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Don’t be sad. This is the message of Nehemiah the prophet. There are a lot of reasons to rejoice according to the prophet. On New Year’s day, we go to Mass. In the first reading of the first Mass on the first day of the year, we hear the proclamation of Aaron’s blessing:
“May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May he look upon you and bring you peace.”
It is a terrific blessing, but what makes it meaningful is that it is from the Book of Numbers. It is probably a while since you read the book so let me refresh your memory.
In the Book of Numbers, there are two genealogies. The first is a list of names of guys 20 years-old and older. They are all going to die in the desert. It says that the reason they are going to die in the desert is because they had sinned. They were complaining against God. They didn’t like leaving Egypt very much and they were dissatisfied about many things. They didn’t like the desert, they didn’t care much for the neighbors, the food was dull and always the same, and they didn’t like the location or the heat. They all lived their lives as if they were cursed.
The next genealogy is a list of the name of guys over 20 who are members of the next generation. They all live. None of them die. They even fight in a battle against the Midianites and, remarkably, no one is killed. They all make it to the Promised Land. Unlike the former generation, they lived like they were blessed. They are grateful because God is with them. You can see his presence in the cloud over the tent. God takes care of the menacing poisonous snakes, protects them from pesky neighbors, gives them plenty of food and water. That is the blessing of Aaron. The second generation is blessed by God, and they live like they have been blessed.
One time I was at a priests’ convention, and in the evening when we were free from the conferences, we decided to have a poker tournament. They passed out the chips, and we sat at tables of five. Incredibly, I made it to the final round. There were only two players left with chips, and I was one of them. This was a remarkable feat because I never play poker. So, let me tell you my strategy. After they dealt out the cards, I would pick up my hand and think, “Why do I always get a lousy hand: a two, a five, a seven, no matches, and none the same color.” Still, I made it to the final round. That is the beauty about poker. It does not matter what is in your hand; it is how you play your hand. As the song says, “know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em.” Sometimes in life we may feel that we got dealt a bad hand: not enough money, didn’t get the body we wanted, don’t like the location of our home, not enough smart cells in the brain, education could have been better, unhappy with the boss, coworkers, and the job. But it is not about what you were handed in life. It is about how you play your hand.
Do you know anyone with a photographic memory? I do. One day one of my confreres came up to me and said, “Peter, today is your father’s birthday; he will be eighty today.” I said, “How did you know that?” He said, “You told me just five years ago when he was seventy-five.” At the time I had that conversation, I was preparing for comprehensive exams. Trust me when I say that the most fearsome task I ever did was comprehensives. I spent the year reading a stack of books that could fill a small library. Do you know how useful photographic memory would be for me? So I asked my confrere, “Can I borrow your brain for a few days?” He felt privileged that I asked him. I said, “Don’t get me wrong I don’t want to keep your brain, I just need it for one task. Anyway, I passed the exam. I didn’t need his brain. God gave me everything I need to be able to accomplish the work he wants me to do.
Life is not perfect. It is not, and we can live as if we are cursed. But the prophet Nehemiah reminds us that we are blessed by God, so live life as if you were blessed.Back to All Homilies