Sunday, June 25, 2017

How to be faithful, not fearful (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, Jeremiah knows people around him 
are plotting his destruction.

In the Gospel, Jesus says, “Fear no one” – only be faithful to God.

So, thinking about fear…the question that comes to mind isn’t, 
what are we afraid of? – because the answer is, of course, 
lots of things, and often for good reason – 
but instead, what do our fears keep us from?

The fear I’m talking about is not those rational judgments we make, 
such as how fast we drive, especially in bad weather, 
or those dumb things a friend tries to dare us into doing. 
That is the virtue of prudence, one of the four cardinal virtues. 

No, I’m talking about that fear that holds us back from better things. 
We might call it timidity or faint-heartedness or cowardice. 
These are vices that are opposed to another of the cardinal virtues, 
which is fortitude, or courage – 
and that virtue of fortitude is what we want and need.

If we are in a conversation, 
and we are faint-hearted about bringing up an important subject; 
or, if we simply avoid the whole conversation altogether, why is that? 
Isn’t it because we don’t want to be thought less of? 
We don’t want an uncomfortable situation? 
And when we stop and think about it, 
what holds us back is hardly anything at all. 

Jeremiah shared God’s message at the risk of his life. 
What do we risk? Being laughed at, or whispered about?

So what do our fears – our timidity – hold us back from? 
They hold us back from being saints, 
being fully faithful to Jesus Christ.

This past week, we remembered the martyrdom 
of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, 
who both died because they were faithful 
to Christ’s teaching on the permanence of marriage, 
when the King of England demanded they go along with his desire 
to divorce his wife and marry another. 

These are especially relevant saints for our time. 
Out of all the bishops of England, John Fisher was the only one – 
the only one – who refused to submit to the king. 
All the rest caved in.

In our time, so many around us are readily, eagerly going along 
with a redefinition of marriage, 
which has been declared the law of the land. 
Two men, two women, who cares? 
It can be so hard to stand up to this, 
especially if you are called a bigot, 
as members of my family have called me, 
because I will not bend to this redefinition of marriage. 

And now the latest idea is that our identity as male or female 
is not something given by God, but something we give ourselves, 
and is changeable. 

And I tell you now: the day will come when every single person here 
will feel as lonely as Bishop Fisher and Thomas More, 
when we stand up for these truths. 
But stand up we must, because truth isn’t decided by majority vote, 
and reality is not ours to remold, as if we are God!

Pope Francis has called these theories 
about marriage and sexual identity “demonic.” 
Strong language, but he is exactly right; 
because what is under attack is not just some old rule. 
What’s under attack is the truth about what it means to be human. 

When God had finished his Creation, with the man and woman his crowning work, 
he called it all “very good.” 
When Satan saw it, he vowed to ruin it all, 
with humanity – us – his primary target. 

So notice what’s happening in our time: 
the killing of unborn children; the elimination of the handicapped; 
so-called “assisted suicide” for everyone else, 
especially the elderly and those who are discouraged; 
the poisoning of marital life with contraception; divorce – 
which I don’t want to be flippant about, but it is a problem…

And now, a denial of the realities of what it means 
to be a man and a woman. 
Do you see the whole picture? Satan is attacking humanity, 
to destroy us. 
The end goal is that we won’t even know who and what we are: 
the image of God, who he calls to union with him. 

Now, that is a hellish vision, and it’s frightening 
to see it spreading in our world. 
Nevertheless, we must obey Jesus’ words, when he says, 
Do not be afraid! 
Fear paralyzes us, and keeps us from speaking what is true, 
and living the truth boldly.

When Saint John Fisher refused to buckle, 
he was imprisoned for over a year. 
During that time, he wasn’t allowed to offer Mass, 
receive Holy Communion or go to confession. 
He grew so ill that the king sent his doctors, 
just to get him well enough so he could be executed. 

When the day came, the guard woke him, and told him: 
today you will die. 
Do you know what Bishop Fisher said? 
He asked if he could sleep another two hours! 
Does that sound like he was afraid?

You see this time and again: 
when people have lost everything, when they have nothing left to lose, 
there is a peace beyond all understanding. 

This is the reason why acts of penance, self-denial, mortification, 
not just for a few weeks in Lent, but every day, are important, 
and can help us. 

So we become detached from caring too much about stuff, or comfort, or anything else, 
but the one thing that matters, 
which is being faithful to Jesus Christ.

The world may go crazy all around us, but do not be afraid!
Jesus reigns! And he calls us to reign with him.
By his grace, may we remain faithful witnesses to him!

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