Saturday, January 30, 2010

Speaking the truth in love (Sunday homily)

Three powerful readings from Scripture.
What do they have in common?

Why was it important that Jeremiah speak out?
Why did God send him?
God’s people were on a path to being destroyed;
they needed to be warned.

Why did Jesus,
right after everyone said how wonderful he was,
then proceed to infuriate them all so much
that his own friends and neighbors
tried to throw him off the cliff?

Love tells the truth; not as a weapon,
but as the call—often an urgent call:
“Here’s the right path, you’re going the wrong way!”

Both Jeremiah and our Lord found out
how unpopular that can be.

So why is anyone surprised that it’s true for us?

We Catholics often present to our world
a message it doesn’t want to hear.

What’s more, many of our own Catholics don’t agree
with parts of that message.
And the response we hear is, the Church is out of step; change the message—
not just how we say it, but change what we believe.

We might mention marriage:
what used to be common sense is now called “bigotry.”
But to say that marriage is a certain thing,
Rather than anything we want to make of it,
Is simply telling the truth.

There’s a story told about President Lincoln.
He asked some other politicians,
“How many legs does a sheep have?”
“Four,” they answered.
“What if you call a tail a leg, how many then?”
“Well, then five.”
“No,” Lincoln said—the sheep still has four legs—
because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it so.

The reason we must keep speaking out, like Jeremiah—
and whether it’s about marriage, or the sanctity of life,
or about what real justice looks like,
or what the real ingredients of a happy life look like…

The reason we do it is because we have a life-giving message.
Our society needs it.
And like Jeremiah, God sends us to give it!

And no matter how young you are—speak out.
And the fact that our message
is sometimes unwelcome is just the same thing
that has always happened.
It hardly “proves” that what we’re offering isn’t true;
It only proves that what we’re offering is a challenge.

Chastity and self control…
Being open to God giving new life in families…
Forgiving our enemies…
Finding room for the poor, for the aged, the immigrant…
Telling people that “success” isn’t the main thing…

These are hard messages—not always welcome.
But here’s the thing:
For all these centuries,
Christians—and the Catholic Church in particular—
have been saying hard things like this to the world.

Before we Christians did it, the Jewish people did it.
The world never liked it,
but our world is a far better place because of it.

Think of slavery. It is so shocking to us.
And yet, in most of human history, it was normal.

It was common before Christianity spread.
Over the centuries,
it almost entirely died out in Christian Europe.
Then, when European explorers came to Africa…
They found it, they got dollar-signs in their eyes,
and brought it to the New World.

And it was another four hundred years’ long struggle
as Christians, our Church in particular, kept fighting it.

There were a lot of Jeremiahs over the years,
Their message wasn’t welcome…
They didn’t say, “I’m personally opposed, but…”
They were told, “Get with the times,”
They didn’t listen!
“Love never fails.”

So however long the odds may seem,
That our culture is going to listen to us,
We have a simple but certain fact on our side:
Our message is not our own invention.
We are presenting the message of Jesus Christ.

And while parts of the message are well received,
Other times, it inspires fury.

Some years back, I spent a month in Korea,
And there is a hilltop there where 150 years ago,
the King threw Christians to their deaths—
just like the crowd wanted to do to Jesus.
There’s a Catholic Church on that hilltop now;
And although Christians are still a minority in Korea,
they have had a huge influence for good.
Parents, you are the ones who often do this
when you draw a line or say “no” for the thousandth time.

You do it when you go the extra mile to share our Faith with your children.
This week we celebrate the great gift of our Catholic Schools
and we thank all those whose work and sacrifice make them possible.

But the key thing is that the family,
the leadership of parents, is what passes on the Faith.

As a former kid, I can tell you I eventually figured out that my parents were right!
Your kids will figure it out—and they may even admit it!
Meanwhile, it is love—love that speaks the truth—
that compels us to say,
“this is the path that leads to life.”

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