There is a movie called “It Is Kind of a Funny Story.” It is a tragic movie but there is a little humor because Zach Galifianikis is in it. I was watching it with my pastor Fr. Paul and another priest. It is a story that begins with a young 16-year-old. The movie begins with him walking along what looks like the Brooklyn Bridge. He gets to the side of the bridge, gets to the edge, and it appears that he is going to jump off the bridge. As he gets ready to take a step, he stops himself, and for some reason, he does not jump. He calls one of those help lines and decides to go to the emergency room and check himself in. He checks himself into treatment, and it turns out to be a week of treatment. He is only 16 years old but, for some reason, they place him with all these adults. The character Zach Galifianikis is one of the adults that takes him under his wing. As he is with all these other people that are struggling with mental illness, with brokenness, with addiction or whatever it may be, he comes to realize that the problems that he is struggling with are not as bad as he thought. He also realizes that he does not have to take his own life. He does not have to kill himself. There is hope. There is help, and there are people out there that are willing to walk with him.
After the movie was over, my pastor said something interesting and profound. He said, “So many of our high school students are like that. So many of our high school students struggle with that.” When he said that it hit me like a bolt of lightning because that was my high school experience. I went from Holy Family in Parma to a public high school. There was no faith at that high school. Only one other kid from my school went to the high school, and the rest were at Catholic schools. I will never forget that my first class was biology. I met my first-ever atheist friend in that class, and we became friends throughout high school.
There was no faith in my school, and that was an important thing to me. A deep thing with me. Not only did I not have friends, but I then began to get bullied. As I began to get bullied, I began to find outlets that were not healthy. These unhealthy outlets were things a lot high school students struggle with. So many of our students struggle with getting bullied. They struggle with depression. They struggle with addiction. They struggle with getting themselves into bad situations. It is all because we have this feeling of drudgery. The feeling that is this what life is going to be? It was not until I went to the seminary that I realized life is so much more. I began to experience life differently. There were priests at the seminary that nurtured me and helped to see my goodness. Through these experiences, my gifts and talents began to flourish. There was a complete conversion in my life.
As I think about that movie, my high school experience, and many other experiences at some point in life these words of Job ring true: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” Job thinks life is tough, and then you die. That’s basically it. He says, “Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade.”
I want to talk about slavery because it is mentioned in two of the readings today and a little bit in the gospel as well. This notion that Christ came to free us from our slavery to despair. Through our slavery to this sin, the demons possess us, or bind us, or break us. Jesus came to shatter that and to free us from that. Job compares this experience of drudgery to a hireling who waits for his wage day after day. He has no purpose in life. Everybody has rejected him. His family is rejecting him. His friends have rejected him, yet he is still faithful to God.
That would be my first thought. Perhaps you are experiencing a life of drudgery in your marriage. Maybe you are 30 or 40 years into marriage, and you have fallen out of love. Perhaps you are thinking, “Is this all I got?” Sometimes it is like that until you can go through the process of transforming yourself into loving the person unconditionally. Sometimes it might be like that with your parents. As kids are growing up, they think about their parents and think, “Gosh, could I not have better parents?” Or parents look at their kids and sometimes they are wondering they have the lost son or lost daughter that is away from them. It is difficult. The wonderful thing about Job is he keeps the faith no matter how difficult it is. That is one thing we can do – hang on to our faith until the difficulties pass.
We hear in the second reading where Paul says that he is preaching this gospel, and the gospel is the good news. He wants to give to us the good news and, in the end he says, “I have become all things to all people. I have made myself a slave for all.” He experienced slavery while being violent and persecuting Christians. Now he has discovered that he wants to give his entire life to Christ and to preaching the gospel. He calls it slavery because he has given himself to it. He has no other choice. He knows that preaching the gospel will be the only way he is going to be happy.
If you have experienced a conversion, or if you have experienced life as drudgery like Job and had some experience of freedom and conversion from that drudgery in your life, you just want to share it. We want to go out to everyone we know and say, “Life can be better. We do not have to be sucked in to our addictions, our despair, and our depression. Life can be good.” So, we give ourselves totally to that.
Finally, we hear in the gospel that Jesus is driving out demons and healing the sick. It is interesting that the two are put together. It is also interesting that this is the beginning of his ministry. Driving out demons and healing the sick. Behind any illness – physical, spiritual, or emotional – is Satan trying to keep us slaves. Jesus comes to completely destroy that. He casts out demons and heals the sick. He wants to do that for every one of us.
I want you to think about that. In your life, has that happened to you? Have you had an experience of conversion? Have you had an experience of being free? Have you had an experience of Christ shattering the bonds of your sin? If we have, we just want to preach the gospel. If we have not, we might be like Job living a life of drudgery. Maybe we still need Jesus to do that in us – to drive out the demons, to heal us, and to shatter whatever that is that is holding us back.
I invite you to reflect on that. Has it happened in your life? Have you had that encounter with Christ that has taken you out of brokenness and slavery and allowed you to experience the freedom of being a child of God? If you have, wonderful. Rejoice! Celebrate that, and share it with others. If you have not, I invite you to ask him to bring that freedom to you. One of the greatest ways that can happen is through the sacrament of Reconciliation, but it can also happen before the Eucharist or praying before Adoration. Ask him from the depths of your heart to experience that freedom to have the demons cast out. The freedom to be healed. The freedom to be whole.
The young boy at the end of the movie has had five days of conversion, and he says, “OK, I know what you are thinking. What is this? A kid spends a few days in the hospital and all his problems are cured? But I am not. I know I am not. I can tell this is just the beginning. I still need to face my homework, my school, my friends, my dad. But the difference between today and last Saturday is that, for the first time in a while, I can look forward to things that I do in my life. Bike. Eat. Drink. Talk. Ride the subway. Read. Read maps. Make maps. Make art. Finish the gates application. Tell my dad not to stress about it. Hug my mom. Kiss my little sister. Kiss my dad. Make out with Noelle. Make out with her more. Take her on a picnic. See a movie with her. See a movie with Aaron. Heck, see a movie with Nia. Have a party. Tell my story. Volunteer at Three North. Help people like Bobby. Like Muqtada. Like me. Draw more. Draw a person. Draw Noelle. Run. Travel. Swim. Skip. I know it is lame, but whatever. I am going to live. I am going to breathe. I am going to live.”
If we find ourselves in despair, if we find ourselves like Job, or if life is full of drudgery, we have to remember that is exactly why Christ came. He came to meet us right there. He came to break us free from that. If you know someone else whose life is a drudgery who is going through a difficult time, you can be that person and reach out to them. To give them hope. To bring them healing. By the gift of your baptism, you are one with Jesus. That means you can provide the same healing that Jesus brought to Simon’s mother-in-law when he reached out his hand and grasped her by the hand. Your reaching out and your grasping someone by the hand can pull them out of their drudgery. You can pull them out of their darkness and bring them into the light so that we all may experience the gospel as good news of being God’s children.