2ND HOMILY SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME [YEAR B]
THEME: MORAL BEAUTY
BY: Fr Andrew Ekpenyong
1. Beauty Contest. While developing artificial intelligence, AI, a few years ago, Beauty.AI, a company supported by Microsoft, conducted the very first international beauty contest judged by “Robots”. The “deep learning machines” were supposed to use objective factors such as facial symmetry and wrinkles to identify the most attractive contestants. About 6,000 contestants from over 100 different countries submitted their photos, hoping that AI, would pick the faces that most closely showed “human beauty”, the “perfect face”, with a “perfect body”. Well, even the developers of the algorithm, were horrified at the results. They discovered unintended biases and stereotypes in the dataset used to train the algorithms.
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Prejudiced AI programs may sound like a distraction to you until you discover that significantly fewer women than men are shown online ads for high-paying jobs, even by Google, as recent as Sept 29, 2023. Thanks be to God, little children, have no problem picking their grandparents as their favorites in their families, because they use a different algorithm. Children use the algorithm of moral character, not appearance. Children can see the moral beauty of their grandparents, not the wrinkles. They see the tender, loving care that grandparents give. They see moral beauty. Sisters and brothers, that is how all of us, not only the elderly, reflect God and glorify God in our bodies, which is the message of today’s 2nd reading (1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20). Created in God’s image, our bodies, when used to do good, reveal the invisible, the spiritual, the divine. In fact, only immorality makes us ugly. And repentance reverses it, not cosmetics.
2. Theology of the Body. Dear sisters and brothers, the 2nd Reading makes me feel really grateful to have a body. What a blessing that each of us is an embodied being. The reading gives the reasons: “the body is for the Lord; the Lord is for the body”. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you”. “Therefore, glorify God in your body”. Amazing. No wonder we are here: glorifying God in our bodies through worship. It further gives the inspiring fact that the good use of our bodies leads to God’s glory. And Pope St John Paul II expressed this Scriptural teaching in his book “Theology of the Body”, thus: “The human body includes right from the beginning… the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift – and by means of this gift – fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.” And so, dear brothers and sisters, thanks to our bodies, we can express love as spouses, when we give our bodies to our married partners, we can express love as single persons when we preserve and reserve our bodies for our future spouse, we can express love as celibates and consecrated persons when we freely renounce marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God (Mt 19:12). We thank God for giving us the good conscience to realize any shortcomings in these ideals and for giving us the grace to take up the lifelong challenge of self-mastery in order to grow in chastity according to our state in life, according to our vocations. What vocations?
3. Vocation. Here is a saying sometimes attributed to Aristotle: “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation”. In other words, ability meets utility. Focusing on basic human needs (food, clothing, shelter, education, good health), we easily find our basic vocations or occupations as farmers, engineers, teachers, health care workers, etc. But when we consider humanity’s other needs of meaning, of happiness, eternal salvation, then it makes sense that God does extra calling, to give special tasks to some, for the salvation of all. This is the message of both the 1st reading (1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19) and the Gospel reading (Jn 1:35-42). Today’s 1st reading presents some of the challenges that confronted Samuel when God called him. Samuel struggled to discern the voice he heard. In this Archdiocese of Omaha, as I speak, 22 young men are in the process of answering God’s special call to the priesthood. We admire them for the courage they are displaying as they face challenges in answering God’s call. Like Samuel, these 22 young people and millions of others around the world are hearing God’s voice in their hearts. As for Samuel, there are many Eli’s that God uses for discernment of vocations. The Gospel reading recounts our Lord’s call of His earliest disciples. John the Baptist pointed out the Messiah. Andrew and Peter followed. To some extent, all of us right now at this Holy Mass, are either like Samuel, Andrew and Peter, that is, we are being called. Or, we are like Eli and John the Baptist, because we are now in a position to help others discern God’s call, as parents, as colleagues, as neighbors, as play mates, as fellow Christians who have already answered the most important call of all, the call to live holy lives now, in preparation for eternal happiness. That call to holiness takes moral beauty to the highest level. To God be the glory.
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