So, The Neverending Story was one of the movies that was big in the 1980’s. It is this epic tale of a kid named Bastian that has run away from class and hid himself in the attic of the school. He pulls out an ancient book with two intertwining serpents on the cover and he begins to read the story of another boy, Atreyu, a warrior who is sent to save a dying world. The dying world is basically a representation of the hopes and dreams of all of humanity. Of course the warrior, Atreyu, has to take on the greatest enemy imaginable. It’s not a dragon, not a dark wizard, not a Pokémon; rather, Atreyu faces the great Nothing. The Nothing is exactly what it sounds like – it is a merciless Void. As humanity loses its hope and its dreams in our world, all of this world called Fantasia begins to collapse and darken, to turn gray and shrink. As the first boy, Bastian, reads on he comes to this climax where he, this innocent reader and yet this last “bastion” of hope for Fantasia is supposed to give a name to the princess.
I thought of this, because in a way our world seems to be suffering from the same Void. Our imagination does not seem as great as it once was, and our hopes have dimmed, partly because we don’t read books anymore – and now it is the very visual markers of our history that are at stake. I read yesterday how San Domenico Catholic School in California, in a case that they claim as unrelated to the Robert Lee circus, have removed more than 160 statues of Jesus, Mary and others from their property in the effort to be more inclusive. How interesting: Jesus Christ is the one figure who never turned anyone away. He did not quench the smoldering wick or bruise a reed. To lose Jesus Christ’s image is more than a blow to somebody else’s history, it is to lose our own future, for He is the essence of our faith. As a Christian, to lose Jesus Christ is to lose yourself…to lose your own identity. That’s because in a sense the Bible is a lot like that ancient book that Bastian reads – that as we read it, we live through and with the Word Himself. We are connected with the eternal promise. But rather than us giving Him a name, it is He who bestows a name upon us. We read in Revelation 2:17, that Jesus tells us: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.’” But, if we lose the fight to maintain our hope in Christ, we lose our true identity. Without Christ we do not know who we are….and our future becomes the Void.
To a sick world, Christ has come among us in Matthew’s Gospel in a whirlwind of healing people. He’s healed everybody around to the point that the Pharisee’s have called him the Devil himself. Sound familiar?! Once that happens, there’s not much dialogue with the Pharisees. The Pharisees could not see the transition – that they were called to something higher. You see the Old Testament is a kind of pattern. The Old Testament gave people hints towards what kind of messiah to hope for. Did you know that Elisha the Prophet fed 100 people with just 20 small loaves of barley and some ears of grain? “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” And it was so. And in our first reading, Eliakim is given this position over the House of David. The Lord says when he will open the doors to the house of Judah no one will shut them and when he shuts the doors, no one will open them. Sound familiar? We could go on and on for everything in the Old Testament points towards miracles Jesus did or things He says. The pattern of holiness that is etched across the entire Old Testament over thousands of years – this pattern of what it is to be holy is now on display in Jesus who is the pattern – all in one man. We often enough think of ourselves as important or interesting because of what sets us apart. Maybe you like fancy foods or maybe you have a collection of gadgets or you know rare facts about baseball trivia, etc. We can feel very particular. The Son of Man was not a particular man – He did not have His own idiosyncrasies and habits and styled cultivated human preferences. Rather He was the Old Testament’s pattern come to life: He was the Universal Man. The reason people thought of Him as Elijah or Jeremiah or another of the Prophets – was because His life reflected the goodness from all of them. The pattern of holiness had concretized in Human form, but it was all there come to life. There is a key thing to recall about these figures: Elijah and Jeremiah and John were not recognized in a vacuum. We can see that they point to the light, because of the wickedness and darkness of the history around them. If you throw away history you throw away the great pattern of God rescuing us from our sin. Whitewash the history and you learn nothing from the prophets, for if we lose a sense of darkness, there is no hope for the light.
When Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” He could just as easily have said, What are people hoping for? This is who they were looking out for in a man to lead them. Elijah, John the Baptist – they are beginning to hope, but their hopes aren’t great enough. “Who do you say that I am?” Who do you want me to be? Remember that Peter was the one who has just walked his first steps on water. He is starting to put things together. “You are the Christ. The Son of the Living God.” Few facts are greater and more merciful than the fact that it is Peter was a sinful man. Why? Well, because God chose to bestow this knowledge on someone who had passion, but was still a sinner. And it is Peter, a sinner who is conformed to Jesus to the point of dying on his own cross – the sinner is made holy in the pattern of Jesus. We can all hope to be conformed to Christ.
In truth, I know what the Nothing really is – it is just another name for sin. You see sin is when we choose something other than God, because anything that is not God eventually fades away and we are left without anything to love. We are left with Nothing. Christ told the Pharisees that at the judgment, the Men of Nineveh will rise with their generation – for at the sign of Jonah they repented. And there was something greater than Jonah there – namely Himself. Then He said that the Queen of the South will rise with their generation and condemn it, because she came to Solomon seeking wisdom and there was something greater than Solomon in their presence. I fear that Christ will give our generation a similar warning, and that at the judgment we will be wishing that it was only Robert E. Lee and the South who will rise to contest with our generation. For at the end of the Civil War, they surrendered their will and allowed our country to remain united – however imperfectly. But, there is something greater than Robert E. Lee at stake here – for in this generation, we ourselves have removed Christ from our midst and the school in California nailed the true reason: Christ is not inclusive. Meaning, He is not inclusive of sin. In the end, we can’t have both Christ and sin. We clamor for inclusion, because we do not allow ourselves to admit that we have sin, and we do not repent like the Men of Nineveh, nor do we seek out wisdom. Without a true turning to Our Lord we face only our own nothingness.
The culture of our country and would seek to use its own keys to lock out anything from this world that it deems unworthy by its ever changing standard. We can no longer allow the culture around us to supply meaning the meaning in life. Rather Christ provides the great pattern for all that is light. He wants to marshal us to storm the gates of the Void with the meaning of repentance, and forgiveness, and love. We can begin to spread His Presence across every square inch of creation. In this Mass, let us pray to St. Peter for his successors and the flock scattered abroad – that we might be united in our hope in Christ. Evermore there is a need to exemplify His goodness and that we may become a living monument to our Lord.