Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Always say what needs to be said, and always with love (Sunday homily)

Lent is about 2 weeks away. 
Are you thinking about what you will do with this Lent? 

Now, after listening to the readings, one theme is clear enough: 
when we live our faith and proclaim our faith, 
we won’t always get a good response. 
As obvious as that is, it’s striking to me 
how often people will fall for the counter-argument: 
that you can measure what’s true and good by what’s popular.

I can give you a few examples. 
One is the debate that occurred a year or so ago in Indiana, 
over a law to protect religious freedom. 
A lot of the big corporations came out against it. 

Their position was that if there came a conflict 
between, say, a same-sex wedding, and a baker or a florist 
whose religious beliefs meant they couldn’t participate in that, 
the chamber of commerce thought conscience should lose. 
And why? 
Because other organizations has threatened to boycott Indiana, 
and so it all came down to dollars. 

Another example, which could be told many times over: 
a priest comes into a parish, he shakes things up, 
he gives tough homilies, he tightens up some things; 
and before long, someone writes a letter to the bishop. 
And in the second or third paragraph, 
that letter will say something like, 
“X number of people who used to come to this parish 
don’t come here anymore.”

I don’t know if anyone has ever done it, 
but it could be a really funny bit 
if some comedian did a sketch telling today’s Gospel story 
as if it were a CNN broadcast. 

Wolf Blitzer would come on and say, 
“well, this once-promising rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, 
seems to be off to a rocky start, 
given the reaction of his own relatives and neighbors.” 
And then they’d interview someone from the synagogue, 
who’d say, “This smart-alecky kid thinks he’s the Messiah? 
Well, this is no way to start a movement, by insulting everyone! 
He really needs to be more positive and uplifting!” 

I started out by asking about Lent. 
Maybe one of the things we will do with our Lent 
is to ask God to help us purify ourselves 
of caring whether we’re “winning” or not. 
To stop caring what others think about us.

Not that this is permission for any of us to be jerks about it.
The words we heard from Saint Paul are so beautiful 
we might miss the practical application. 

Notice what Paul said: 
no matter what great things I might be able to do for God, 
if there is not love, they are—I am—nothing. 

Which means, if we have a difficult message to deliver, 
if we have a tough decision to make, are we sure it’s grounded in love? 
Jeremiah’s tough message was always about love: 
his nation was on the road to destruction, 
and he was working night and day to turn them back. 

I recently saw something Penn Jillette said. 
He’s the magician from the team, Penn and Teller, 
and you’ve probably seen them do their act. 
You may not know that Mr. Jillette is an atheist. 

And in the video, Mr. Jillette told the story of a man 
who came up to him, after his show, 
and gave him a copy of the New Testament. 
And Mr. Jillette was impressed. Here’s what he said:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. 
I don’t respect that at all. 
If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, 
and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, 
and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this 
because it would make it socially awkward…
how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? 
How much do you have to hate somebody 
to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

But let’s keep St. Paul’s words in the picture. 
If we do have a tough message to deliver, 
what effort have we made to purify our motives, 
to be sure that love is our motive? 

Here’s a practical suggestion: 
if you expect you will have to say something hard to say: 
whether it’s coworkers, brothers and sisters, children or spouse; 
make sure you are praying for that person, 
in addition to whatever things you say to that person. 

More than that, just to remove all doubt, 
why not go ahead and tell that person, straight out: 
I’m saying this because I love you?

Awkward? Probably. But if we can’t manage 
to communicate God’s love to people, 
then don’t even claim you’re speaking God’s message.
And if you’re not sure just how to explain 
some of the things we believe, in terms of God’s love, 
then we have more work to do ourselves 
to understand what God teaches and asks of us.

For example, perhaps we're not sure how to explain why marriage is a man and a woman, 
not two men or two women. 
And the answer is, because God designed humanity in a particular way--
the union of man and woman, in marriage, open to life, completes the divine image. 
And any alternative is a counterfeit, 
and while they may give us some measure of earthly happiness, 
they actually distort us, and if we persist in them, 
we will be unable to enjoy happiness with God forever.*

Which gives me the opportunity to remind you 
that in a couple of weeks, we’ll have “Symbolon, Part II,” 
and this is a chance to explore and understand our faith better. 
You’ll see the cards in the pews. 
The white card shows you the topics; 
the ivory card is what you use to sign up.

Look at the topics. Why do we need to be baptized? 
Why do we need to go to Mass? And confession? 
Why is marriage so important, 
and why did God design it the way he did? 
You can see that some of the subjects 
we have the most trouble talking about, are in this series.

Remember, this is all free, all available online. 
The white card tells you how to find the materials online. 
This weekend and next, you are invited to fill out the ivory card. 
The office staff will link you up with discussion groups.

To return to my opening question. Lent is coming. 
What will you do with it? 

* This paragraph was improvised several different ways.

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