|Prophet Jeremiah in the cistern (Jeremiah 38). Picture links to where I got it.|
Jeremiah had to do it; and so did Jesus.
That is, they had to say things that upset people.
Pretty obviously, of course –
there is a difference between the “have to do” and the “want to do.”
That’s where so many of us get messed up.
So let’s get this straight right off the bat:
What happened in the Gospel is not permission to be a jerk.
Let me say that again:
Don’t point to Jesus, or Jeremiah,
or for that matter, any part of the Bible, as an excuse to be a jerk.
Because that is not what happened in the Gospel.
Yes, Jesus sure did provoke them. They wanted to kill him!
But why did he provoke them? What would justify it?
Jesus was trying to make them think –
to see something they weren’t seeing, and weren’t going to see,
unless someone really shocked them out of a kind of mental sleep-walk.
To get them to say, “wait, what?!?”
A lot of us go online, and maybe we post comments here and there.
Or maybe we get into family discussions and maybe they get heated.
So maybe you’re thinking,
“yeah, it’s good to stir things up.”
Someone was hurt? “Don’t be a snowflake!”
Well, here’s the test.
Before you say – or post – anything that is going to set people off,
ask yourself this question:
Where is the love?
How is what I am saying or doing grounded in love?
And maybe you’ll say, well, I’m saying this because I love God –
or because I love the truth. So far, so good.
But then take it one more step:
How is what I want to say about loving this person, right here?
Can you answer that question, first?
And more than that, maybe make that the first thing you say?
Instead of leading off with, “Here’s why you’re wrong!”
Try, “Because I care about you, I want to say thus-and-so…”
and explain why what you’re saying is really about love.
You may not have thought about it this way,
but everything you and I stand for, as Catholics –
everything we get beat up for believing – is about love.
Love for real, flesh-and-blood people.
So, for example, we take a stand about what marriage is.
That, in turn, is directly related to what a man is, what a woman is.
There is a love properly shared between a husband and wife;
another love, proper for two men, and for two women.
Likewise, yet another love proper being parents and children,
And between brothers and sisters.
So what are we doing today? Mashing all that up, saying “love is love.”
No, that is a lie.
And encouraging people to live a lie is never the loving thing to do.
Yes, it’s true, Jesus would hit a subject pretty hard.
But never forget: at the very moment he said and did those things,
he was planning to die on the Cross for those very people!
So that’s the test: how much is what we’re doing and saying
really about love in a concrete way, for real, living human beings?
And if not, maybe hold our tongue?
Look: some people never speak up.
So some people listening right now, the message you need to hear
isn’t to hold back; because that’s what you always do.
The message for you is, speak up!
Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the courage and the inspiration.
But some of us – I include myself here – speak up ALL THE TIME.
Before I was in the seminary, there was this girl, and this date.
We were in Virginia, and our plan was an early breakfast,
and then to drive down to Kings Dominion – like Kings Island here –
and ride roller coasters all day.
When I woke up that morning I could not talk.
I felt fine otherwise; but no voice. Nothing.
So we went to the park, and for that whole day,
she had 100% of the conversation. For about 15 hours.
If you knew my friend Mary, you’d know this did not intimidate her!
But here was the great revelation for me:
The world did not stop spinning because it was deprived of my opinions!
More important is to absorb what we hear St. Paul say:
If what you are saying and doing isn’t first and last about love –
not abstract love, but concrete love of flesh-and-blood people –
then what is it worth?
Nothing, says Saint Paul.
It’s not the greatest segue, but let’s recall the opportunity
you and I have for practical, concrete acts of love, right here,
in the form of the Catholic Ministries Appeal.
Two weeks ago I talked about the good works this is making possible:
assisting the poor with food and utilities;
Keeping faith alive for college students, people in prisons and hospitals;
Supporting more priestly vocations, and St. Rita School for the Deaf,
and the retirement fund for our elderly priests.
Talk about showing love: this isn’t abstract; it isn’t pie-in-the-sky;
it’s here and now, flesh and blood.
I spent most of my time today talking about ways our words hurt;
Or we don’t speak at all, when there really is a need.
But let me give you an opportunity, right now,
To use words in a loving way.
There are envelopes with pledge forms, and pencils, in your pews.
They look like this. If you want to do this now,
someone will pass it down.
Your words – your name and contact information –
on this form are an act of love.
So are the numbers you write on there:
the amount of financial support for this cause.
You can include a check right now;
or you can write in your credit information.
I make my check payable to the seminary,
so that I can direct my gift there.
Without saying how much, I will say my gift is a lot for me.
That doesn’t mean you have to do the same;
But I want you to know I’m serious about this.