Mister Rodgers Homily
Feb 24, 2020
“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart…take no revenge and cherish no grudge.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Once upon a time, a gentleman went to New York City and got caught in the rain. So he ducked with a friend into the subway. The train was crowded with children who were going home from school. Though of all races, the schoolchildren were mostly black and Latino, and they didn't even approach the gentleman and ask him for his autograph. They just sang. They sang, all at once, all together, the song he sings at the start of his program:
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"
Incredible, how one man’s legacy what he stands for could transform an ordinary subway train ride into a beautiful neighborhood.
Tom Hanks recently played Fred Rogers in a movie based on the Esquire piece Can you be a hero…written by Tom Junod…and what might be some of those valuable insights and lessons we can learn in how to be the neighbor that Christ desires we be and Fred Rogers modeled?
At first, the boy was made very nervous by the thought that Mister Rogers was visiting him. He was so nervous, in fact, that when Mister Rogers did visit, he got mad at himself and began hating himself and hitting himself, and his mother had to take him to another room.
Mister Rogers didn't leave, though. He wanted something from the boy. He just waited patiently, and when the boy came back, Mister Rogers talked to him, and then he made his request. He said, "Would you do something for me?" Because of his severe Cerebral Palsy, using his computer, the boy answered yes, of course, he would do anything for Mister Rogers, so then Mister Rogers said, "I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?"
The boy was thunderstruck because nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn't know if he could do it, he said he would, he said he'd try, and ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn't talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figures Mister Rogers is close to God, and if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean God likes him, too.
According to Tom, when Mister Rogers first told me the story, I complimented him on being so smart—for knowing that asking the boy for his prayers would make the boy feel better about himself—and Mister Rogers responded by looking at me at first with puzzlement and then with surprise. "Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn't ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession."
Once upon a time, a man named Fred Rogers decided that he wanted to live in heaven. Heaven is the place where good people go when they die, but this man, Fred Rogers, didn't want to go to heaven; he wanted to live in heaven, here, now, in this world, and so one day, when he was talking about all the people he had loved in this life, he looked at me and said, "The connections we make in the course of a life—maybe that's what heaven is, Tom. We make so many connections here on earth. Look at us—I've just met you, but I'm investing in who you are and who you will be."
Every choice we make, like it or not we are investing ourselves in others…actually one other…Jesus Christ since we belong to His one body the Church…so that in making these connections and living out my faith especially by way of praying and asking to be prayed for…I am building up this body…like a real Neighborhood Watch area…
being the absolute best neighbor I can be by way of my faith…I am helping to create a loving, nurturing and protective environment for others…even if that protecting and watching causes me to suffer…but a suffering born of love for love…
From the movie
It seems like all these people line up to tell you their problems.
Fred Rogers: Isn’t it wonderful? Such bravery?
Lloyd Vogel: Well, it seems like that would be an incredible burden on you.
Fred Rogers: Well, I’m grateful for you saying that, Lloyd. I’m grateful for your compassion.
Lloyd Vogel: Is it? A burden on you?
[Fred is silent as he contemplates the question]
Lloyd Vogel: Okay, let’s assume it’s a burden on you.
Fred Rogers: There’s no normal life that is free from pain.
Such love such compassion such a so called burden is in fact the greatest joy there is…Jesus says…come to me you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will give you rest for my yoke is easy and my burden light…though to pray the Stations of the Cross especially during Lent or to look at the Cross one might think…I guess all those spiritual rules apply to everyone but you Lord since no one carried a greater burden than you…absorbing the full crucifying weight of all our sins, all our sufferings, all evils and all of our dyings and deaths…
and yet, compared to how much you love us…how precious we remain to you…it was a light burden since love lightens the load of all pain and suffering and dare I say…transforms it into a greater good the absolute greatest…everlasting life…everlasting peace and joy…
To suffer with another is not a burden…it is a gift…one of the most noble we can give to each other…as Jesus says when I was sick you visited me…when hungry you fed me…whatever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me…that is because being a good neighbor means being a good brother and sister…as Mister Rodgers commented on the Arsenio Hall show…the response to all the hopelessness out there…let people know that each one of us is precious.
As Mr Rodgers further insists: “Sometimes we get to change a broken world with our words.” And when we use those words by way of prayer...that inevitably occurs…we along with the whole world are in the process of being not only repaired and made whole again but renewed and resurrected…and speaking of the power of words…then what about these words…He took the bread and giving thanks broke it and gave it to his disciples saying take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you…
He broke the bread…the broken body of Christ is what heals a broken world…heals a broken me…heals a broken you…a broken family…a broken work place…a broken neighborhood…but if its not said…not prayed…not heard…not applied…the break will only get more broken…
Tom concluded his article saying: I had always been a great pray-er, a powerful one, but only fitfully, only out of guilt, only when fear and desperation drove me to it…and it hit me, right then, with my eyes closed, that this was the moment Fred Rogers—Mister Rogers—had been leading me to from the moment he answered the door of his apartment in his bathrobe and asked me about Old Rabbit. Once upon a time, you see, I lost something, and prayed to get it back, but when I lost it the second time, I didn't, and now this was it, the missing word, the unuttered promise, the prayer I'd been waiting to say a very long time. And that prayer:
"Thank you, God," Mister Rogers said.
There is no greater prayer really to make…if that were not the case then why does the word Eucharist mean to give thanks or thanksgiving…and where do we receive the Eucharist…at Mass…which is bar none the absolute most powerful form of prayer where we gather together like children of the neighborhood at the one bus stop to talk and play…here in this great Temple, this great Church…as a form of play…to pray for each other…to love one another and assume a vested interest in each other’s lives by an unbreakable bond of grace we call prayer…
that in this most sacred setting I pray not only for you but for all who you are praying for and you for all who I pray for…adding grace upon grace…no wonder, Mister Rogers signed all his autographs adding the word Charis…which in Greek means Grace…and grace is the love and life of God…which He causes to fall upon the good and the bad, the just and unjust…
When television handed him its highest honor, the Emmy’s life-time achievement award he responded by telling television—gently, of course—to just shut up for once, and television listened. And there, in front of all those so called big shots, he made his small bow and said into the microphone, "All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are….Ten seconds of silence."
Pause here for ten seconds...who might those people be for YOU......................................
The article continued: The jaws clenched, and the bosoms heaved, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier, and Mister Rogers finally looked up from his watch and said, "May God be with you"
It’s not sugar that good neighbors provide…it’s the love of God…and May God always be with you…