too often is just a reminder of our separateness.

Is she busy doing our Father’s business? This begs the question: What is our Father’s business? As Christians, what have we been called to do? Christ Jesus instructs us all to love God with all our hearts, our souls, and our minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. He instructs us to forgive those who have hurt us seventy times seven times, which is to say forever and always. He instructs us to teach all nations and to baptize them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. He instructs us to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. Putting this all together, in essence doing our Father’s business means following in the footsteps of His beloved Son and utilizing the various gifts of grace given unto us to help in building up His Kingdom.

Following in the footsteps of Christ means having a relationship with Him. Knowing Him in the breaking of the bread. Reaching out to Him when we are sickened by our own sin. Speaking to Him in prayer, and listening with true humility to His response. The relationship is not an idea in our minds, so much as it is a tangible reality that we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. If Christ Jesus were walking among us today, as He did two thousand years ago in Israel, almost surely He would not have an email address. He would not correspond by text, and He would have no Twitter followers. Instead, He would visit with us in person, dine in our homes, convert water to wine at our weddings, and invite us to walk with Him and with all the faithful. He would be much too sociable to be on social media.

Helping to build up His Kingdom means two things in this context. First, it means we should acknowledge in gratitude whatever gifts of grace God has given unto us. If He has given us the gift of patience, then we should be grateful for that. If He has given us the gift of sobriety, then we should be grateful for that. If He has given us the gift of teaching what is true and good, then we should be grateful for that. Whatever the gift know that it is valuable, unique to your own personality, and by God’s grace able to do so much more than you can know at the time. Secondly, helping to build up His Kingdom means taking our unique gifts and working constructively with the faithful. It means forging and maintaining a community in faith, preserving the faith and the practice of this community so that they may be passed down to the next generation, and acting toward one another with mutual respect, humility, and kindness.

As with following in the footsteps of Christ Jesus, building up His Kingdom requires real and tangible relationships. Social Media can never be a long-term substitute for coming together as a family in prayer. Technology has a role to play, of course, and for some people it may be the only mechanism for worship and fellowship. But if it is being used as a substitute for doing our hair, putting on our Sunday clothes, and actually showing up, when reasonably we could have done so, then technology is a curse. It can inspire a kind of spiritual laziness. If the only effort we put into divine worship is clicking on a hyperlink, when with just a little more motivation we could be sitting in a pew, then we really are not asking for much in return. Even worse, if we allow technology to substitute for a real relationship, then we are orienting our own minds and hearts to conceive of the Christian faith as a solitary experience, or as just a set of ideas with which we may agree but which have no real sacramental life in them. If unrestrained, technology wrests the living Christ out of the Christian faith, and what we are left with are vague moral platitudes that do not feed us when we are hungry nor visit us when we are sick. When was the last time you held hands or shared a hug with a platitude? And when was the last time a platitude offered you a cup of coffee and a bite to eat after Mass?  

Returning a moment to the stereotypical young person with her nose in her iPhone. She is busy, indeed preoccupied, but her business sadly is in avoiding relationships. Her business is drawing away from the real world all around her; orienting herself to the apps on her little screen at the expense of the grace filled life to be cultivated in nature, in friendships, in family, and finally in the Church. Drawing away from the real world is a kind of narcissism, a self-exaltation, for what we choose to read or to communicate on our little iPhone screens more often than not is a reflection of our own consumer interests and ideological biases. We are retreating into a social media world that is comfortable and safe for us, where what we want is always just a click away, and what we believe is always reaffirmed. In his Epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul warns the Christian “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

Technology has its use, but more often than we do we should set it aside. Make time for a new friend in Christ, visit with the lonely, take a Bible study class and urge your friends to join you. Get out of your own head, and get into Christ. This is what it truly means to be about our Father’s business. There will be times when this will make us uncomfortable, perhaps even the victims of persecution, but this is what it means to be fully alive. Anything else is a pale substitute that leads to regret and then despair. Follow in the footsteps of Christ, work with your fellow Christians in building up His Kingdom, and you will start to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch eternal life.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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