Bishop's Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
From www.CatholicHawaii.org August 25, 2013 [Confirmation at St. Mary Church, Hana, Maui]
On the road I normally drive to my office, I pass a sign for a church that says, “Room for all beliefs: Yours!” Although we might be so bold as to put out such a sign in front of our churches, I sometimes wonder if we are so far from that other church community in our thinking. We hear so much about the gospel of inclusion. When there is a question of someone feeling his or her beliefs are not accepted by the Church, there is usually someone asking, “What would Jesus do?,” implying that Jesus would of course accept everyone no matter how they live or what they believe.
And there is some truth to the gospel of inclusion. Today’s reading from Isaiah speaks of “gathering nations of every language,” of people coming from distant places on the earth to worship the Lord. And, of course, there is Jesus, who eats with tax collectors and sinners, including them in the invitation to the banquet of the kingdom of God.
However, sometimes I think we read the gospel with blinders. We hear only what we want to hear, see only what we want to see, and filter out the rest. Today Jesus reminds us that the gate to salvation is narrow, and that attempts to enter are not all that is needed. Strength is needed that comes from discipline, and most of all from coming to know and be known by a person, Jesus himself. Jesus reminds us that it is not enough for us to know him on our own terms, according to our own particular beliefs, claiming that we “ate and drank in his company.” We may think that is our ticket to the gate of the kingdom, but Jesus reminds us it is not. He may not recognize us, because we were so caught up in our own beliefs that we refuse to believe what has been given to us by the one who is the Savior of the world. Matthew’s version of this passage we have heard today from Luke not only says that the gate to the kingdom is narrow, but that the way that leads to destruction is wide.
I remember speaking to a gentleman who was heading a pro-life organization, and he confessed to the group that he once had been pro-choice. When I asked him what motivated him to be pro-choice, and how was it that, while now he saw abortion as a grave injustice to the unborn, back then he would find it acceptable. He said he simply was “going along with the crowd.” Most of the people he knew were pro-choice, so he just went along, without analyzing or thinking about the situation. He had chosen the wide way that leads to destruction, but the Lord changed his heart to see the truth of the dignity of all life. It is a more disciplined life he must live now, but that discipline is life-giving and brings the “peaceful fruit of righteousness,” as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us.
The controversy over same-sex marriage has also been infected by this notion that inclusiveness is the overriding value of all we do and all we are. And while it is true that Jesus’ love embraces all people, no matter their sexual orientation, and that we who are his followers must do the same, it is not true that Jesus embraces all the behavior of those he loves. Jesus included prostitutes and tax collectors in his inner circle, and loved them, but in no way did he condone or endorse prostitution or the exploitation of the vulnerable. His love for them called them to change their ways, to enter through the narrow gate of conversion, so that they who were last could be first. So it is that Jesus calls people with a same sex orientation to the discipline of chastity. The gate to salvation is indeed narrow, and many may not have the strength to enter, but Jesus does invite all.
Marriage itself has eroded because we have allowed so many things to happen. Marriage is meant to be a permanent, “until death do us part”, commitment, yet too often we do not have the discipline to convert our lives so that we can live with another person. When things go wrong, it is too easy to divorce, leading to devastation for so many, especially children. We have tried to widen the gate, and we are paying the price in the instability of our marriages. Living together before marriage, having sex with any other consenting partner of legal age, logging into a pornographic website, not respecting the ecology of human procreation by subverting it with contraceptives or being unwilling to be disciplined even in marriage: these are all things that undermine the institutions of marriage and family. We can open our arms wide to embrace all, no matter whether they are living according to the gospel, but in doing so, we must ask if we are being true disciples of the Lord, who calls all people to his love, but insists on standards in returning that love and the discipline that ensures our ability to live by those standards.
Even as we remember Jesus’ all-embracing love, we must also remember his separating the sheep from the goats, welcoming the sheep into the kingdom, but sending the goats to eternal damnation. We must also remember that to some he will have to say, “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!” “You will see some in the kingdom, and you yourselves cast out.” This is not very inclusive. It was this kind of talk, in fact, that upset so many people that they plotted for Jesus’ crucifixion.
