YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: “Jesus said, ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’” (Mark 6:4)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“Did we appreciate Mr. Rogers when he was on TV? No, we did not. My sister and I didn’t, anyway. We thought he was unbearably gooney. When his show came on, we would elaborately die of boredom, rolling our eyes so hard, we could see the inside of our snarky little skulls. “Also, I couldn’t deal with his face. I just didn’t want to look at it. He had that smile of extreme simplicity that you see in people who have gone through tremendous sorrows, or in the mentally impaired at Mass. It’s a radical openness, a lantern that burns too bright.
“Mr. Rogers was remembered by François Clemmons [as he told] how Fred Rogers invited him to come play a policeman on his show. [Clemmons said,] ‘I grew up in the ghetto. I did not have a positive opinion of police officers. Policemen were [turning] police dogs and water hoses on people, and I really had a hard time putting myself in that role. So I was not excited about being Officer Clemmons at all.’
“But he agreed; and one show in particular stands out in his mind. It was 1969. Rogers had been resting his feet in a plastic pool on a hot day. ‘He invited me to come over and to rest my feet in the water with him,’ Clemmons recalls. ‘Fred Rogers not only was showing my brown skin in the tub with his white skin as two friends, but as I was getting out of that tub, he was helping me dry my feet.’
“Something to think about [when we recall Holy Thursday foot-washing]. Fred Rogers clearly saw his career as an opportunity to invite, to serve, and to model charity. He did what we are all supposed to do, in our own way. “Rogers didn’t hide behind the TV screen and consider that he had discharged his duty by broadcasting his message to the millions of people who watched his show. Talking to a crowd was not a substitute for talking to the man in front of him. There is no substitute for the personal.
“[Clemmons] says he’ll never forget the day Rogers wrapped up the program, as he always did, by hanging up his sweater and saying, ‘You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are.’ This time in particular, Rogers had been looking right at Clemmons, and after they wrapped [the show], he walked over. Clemmons asked him, ‘Fred, were you talking to me?’
“‘Yes, I have been talking to you for years,’ Rogers said, as Clemmons recalls. ‘But you heard me today.’
“That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Who talks that way? You know who. That’s why I find it hard to look Fred Rogers in the face. He was a holy man.” ( https://aleteia.org/blogs/simchafisher/ the-holiness-of-mr-rogers/ )
In the gospel passage we hear today, “Jesus said, ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’” (Mark 6:4). Which is to say that, just as Jesus often felt powerless among his own kin, so we seem rarely to appreciate the gifts, the goodness—indeed, the holiness—of those closest to us.
With this confession, the story begins, “Did we appreciate Mr. Rogers when he was on TV? No, we did not.” And we might add, didn’t we think his closing remarks on every TV show a bit icky? “You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are.” But François Clemmons never really paid much attention to those words, not until at last they struck him deep. “‘Fred, were you talking to me?’ ‘Yes, I have been talking to you for years, but you heard me today.’”
“Who talks that way? You know who.” Jesus. Let us look to those closest to us for hints of holiness. Let us look for the face of Jesus in those we may take for granted. Let us dare to be our honest and true selves, God’s creating hand enriching the world with our uniqueness.