Sunday, January 04, 2015

You Don't Have to Be a Star


Solemnity of the Epiphany


Don't think your star has to shine, for me to find
out where you're coming from.
What is a beauty queen, if it don't mean
I'm your number one.
And I don't need no superstar, ‘cos I'll accept you as you are.
You won't be denied, ‘cos I'm satisfied
With the love that you inspire.
You don't have to be a star, baby, to be in my show.


Sisters and brothers, I’m not sure if any of you still remember these words. They’re taken from a song, from the nineteen seventies, entitled You Don’t Have to Be a Star. Performed by the husband and wife duo of Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. The song is addressed, presumably, to someone who’s working very hard to make a name for herself. Someone preoccupied with becoming a big-time celebrity of some kind. But, in the process, has neglected her lover. Has taken their relationship for granted. So, in the song, the lover reminds the beloved that she really doesn’t have to be rich and famous to enjoy the lover’s love. To be part of the lover’s life. The song is the lover’s way of presenting the beloved with an invitation. A call. To stop chasing after the passing glitter of stardom. And, instead, to simply step into the enduring light of the lover’s love. You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show...

I’m reminded of this song today, because I believe our Mass readings present us with a similar call. A similar invitation. In the first reading, Jerusalem is encouraged to arise, to shine out. In such a way that, attracted to her light, all her children, who have been scattered in foreign lands, will come streaming back to her. And not just her children, but all the nations as well. At the sight of all these people flocking to her, Jerusalem herself will shine out all the more. Will become even more radiant. Her heart throbbing and full...

All of this is obvious enough to us. But there is one more very important point that we cannot afford to overlook. The light in which Jerusalem is being called to shine is not really her own. The reading is clear about this. The glory of the Lord is rising on you… Above you the Lord now rises... above you his glory appears… Although Jerusalem is asked to arise and shine out. She is not called to become the star of the show. She shines in the light and the glory of Someone Else. The Lord is the real Superstar. The One to whom all the nations will be attracted. So the invitation to Jerusalem is clear. To step into, and to shine out with, the light of her divine Lover. She doesn’t have to be a star, to be in God’s show…

This prophecy in the first reading finds its final fulfilment in the gospel. In the newborn baby Jesus, God’s glory shines upon the people. Attracting and calling everyone to step into its light. To bask in its brilliance. And to reflect this light to others. So that all may enjoy its life-giving effects. In the gospel, although there is a star shining brightly in the sky, it is not the centre of attention. The star’s role is only to guide people to Christ. He is the true Light. He is the real Superstar. The One who calls everybody to arise and to shine out in His radiance.

But that’s not all. The gospel also describes for us two very different reactions to this call. On the one hand, there are the wise men. Foreigners, who hear and heed the Lord’s call. Who accept His invitation. They travel a great distance in search of the Light. And when they finally find Him, we’re told that they’re filled with delight. On the other hand, however, and in stark contrast to the wise men, we have a wicked king, Herod. He too hears the Lord’s call. But instead of delight, what he experiences is disturbance. He is perturbed. And, in his perturbation, Herod refuses to step into the Light. Instead, he tries to smother it. To snuff it out. He pretends to be interested in worshipping Jesus. But he wants to find the child only so that he can kill him.

So what accounts for this difference in response? This contrast between the wise and the wicked? Between the delighted and the perturbed? The answer is simple. Herod refuses to step into the Lord’s Light for one reason. He has a desperate need to be, at all times, the centre of attention. The star of the show. His whole existence is built upon self-interest. Self-glorification. Self-assertion. Ego-inflation. He wants everyone to come to him. Instead of to the Lord. He cannot tolerate anyone else sharing the spotlight with him. In contrast, the wise men’s lives are centred not in themselves. But in something else. They desire and search for the light of Truth. And they are willing to go to great lengths to seek and to find it. Unlike Herod, they know and accept that they don’t have to be the star, to be in God’s show...

And this is the same admirable quality that we find in St. Paul. In the second reading, Paul speaks of having been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you. For Paul’s readers. Like the wise men, Paul knows, and is willing to accept, that he is only a steward of grace. Only a witness to the Light. Only a servant of the Lord. His concern is not to become the centre of attention. But only to continue stepping into, and shining out with, the light of Christ. So that more people may be drawn to the Lord. May find life in His name. Like the wise men, Paul accepts that he doesn’t have to be a star, to be in the Lord’s show...