Someone said that for many in the Western world, religion has become a consumer commodity, something I pick and choose to suit me. It has become a self-therapeutic deism. But faith in Jesus Christ is a fiery faith that will burn and consume us. It is much easier to follow the crowd and to go the way we ourselves choose to go. But the only way that leads to life is the narrow door of Jesus himself, of his whole gospel, and of the discipline that gives us the strength to enter through such a narrow gate. It is only the Holy Spirit and his light and grace that can guide us through that narrow gate and help us remember that, although not all will make choices that lead them to heaven, God works diligently in his merciful love in the hope that we will enter through the narrow gate that leads to life.
* * * * *
"Oh, everyone likes me, because I don't stand for anything."
by Bishop Larry Silva, August 18, 2013 -- Bishop's Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time -- [Chuukese Community – St. Philomena Church, Honolulu]
When I was pastor of a parish, I remember having to make a very difficult and controversial decision. I thought and prayed about it long and hard, and I knew it was the right thing to do. As I suspected, I did receive a lot of criticism. It did not bring peace, but division. As I was talking to my Associate about it, and maybe feeling a little sorry for myself for all the criticism I was receiving, he said to me, “Oh, everyone likes me, because I don’t stand for anything.” It was the saddest thing I have ever heard a priest say. It certainly was not the fire and passion of which our Lord speaks in the gospel today.
As an individual can fall into the temptation to seek a false peace rather than the true peace that comes from commitment to Jesus that is on fire, so a whole group of people can be tempted in the same way. I remember walking past a church that proudly displayed a sign that said, “Spiritual community without doctrine.” And another that said, “A church with room for everyone’s beliefs: yours.” In other words, you are welcome, even if your opinions differ from the revealed Word of God. I would be willing to bet that today’s gospel, in which Jesus speaks of divisions even within families because of his disciples on-fire commitment to him, is not read very often in those congregations.
There are some who would like to come to church and hear what would please them, what would affirm them even as they engage in sin. They want to be comfortable in church and not challenged. But what does Jesus say today? “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword!” He has come to set a fire, not just to warm hearts! He has come to call us to follow him so radically that even if it causes divisions within our own families, we will never turn away from him.
The prophets of Jeremiah’s time were “yes-men” to the king. Whatever the king wanted to hear, they would say. But Jeremiah was a fiery prophet who always spoke the truth of God’s word, and would never water it down just to please the king or anyone else. It was because of this that the other prophets wanted to kill Jeremiah. And, of course, why wouldn’t these servants of the king be wishy-washy, since the king himself had Jeremiah thrown in the cistern when the prophets demanded that, and had him taken out of the cistern when someone else close to him suggested it. And clearly Jeremiah was in the minority, because when a poll of the prophets was taken, Jeremiah stood alone against their opinions. Yet it was Jeremiah alone who was speaking the authentic word of God.
Parents who raise children know what a struggle it is. The child wants one thing while the parent, who is often wiser and more experienced, knows that what seems to be good may not be so in the long run. So the choice is: give in to the child; or insist in a loving way that the child do the right thing. I can tell you which choice will bring the most smiles and accolades from the child, but if the parent’s love is genuine, he will even put up with the frowns and the tantrums, knowing that one day the child will be grateful. This must always be done in love, of course, because even when we say “No” to children, they can ultimately sense whether it is out of love.
Sometimes we may be tempted to cheat in school, or do something unethical at work. To not do so will probably bring rejection, ridicule, or resentment from others. But if we are on fire with the love of the one who is the Truth itself, we will in the end find great satisfaction in doing what is right.
It is a value to be kind, compassionate, and loving, of course, but we must take care that these are not just a disguise for getting our own way, and doing what we want to do, even if it is contrary to God’s will. Was Jesus himself crucified because he was so nice and everyone loved him? Wasn’t it because he was so on fire with the truth that he really upset people? He did not tell them what they wanted to hear, because it was not always the truth that they wanted to hear. Jesus tells us the truth. If we are truly on fire with his love, if we truly stand for something, for the self-emptying love that he teaches us, then we will have our divisions and persecutions and sufferings. But how we will also burn and glow with the love of Christ and attract others to come and be on fire with his love, too!
* * * * *