Monday, January 17, 2011

Why do you believe? (Sunday homily)

We just heard John the Baptist say--twice--"I did not know him."
That got me thinking--maybe you as well--
because I have always supposed Jesus and John knew each other growing up.
After all, Mary visited Elizabeth while she was expecting John;
and if they visited once, why not more than once?
Other scriptures seem to say John knew Jesus.

Well, maybe they didn't know each other all that well;
or maybe it means something else.

It could be that what John is saying is,
I knew him in a human way, yes;
but I didn't know, for certain, that he was the Messiah
until I received the sign from heaven.
If so, that means John, knowing how important this was,
wanted to be absolutely certain that Jesus was the Messiah.
That makes sense; he only gets one shot at this.

So that raises a question for us:
How do we know?
Why do we believe Jesus is the Messiah?

I'm not going to do it, but--if I started calling on folks,
to ask you that question...
I know, you'd never come back to church!
But if I did, I think it would be good to hear everyone's answer;
I think it would be a good experience.

But perhaps some would find it hard to put into words;
and maybe some would candidly say something like,
"I guess I believe because that's what my family believes"
or "because that's what I grew up with."

What do you think? Are those good enough reasons?
Is being a Christian a tribal thing--
we believe in Jesus because that's our tribal god?

Let's put it another way:
If a friend or family member came to us and said,
I'm going to become a Muslim--or a Jew--or a Buddhist--or a Wiccan,
what reason would we give for not doing so?

This is why we study our Faith.
We believe; but we also need to be ready to give a reason for what we believe.
The Father sent Jesus to be a light to the nations; and he doesn't do it alone.
Through our baptism we share in that task.

I've studied the Scriptures, Church history, and the teachings of our Faith,
and I have to say, the more I do,
the more awed I am by the power and coherence of what we believe.
I know what you're thinking: you're a priest, you're a company man,
you're supposed to say that!

But I didn't always believe it.
Many of you know I not only spent 10 years as not a Catholic, but as an anti-Catholic.
I didn't just slouch into this. I had to be convinced.

Let me share some thoughts on this.

First, our Faith is a reasonable faith.
It is founded upon certain facts: Jesus was born in a specific place and time.
He did wonderful things, he taught certain things,
and then, above all, he suffered and died and rose from the dead.
And we know these things because people who were with him, told us,
and they were prepared to die rather than deny what they saw.
As the great mathematician of several centuries ago, Blaise Pascal, said,
"I readily believe those witnesses whose throats are cut."

Also, our Faith is a human faith.
By that I mean it corresponds well to what we need and what will make us happy.
This is a point where our Faith is under attack today.
Many voices in our culture say, don't listen to Christianity, with it's rules;
do what you want; have what you want, no limits, no sacrifice.
All that matters is choice, freedom without boundary.

But is that really what will make us happy?
If we could look back at the end of our lives,
and let option "a" be someone who did exactly that:
no sacrifice, never putting himself out for anyone,
no commitment, no dying to self--what would he have?
No children, no family, he would have nothing.

Then consider the one who does give of himself to others:
that one is surrounded by family, grandchildren, and friends.
Who is truly rich then?

The Cross is hard--but it corresponds best to true human need.
Our society's values don't make us happy--in the end they make us empty.

Finally, our Faith is a powerful faith.
We don't just believe in a series of propositions.
We believe in a God who isn't just out there, somewhere,
but who acts in our world--who is here, now, acting for our salvation.

This, above all, is what the Mass is.
We aren't just listening to stories or reflecting on God;
in the Mass, Christ is here, pleading his blood for the salvation of the world.
And we are called here, because we are part of his work of salvation.
We come here, we receive power from him, and we go out of here, changed.

Ultimately, that is what makes us persuasive witnesses for Christ;
beyond the reasons and the logic of our Faith,
do people see in us the power of Christ at work?

When John saw Jesus, God gave him a sign so he would know, he is the Messiah.
When people see us...what do they see?