This homily was delivered on the fourth Novena Mass in Xavier School 2012.
And so, we have just about 7 days to go before Christmas Day. But even more immediate than that, if we are to believe the Internet, we have only 3 days to go before the end of the world as we know it. By now, you may have heard of the so-called “2012 Phenomenon” where the world is predicted to end cataclysmically on December 21, 2012–that’s this year, that’s this month, that’s three days from now! You see, December 21, 2012 happens to be the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle used in the ancient Mayan calendar. Even if numerous Mayan scholars have repeatedly insisted that this has nothing to do with doomsday predictions, this date from the Mayan calendar has, typical of the internet, generated both mass hysteria and all sorts of wild hypotheses of how exactly the end of the world will transpire.
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Here are some examples of the pseudo-scientific theories that have emerged: First, the world would be swallowed by a black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Or it would be consumed by the sun, or it would collide with an imaginary planet called Nibiru. Imagine an imaginary planet with a name like Nibiru!It should also come as no surprise that all this has resulted in a 2009 Hollywood science fiction disaster movie called–what else?–“2012” starring John Cusack. It was, needless to say, a blockbuster.
Now, what would you do if as predicted, the world was really going to end in three days? Well, someone has beat us to it by tossing a similar question into cyberspace. He asked: “What would you do it you knew the world would end in five days?”
The responses that readers posted were entertaining and surprising; some were heartwarming, others far from it. I classified the different posts into five categories.
The first category has to do with just being with people we love:
“Spend my last moments with my girl.”
“Eat and spend time with my dog and family.”
The second type of responses is all about quieting down and going reflective:
“Probably make my way to a lake side or ocean side and sit, thinking and looking out.”
“I’d try to get as far away from [the] mayhem and total breakdown of society as we know it as I can. I’d want to spend my last hours in a relative peace of mind. Considering that I live in a city, that would be next to impossible though.”
There are also posts about making the most of the last days by having as much fun as possible:
“Look at other people do funny things, then hitch a ride.” (I suppose that’s fun for him or her)
“Run through the streets of New York city naked.”
And from someone who minces no tweets: “Coke, hookers, and Ferraris?”
One response I can’t classify but I so totally get: “End the world before the five days is up. Might as well get it over with.”
And these last three, which, for me are, the most disturbing responses:
“I’m going to hurt as many people as I can before I go out.”
“Go back to sleep after eating as much as I can and after trying to beat up the people I normally wouldn’t have the guts to take on.”
“Probably commit some rapes and murders. Then in the final hour, drink as much booze as I can get my hands on, smoke as many cigarettes and cigars I can, and use as many drugs as I can without fearing for my own life.”
So, here’s my theory: The end of the world–or even the prospect of it–can bring out either the best or the worst in us. When the world finally ends, whenever that will be, the question for each of us will be, to put it in a more Christmasy way: “Will you be naughty or nice?”
During these Christmas Novena Masses we’ve been meeting people from the bible for whom the first Christmas had the distinct effect of ending the world as they knew it.
In yesterday’s gospel reading, Joseph’s world came crashing down when he heard the devastating news about Mary’s pregnancy. Let’s face it: Even the reassuring angel’s explanation in his dream didn’t quite make any sense: “Conceived by the Holy Spirit? What’s that?” And yet, what did Joseph do? He didn’t try to get back at Mary and expose her to the public, as most betrayed lovers would do. Instead he decided to spare her by divorcing her quietly. And later after that strange dream, Joseph even did the unthinkable: He took his mysteriously pregnant ex as his wife even if he still couldn’t quite make heads or tails of it. Joseph didn’t allow the end of his world to bring out the worst in him. He chose to let it bring out the best in him. He was loving towards Mary even at the worst of times.
This evening we meet the elderly priest, Zechariah, who after many years of being childless found himself suddenly voiceless. Before he could say anything to the angel, he couldn’t! He was struck mute–and at the worst possible time! For the customary lighting of incense, the people would gather outside the temple to wait for the priest to bless them, but not a word of blessing from this priest this priest! Now, for us priests to lose our voice–that virtually spells the end of our world! We priests, after all, need our voice to preach and to bless.
And yet, how did Zechariah respond? He didn’t throw a tantrum as most people in his situation would do. It seemed like an unfair punishment, after all. Zechariah couldn’t be blamed for taking time to believe the angel’s news; didn’t God take His own sweet time all these years to answer his prayers for a son? Maybe Zechariah was just afraid of raising his expectations again, or he just needed some time to process the news. He could have sulked and seethe in resentment, as most people would do, but instead he repented his lack of faith and decided to be grateful even in silence. He didn’t let the setbacks bring out the worst in him. He chose to let it summon the best in him. Zechariah chose to be grateful even when it was difficult to do so.
It’s easy to be loving and grateful during the best of times. But when things go wrong, when the world begins to fall apart, or when your life feels like it’s lying in ruins, it’s easier said than done. When we feel betrayed like Joseph or punished like Zechariah, choosing to be good and to do the right thing can entail a lot of hard work. Simply put, when it’s the worst of times, it’s easier to be naughty than nice.
Last Friday, the world ended at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The second deadliest mass shooting in American history, the tragedy is even more heartbreaking because most of the victims were Kindergarten and Grade 1 school children no older than 5 or 6 years old.
The world of Robbie Parker was shattered when he learned, to his great dismay, that his six year old daughter, Emilie, was among the victims in the school. Yet he did not let the tragedy consume him with hatred as many would naturally and understandably do. Instead he chose to be compassionate. He expressed his condolences not only to the families of Emilie’s 19 classmates and the teachers who were killed, but also to the family of the gunman, a 20-year old man who apparently had shot his own mother with one of her own guns before going on his rampage.
To the family of the gunman, Robbie Parker said, “I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you. I want you to know that, for our family, our love and support goes out to you as well.” Robbie was compassionate during the worst of times and forgiving when it was most difficult to be so.Again, it’s easy to be compassionate and forgiving during the best of times, but when the world ends for you, it’s much tougher to do that just as it was tougher to be loving like Joseph and grateful like Zechariah.
So today, as we continue our countdown to Christmas Day–and for the incurably paranoid among us, to the Mayan end of the world four days before that–a question you may want to ask yourself is, simply put: “Will you be naughty or nice?”
Will you be a fair-weathered Christian who opts to be nice and to do good only when things are going well, only when it’s easy and convenient to do so? Or will you instead choose to be good unconditionally, like Joseph and Zechariah–and more recently–Robbie Parker, who have chosen to be loving, grateful, and compassionate even when it was tough and even when it hurt to do so.
Maybe tonight we can make one simple resolution: Let’s never let the bad times get the better of us. Rather, let’s always choose to be our better selves–come rain or shine, come hell or high water, in the best or worst of times, whether this world of ours will be swallowed up by a black hole or collide with some random planet, or simply, quietly awaken to just another ordinary day–like today.
Slides: courtesy of Karol Yee
Naughty or Nice Dec 2012 by Fr J