|Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
St. Joseph's Neier/SFBRHS/New Teen Program August 11-12, 2012
Rev. Kevin Schmittgens
Central Idea: The key to a holy and life giving existence is the eradication of bitterness from our hearts. If Homer Simpson can do it, anyone can.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice.
Where are all the pictures of Maggie Simpson? They are conspicuously absent from the Simpson family albums. (If you are a Simpsons fan, please don't ruin my homily.)
There are those who might take offense at the notion of using the Simpsons in a religious service, let alone a homily. But for the scoffers let me offer three bits of trivia: 1.) Bart Simpson is recognized as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th Century. 2.) The Simpsons are the first TV series who has a US Postal stamp while continuing to produce new episodes. 3.) The Simpsons are one of the few TV families who actually go to church on a regular basis. At one time, Bart and Homer even considered becoming Catholic.
One of my favorite episodes is an "origin" story about when Maggie was born. In reality, Maggie was born in 1987 and so she would actually be 25 years old now. The Simpsons, however, do not age. So Maggie will continually be an infant constantly opposing her archenemy the unibrowed Baby Gerald. The episode begins with Bart and Lisa asking Homer and Marge why there are no pictures of Maggie in the Simpson family albums. And with that, Homer tells a story, a story I offer to all of you for reflection today.
Homer has finally gotten himself and his family out of debt. He hates his job at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, under the cruel tyranny of the evil Mr. Burns. And so, once he realizes that he doesn't need the job anymore, he quits the Plant, literally burning his bridges, and stakes out to follow his dream. And his dream is: to work at the local bowling alley. Homer is in heaven. He even shines his bald pate in the bowling ball cleaning machine. All is right in the world.
But then, disaster strikes. Marge turns up pregnant, pregnant with the third Simpson child who would be Maggie. Homer's job at the bowling alley does not pay enough for the new mouth to feed. Homer becomes bitter and angry about this new development in his life. His hopes and dreams are squashed. And so he slinks back to Mr. Burns and groveling, asking for his old job back. Burns complies, but contemptuously derides him and installs a brutal, mocking sign, he calls it a plague, but it is a plaque, right in front of Homer which he will have to look at and ponder for his entire working life: DON'T FORGET, YOU ARE HERE FOREVER!
So Homer is left, dreams dashed, hope gone, bitter and angry.
The reason why a character like Homer resonates with us so well is that, whether we want to admit it or not, we share a lot of with him. We may not be as outrageous, as utterly foolish and clownish as Homer is, but there are moments he does things, that I have done. There are times he says things that I wish I would have said. I like the line he says to Lisa once, "I am just not that bright." I have felt that way many times. And who among us has not felt the sting of bitterness? Who has not felt frustration? Who has not felt fury and anger? And if you haven't hang in there, you will eventually find yourself at a desk at the Power Plant staring at the taunt: DON'T FORGET, YOU ARE HERE FOREVER! Who hasn't wanted to cry out at the utter unfairness and injustice of life with a plaintive and resounding "D'oh!"
The call of the Scriptures today is to resist the temptation, resist the urge, resist the old easy way of bitterness and anger. St. Paul exhorts us to allow: All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. Easier said than done Paulie, easier said than done. It is so easy to simply give in. As Homer might say: Trying is always the first step to failure.
And yet what is the use of our bitterness? Bitterness has really never achieved anything. It has never built anything. It has never succeeded at anything. Maya Angelou once said that: Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. Another author once said that the greatest enemy to present joy and high hopes is the cultivation of retrospective bitterness. All of us have had things happened in our lives, some more than others, that have left us with a bitter angry taste in our mouths. Similarly we know that this bitterness only drives us down, poisons our hearts and imprisons our lives. So why do we hold on to it, why do we cling to it like a life preserver in the midst of a stormy sea. Yet there is something in us that pretends we need it and, even more than that, in a very perverse way, revels and frolics in it.
Yet we know, deep down, in our heart of hearts that bitterness must be removed. The key is two-fold. First appreciate the things that we do have, concentrate on the gifts that have been given to you. Once we lose sight of our blessings, once we let go of gratitude, our hearts are up for grabs, our lives are often turned inside out. The second key is not to focus so deeply on ourselves, on our troubles, on our lost dreams, and offer ourselves in service to others.
Even Homer Simpson discovers this when Maggie is born. At first, when Marge tells him she is pregnant he is angry, confused and upset. But Maggie's birth releases a powerful force in Homer's life. He finds it in his heart to love his new daughter. And this opens himself to release his bitterness.
So where are the pictures of Maggie? the kids ask as the story ends. Why are there no pictures of Maggie? They are, Homer replies, in the place they are needed the most. And the last shot of the episode shows the plaque that Mr. Burns has placed opposite Homer's desk, a plaque that used to read: Don't Forget. You are here forever. Instead Homer has creatively placed pictures of Maggie in such a way that the plaque now reads: DO IT FOR HER.
DO IT FOR HER.
If Homer can do it, so can you. "D'oh!"