Still catching up on posting my homilies! Thanks for your patience! Note: this homily was for the conclusion of our Luke 18 retreat for our 8th graders and high school students.
I’m just going to come out and say it – Toy Story and its sequels are some of the best animated movies in the history of the world. And it’s not just me – when the National Film Registry admitted the movie to be preserved in the Library of Congress in 2005, Toy Story was described as “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.” Now if you remember, one of the main protagonists is a toy named Woody, a pull-string cowboy who is the leader of the group of toys. He is the favorite toy of his owner, a boy named Andy Davis. And one of the most hallowed things that Andy did to mark his favorite toys was to write his barely legible name on the bottom of Woody’s boot. It was a sign of his ownership, marking Woody as his favorite and distinguishing him from all the other toys. And throughout Woody’s adventures with Buzz Lightyear and the other toys, that mark kept returning as a theme. It was a constant struggle for Woody first to accept that other toys could be cared for and loved by a similar mark, and then eventually (around the 2nd movie), that he himself was still loved as much and treasured as much as before. Throughout the three movies, Woody constantly refers back to that writing underneath his boot to give him guidance and inspiration, and to remind himself of his value to Andy, his beloved owner.
To switch gears a little bit to our readings, we see in the second reading that St. Paul did a lot of wonderful work on his missionary journeys, but he also had a lot of struggles. That is where we find ourselves in the First Letter to the Corinthians. The people of Corinth were split into different factions. Many people had been swept up by the teachings of the apostles after the Resurrection of Jesus, but they were divided, because they saw their Christianity as being followers of Paul or Peter (Cephas) or Apollos. It was as if they said to each other, “Yes, I’m a Christian, but I’m a Christian who belongs to Apollos, and because you belong to Cephas, we can’t be friends.” That was really tough on their community. They were being pulled one way or another to Peter or Paul or Apollos, so much so that friends and families were being pulled apart and divided. But Paul says, “No no, you don’t belong to them, you belong to Christ!” “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? Everything belongs to you,” the gifts that God has given you, “and you to Christ, and Christ to God.”
Now, while St. Paul said that to the Corinthians so long ago, the truth is that it has a lot of meaning for us too. We belong to Christ. The name of God isn’t written on the bottom of our shoes or on our foreheads – it was written on our hearts at Baptism. Like Andy claimed Woody, you are claimed – you belong to someone. You are wanted and treasured, as much as a little boy treasures his favorite toy or action figure. That is the basic identity of who we are – we belong to Christ. Now, our lives get pretty messy and complicated. It’s easy to forget about our faith. Even after going home after this Luke 18 retreat, sometimes the temptation is just to be into it for a few days, a week, maybe a month, but then we forget about it until next year swings around. “Oh yeah! Luke 18! That was a great time!” And then the cycle begins again. We get caught up in our lives, and in some of our rather worldly relationships, and we forget about God. And many times, that can lead us to very dark places. We sin, we become too attached to things, and we stray far from God.
So then we hear Jesus call us in the Gospel to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect, and we think there is no possible way that such a thing is going to happen. Nice idea, Jesus – real inspirational. Isn’t it funny how of all the quotes that we see on bumper stickers or inspirational posters or Tim Tebow’s eye black, we never see this one? I guess that’s partly because it wouldn’t fit on eye black, but it’s mostly because we don’t think we can live up to it! We feel ashamed at being imperfect. And we start to think, “I belong to my imperfection. I belong to my sin. I belong to my past. I belong to my friends. I belong to my mistakes.”
But no no, you belong to Christ! God doesn’t claim us because we’re perfect; it’s the other way around! God has claimed us so that we can become perfect, just as he is perfect! If you think back to Toy Story, Woody had to remind himself of the fact that he was owned by Andy. At one point, he even had to rub off the pain that had been used to cover the inscription up. If we are going to live a life of purpose, a life of perfection, we need to constantly remind ourselves of whose we are. Things like adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, going to Confession, etc. can help us do that. Having a group of friends and family that supports not only you, but the gift of your faith is essential as well! The greatest way that we can remind ourselves of our identity is to encounter the Lord face-to-face as we receive Holy Communion at Mass. It’s a way of pealing back all those other things that have swallowed up our lives, and reminding ourselves who we belong to.
Thankful for the fact that we are wanted and treasured by a God who loves us, let us approach him now, and receiving his Body and Blood in Holy Communion, let us remind ourselves that we belong to Christ.