All of which should lead us to reflect upon ourselves. We who profess to be followers of Christ. Like the wise men and St. Paul, we too are called to continue stepping into, and shining out with, the Light of Christ. So that, through us, more people may come to know Christ. May find life in His name. And we are only really able to do this to the extent that we are willing to keep resisting the temptation to constantly be the centre of attention. The need to be the stars of our own individual self-glorifying performances.

And this is a great challenge for us. A great challenge for me. Especially because we live in a culture that encourages, even pressurises, us to do just that. To keep striving to become stars in our own right. To keep performing for others to see. To keep working to outdo the competition. In order to glorify ourselves. And, as Herod’s example teaches us, it’s possible to do this even with apparently religious activities. Even while claiming to worship God. While professing to work for God’s greater glory. Except that it’s not really God we’re glorifying. But ourselves. Whether we realise it or not, we’re not really shining out with the Light of Christ. But seeking only to snuff it out.

Pope Francis has a name for this. He calls it spiritual worldliness. And to succumb to spiritual worldliness is to forget, even to reject, the good news we are celebrating today. That, in Christ, the Star of God’s love is already shining in our world. Calling everyone to step into, and to shine out with, its brilliant light.

Sisters and brothers, it’s such a consoling message. If only we are open enough to receive it. You don’t have to be a star, to be in God’s show. How willing are we to accept this truth more fully? What must we do to heed God’s call more generously today?

4 comments:

  1. Father, thank you for the beautiful homily. A timely reminder for me, as I prepare to serve in a Ministry. The thought of snuffing out the light of Christ through self-glorification is a good admonition. With the sin of pride, it is going to be tough and arduous to resist the temptation of self-glorification. Will pray for the grace and recollect that we don’t need to be a star to be in God’s show. Thanks Father!

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    Replies
    1. Indeed, as you go forth to serve God in the ministry (which you are considering) - let us know that in our serving God in the various parish ministries, it is inevitable to meet some glory-seekers and even some ministries seem to be "outshining" others as if there are some ongoing competitions...

      yes, even in parish/church ministries - there will be some who are very much caught up in some kind of "rat races"...where self-glorification, ego inflation, power-struggles and star-performances are like obsessions.....

      as for me, I continue to strive to OPT OUT of such unhealthy rat races and competitions which only distract me from my original purpose of joining a parish ministry, and most of all, these unhealthy practices draw me AWAY from God ....

      ultimately, I/we have a choice to decide to serve God and God alone - hence when our focus is on serving God, all these other human issues and politics amongst people - will no longer have a hold over us.

      O Lord, may You increase as we decrease..

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  2. O Lord,

    At the first Epiphany 2000 years ago, You had revealed Your Real Self to the world around You... the humble shepherds were your first witnesses and they believed, hence, they had the privilege to see You in the manger...

    Lord, You had chosen to reveal Yourself only to certain people - to those who are sincere and who are open in their hearts - people who seek You and who long to see and know You.

    Somehow, the proud, arrogant and SELF-centred people were unable to sense, let alone see You...Somehow, their visions and senses were obscured, blocked and hindered by obstacles along their way ...like a cup that is already filled to the brim, the proud, arrogant and self-centred have no room for You, in their hearts...

    O Lord, as You have already come at Christmas and now at Epiphany - please come and dwell in our hearts - be OUR LIGHT and let our little lights shine around You, the MORNING STAR,in Your most Radiant Brilliance - for You are the LIGHT OF THE WORLD, You are a Light which no darkness can ever overcome.

    CHRIST THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD has come. Let us welcome HIM and HIS LIGHT into our hearts and into our world of darkness, sin and strife. Amen.

    Come Lord Jesus. M--A--R--A--N--A--T--H--A.

    Seeing Is Believing
    Epiphany 4 January 2015

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  3. I am so terribly shocked by the news of the very recent terror acts in France...on top of all the misery that's going on in many parts of the world.
    It seems as if the darkness of violence and hatred is getting darker and darker.
    That is why every single person should carry the light of Christ into the world through small acts of kindness, forgiveness, love, caring, patience, tolerance. I don't have to hurt others because people have hurt me, be unforgiving because
    I have not been forgiven, uncaring because I had a tough life...harsh in judging because I have been judged unfairly...
    Let's keep the Light of Christ alive through little acts , first in our closest community, like family , friends so that it will grow brighter and brighter and will shine through the darkness and brighten the way for others so that they may find Jesus , our Saviour, our God Who is with us, always: EMMANUEL

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