Last week I went to the shoe store, and the employee who was helping me brought out a pair of high-end, very expensive sneakers that as soon as I slipped them on… I knew I was in big trouble.
They were the the coziest, most cushioned… most COMFORTABLE shoes I’d ever had the distinct pleasure of putting on my two feet. I mean, it felt like walking on air. And I immediately knew:
I just HAD to buy these extremely comfortable shoes.
So I did.
And before buyer’s remorse could kick all the way in, I cracked open the readings for this Sunday to start working on this homily, and I read the first words of the first reading from the prophet Isaiah and I felt IMMEDIATELY and TOTALLY affirmed by the Lord:
“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.”
Ahhhh yes. Comfort. Give me comfort! “Gimme comfortable shoes, Lord.”
That’s the kind of message we’d really like to hear from God, isn’t it?
We LIKE to be comfortable! It’s NORMAL to want that. And truth be told — it’s actually really WONDERFUL to be comfortable. It’s a great good to not be in pain, to have the opportunity to relax and be at peace… to have the privilege of wearing very very comfortable shoes…
But then…we come up against our Gospel passage for this Sunday. And we meet this rather uncomfortable guy named St. John the Baptist.
Lemme ask you this: “Is St. John the Baptist comfortable?”
It’s kind of an intriguing question.
On the surface, you might say: “Absolutely not!” Just look at what we know about him: He lives alone in the desert. He undergoes intense penances. He wears itchy camels hair. He only eats bugs and honey…
How can any of THAT be comfortable?
And yet, I think this question “Is St. John the Baptist comfortable” is actually sort of tricky. Because I would argue he is VERY comfortable.
Wait, what? Why would I say that?
Well, I mean this:
St. John the Baptist is comfortable being uncomfortable.
John is very comfortable not having a warm, snug bed… the desert is just fine to him.
He is very comfortable with his itchy camel’s hair… makes no difference to him what he wears.
He’s very comfortable munching on locusts and a bit of honey. He has enough to eat, and that’s sufficient for him.
John is also very comfortable making the people around him feel sort of UNCOMFORTABLE:
He’s comfortable calling himself and others to deeper conversion.
He’s comfortable preaching the truth when it’s not convenient.
He’s comfortable being persecuted and resisted by the Pharisees.
He’s comfortable with NOT being the Messiah… with being only the Voice of one crying out in the desert. Only the precursor…only the messenger.
He’s quite comfortable proclaiming that someone else is coming after him who is far mightier, far more important than he is… that he’s not even worthy of untying the thongs of this other person’s sandals.
So yes… he’s very comfortable being uncomfortable.
What about us?
Are we willing to get pushed out of our comfort zones, so as to grow closer to God and become more free? More humble? More detached from the world and everything it offers us?
If I’m honest with myself, the answer is often “No.”
Because I really, really like my comfortable shoes.
I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. There’s nothing wrong with having comfy shoes. But there’s everything wrong with propping up comfort as the ultimate goal of my life. And truth be told, I sometimes worship comfort instead of Jesus.
CS Lewis once wrote this: “If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end.” But “if you look for comfort,” he warns… “you will not get either comfort or truth…. Only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”
Take a moment and look at your own heart. Ask the Lord this: “Am I comfortable being uncomfortable, Jesus? Or have I at times placed my own personal comfort as the ultimate goal of my life, ahead of Truth… ahead of Your will for me, Lord?”
If you’re like me, and you said: “Yea, I’m WAY too attached to my comfy shoes” then here’s good news: Be at peace! Our second reading from the second letter of St. Peter is so encouraging: The Lord “is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
God wants nothing more than to give us the greatest of all comforts — the comfort of salvation! Of eternal life with Him in Heaven!
That’s what the book of the prophet Isaiah is actually preaching in the first reading this week when it says: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.”
It has nothing to do with worldly comfort… This is all about that deep, lasting comfort of God’s love. Of knowing that the Lord is about to make a move. That He is about to come rescue us! — “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low! Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD… Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”
Our Heavenly Father greatly desires to give us THAT comfort… the comfort of Heaven…
And in the end, this world will totally dissolve, and God will create a new heavens and a new earth where there will be no more pain and no more tears — only sheer bliss, perfect peace… PERFECT COMFORT.
But I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but we’re not quite there yet.
And so now’s the time to push beyond our comfort zones, accept our crosses, and so prepare the way of the Lord…
Now’s the time to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
I’ll offer a very simple and somewhat silly example that I think proves a much deeper point. Father Kyle is one of the simplest guys I know. And one of the ways he is comfortable with being uncomfortable is that he never buys brand-name food. So, for instance, instead of buying Oreos… he buys off-brand “Twist-and-shouts.”
The reason? He doesn’t want to get too used to the good stuff. He wants to be a little “uncomfortable” so to speak.
That’s a simple every day penance, but we also need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable with much bigger things as well. Especially with our vocations that God has called us to live out.
My spiritual director recently told me this:
“At some point, the parish is going to break you.” What he meant is that my priestly responsibilities are supposed to push me close to the edge… they are intended to TEST me… to bring me face to face with the limits of my own broken humanity.
And that’s normal. That’s what’s supposed to happen. I need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
The same can be said about marriage and family life: Your family — your spouse — is going to push you to the limits. Your household responsibilities are going to break you at some point. Your kids will test every ounce of your human strength…
That. is. normal.
It might not be pleasant. It might not be what we want to hear.
But it’s normal.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable!
One of the biggest lies that we are pummeled with just about every day is this one = “You have to do what makes you feel good. What makes you feel fulfilled. Do whatever makes you happy: You deserve it.”
No — We have to stay true to our promises. We need to be committed to our responsibilities. We must remain humble before the Truth!
It’s not always comfortable being a mom.
It’s not always comfortable being a dad.
It’s not always comfortable being married.
It’s not always comfortable raising kids.
It’s not always comfortable being a priest.
It’s not always comfortable doing the right thing.
It’s not comfortable living in a world that often opposes Christianity.
It’s not comfortable to see people you love make mistakes.
It’s not comfortable getting old.
It’s not comfortable dealing with sickness.
It’s not comfortable dealing with the reality of death.
But it’s like what Pope Benedict XVI said: “You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
And whether we like it or not, all that experience of discomfort is part of what eventually transforms us into saints.
So as we continue our journey toward Christmas together, let’s be more ok with being uncomfortable. Let’s pick up a new penance — Give up some creature comfort. So that we can all be a little more empty, a little more free — Free like St. John the Baptist!!!!
Free to receive the Savior of the World.