The Gospel passage reminds us that in our walk of faith,
following Jesus, there is a social dimension.
It isn’t just Jesus and me; it’s Jesus and US.
Both aspects – the personal and the social – need emphasis.
As we grow into adulthood, there needs to be a moment,
for every one of us, when we stop and say,
this isn’t just about what my parents believe;
what do I, myself, believe?
And let me say this to our teenagers here:
in case you haven’t figured it out,
this is Mark Travis’, and my, “secret plan” for our youth programs.
To give you every opportunity to go from, “my family prays the Rosary,”
to, “I pray the Rosary” and “the Mass is important to my family,”
to “the Mass is important to me – and here’s why.”
Even so, there is a way in which the social dimension to our Faith
It is very common in our time to say things like,
“you go your way, I’ll go mine” and, “It’s none of my business.”
And that’s all true and valid: a certain amount of “live and let live”
helps us all live as good neighbors.
And we all know what it is like
when other people are talking things about us
that they should keep quiet about. It doesn’t feel good.
And yet…and yet: notice what Jesus says in the Gospel.
There are times when you and I must go to a brother or a sister.
And if that doesn’t work,
there are times when it involves the whole Church.
People often quote the words of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
without realizing that God’s answer is, “Yes, you are.”
Now, this is a good time to talk about the virtue of prudence.
If prudence ever goes on sale at the store, stock up!
It always seems in short supply.
Of the four cardinal virtues – Courage, prudence,
justice and self-control –
prudence may be the hardest to get just right.
Prudence is like learning to steer while driving.
You don’t want to have your hands yanking constantly at the wheel
and you don’t want to just let go, and let the car wander off the road.
It takes a practiced hand.
Likewise, it takes a certain deftness – not to mention courage! –
to approach someone with an issue, the way Jesus describes.
Prudence is at work when we pray about it,
seek advice from the wisest people we know,
and approach the matter with humility and gentleness.
Otherwise, we ourselves end up being that person
who is making things worse, rather than better.
This is a good time to address another part
the social dimension of our Faith, our social responsibility.
There is a term that is showing up in the news,
and in political discussions – the so-called “Social Justice Warriors.”
It’s not a compliment; it’s meant to lampoon those who go overboard,
and are pretty obnoxious about promoting various causes.
But you know what? “Social justice” is a real thing;
and because it is something God cares about,
it is something we might want to pay attention to!
In its most basic form, social justice is just another way
to live out being our brother’s keeper. There are times when justice –
not as our government measures it, but as God measures it –
demands more from us
than just how we deal with each other one-to-one.
And so, for example, God’s Justice says
that the good things of the world He created
are intended for the benefit of everyone.
And, those who have the least – in education,
in opportunity, in material things – deserve special attention.
Our social concern as Catholics leads us at times to personal action;
sometimes it calls for action together with others,
and sometimes it calls for us to get involved in the political process.
Let me give a very concrete example: this question of immigration.
It’s a complex subject.
We have many people coming into our country illegally.
Some are coming out of fear. Many are coming out of need –
they are leaving behind places with few jobs but plenty of violence.
Many are coming to get ahead – something we can all understand.
Meanwhile, there are some are coming into our country
with evil purpose, to do us harm.
And just recently, we’ve been reminded
of those who were brought here as children,
and have grown up in our country.
There are questions of justice here,
and also the matter of being our brother’s keeper.
A lot of discussion really oversimplifies all this.
Our bishops have been talking about this subject a lot,
and they have made a number of points.
First, our country – any country – has the right to control its borders.
There is no “right” to flout the law.
Second, there are real human needs here,
and when people are in trouble,
they have a moral right to seek help and shelter.
So the question is, what laws or measures are called for?
Do you remember the virtue of prudence I talked about a moment ago?
This is where we put it into practice.
The bishops are counting on you and me as citizens,
as well as our leaders, to apply prudence here,
without forgetting the demands of justice and compassion.
So if there is an action item here for you and me, it would be:
pay attention to these issues; pray for prudence;
and speak up, especially in what you tell
the President and members of Congress.
Meanwhile, our social concern is not only
about things happening far away.
We remember and do what we can for people in Texas and Florida,
in the path of the hurricanes, for example;
but most of the time, the test of our concern
for the welfare of our brother or sister more often comes right here –
maybe even in our own homes, with our very brothers and sisters.
So if you want to practice social justice,
if you’re ready to take “love your neighbor” to the next level?
You don’t have to wait long or look far.
Just look across the street, and even across the dinner table.
Start there – just don’t stop there.