September 16, 2012 - Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 50:5-9
Psalm 116:1-6, 8-9
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35

Zombies are very, very scary. I think zombies might be the scariest of all the monsters. Zombies are so scary because they seem like they are alive but then you realize that they are not. St. James is talking about zombies today. Zombie Christians. They seem like they have the new life of Christ. They sing the songs and say all the right words, but then you suddenly realize that their faith is dead. They are here among us. In truth, we are all of us in danger of becoming a zombie at any moment.

In the movies, zombies walk down the street moaning, “Braaaaaiiiiins!” That is not so distant from somebody wandering through life calling out “Muuuuhnneeey!” or “Viiiideo Gaaaaaaames!” or any of the other obsessions that people have in this world that make them oblivious to the needs of people around them. What good does it do anyone to believe that Jesus suffered and died for us if they spend every moment of their own life in self-indulgence? The Resurrection cannot be simply a bit of trivia in the mind of a Christian. When Jesus rose from the dead, that was an invitation for each one of us to rise from our dreary and dead purposeless lives to a new life where we forget ourselves and love other people. That is what it means to be alive in Christ.

How can we be fully alive? Jesus says, “Deny yourself.” Self-denial means learning to say “no” to ourself. The world does not understand why we should deny ourself anything. They think they feel most alive when they are without restriction. This is obviously false. If I eat without restriction until I weigh 1000 pounds, I am not fully alive. If I drink without restriction until I cannot control my actions, I am not fully alive. If I watch TV without restriction until I cannot go to sleep at night, I am not fully alive.

Is this what we say when we see someone in the throes of addiction: “Look how alive they are?” No, they look like a zombie. True freedom does not come when we throw away every restriction. True freedom comes when we cast off every chain holding us back, every time-wasting, money-wasting, effort-wasting, life-wasting chain holding us back. Addictions to food, pornography, the internet, television, alcohol, and drugs do not make a person free. When morality tells us that such and such a thing is wrong, it is simply saying that this thing will kill us or at least prevent us from being fully alive.

Time is the measure of life. Every day that we wake up, until the last, we have 24 hours to spend. To waste time, to kill time is to be a zombie. Some time we have to spend on ourselves: sleeping, eating, working, etc. This time is simply being used to sustain life. Every hour we spend on ourselves is in support of what we will do with the rest of the time. We put all this effort into keeping ourselves alive and educated and rested, so what are we going to do? If we deny our desire to simply kill the time, what will we do with it? What action could be so great that it is worth all the effort that we have to put into ourself? Anything less than love is an insufficient answer. If a person needs 23 hours a day to stay alive just so that each day they can love for 1 hour, they are fully alive. If a person needs 12 hours a day to stay alive and is just bored for the other 12 hours, they are a zombie. If we never get around to serving others, we are like plants that never flower.

Jesus says, “Take up your cross.” Sometimes, when people talk about this verse, they speak of our cross as our suffering. Anything from arthritis to disabilities to other people can be called “my cross”. This is a half-truth. The central mystery of the cross is not that Jesus suffered and died, but that he suffered and died for us. A cross is not whatever difficulties we happen to have in life. Everyone has difficulties; we have no choice about that. We take up the daily cross when we give our lives out of love for someone. Indeed any suffering we experience in life can be a cross, but only if we embrace it and offer it.

When we help someone, we, if only for a moment, deny our own importance and acknowledge their importance. When we help someone, we are giving our life, if only a small portion of it, for them. Perhaps this seems exaggerated to say that I gave my life to someone, but what is life other than a series of minutes? To give a few minutes to help someone is to give a little bit of your life for them. This is how we can imitate Jesus who gave his life for us.

The last part of what Jesus says is “Follow me.” To follow someone simply means to be with them wherever they go. Our way of being with God is prayer. As we converse with God, chains will bind our heart to him. Then, no matter where the world goes, we will stay close to him. As wonderful as spending our life helping others is, as indispensable as that is, it is not the highest use of our time. The greatest use of our life is spending time with God in prayer.

So this is what it means to be fully alive. We do not want to become zombies. We come to Mass and think ourselves as Christians, but the way of living that Jesus is calling us to is not exactly how we live. It is attractive, the idea of living in such a real way, but is it possible? That is what we have the Saints for. They are proof for us that it is possible to be fully alive. Of course we are going to sin, of course we are going to fail, of course we will be selfish and waste time. That is what Confession is for. But as long as we never give up but keep beginning again to live for others and follow God, there is a spark of life in us that someday, in this world or the next, will burst into flame. Why wait? Why not begin living the new life of Christ right now?