We need to spend as much time – even more – on the health of our soul as we do on our body. (A homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.)
My Homily for Sunday of the 18th Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
A week ago we returned from our Youth Pilgrimage to Rome. We celebrated Mass in some amazing locations. This video is a compilation of the homilies I gave at each Mass.
The other night I dropped in on our young adult group and one of the young men asked me a question that he says friends of his frequently ask him: “With all the different denominations of Christianity out there, why should we worry about being Catholic?” I told him that the answer ultimately comes down to a question of authority. There are so many different denominations of Christianity in the world today, many of whom teach things that are drastically different from each other to the point that they can’t all be correct. While some things are differences of culture and custom, others disagree with each other about theology, and they can’t all be right. Therefore, with all the different churches saying different things that contradict each other, how do you know who’s telling the truth? Obviously, Christ is the truth, so we have to know who is teaching what Christ revealed, which means we have to ask the question, “Who has the authority to speak in the name of Christ?” We are the only denomination of Christianity that can point to a Scripture text that explicitly gives us that authority: Matthew 16:13-20. In this famous account Jesus says to Simon “…you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you let loose on earth shall be let loose in heaven.” We as Catholics take that as a clear creation of the church by Jesus, that Jesus gave the authority to St. Peter to speak in his name and that that authority passes down through the centuries to Pope Francis today. Of course, lots of non-Catholics will disagree with us and claim that that’s not at all what Jesus meant. They try to disprove it with a variety of arguments, but one thing they can’t do is provide a Scripture quote to authorize themselves. No one can point to a Scripture quote that says Martin Luther was authorized by Christ to speak in his name, or John Calvin, or Zwingli, or Henry VIII, or the guy who just got religion last week and rented a storefront and made himself a minister. Ultimately, we have to ask these people “by what authority do you speak in the name of Christ?”
When I first realized that God was calling me to be a priest, I didn’t just rent a storefront and appoint myself a minister. No, I went to the Church that I was convinced was the only one that possessed the fulness of truth and asked to be given the authority to preach in its name, which was done to me on May 12, 1990 by Cardinal O’Connor, who had the authority to ordain priests given to him by Pope John Paul II, a direct successor of St. Peter. Of course, that means I must always preach what the Church teaches is the truth and not my own opinion. Just because I was authorized to speak in the name of the Church doesn’t mean anything I think up is automatically true. I will only be helping people when I teach what the Church has taught me is the truth that Christ entrusted to her.
Years ago I remember a man asking me the following question: “Why do you feel you have to parrot everything the Pope says? You have a brain; think things out for yourself!” I remember saying to him, “Thank you for the compliment! You think I’m infallible?” I am not infallible. I have been wrong in the past and I will be wrong at times in the future. If I love my people I will not get up in the pulpit on Sunday and tell them my opinion. First of all, that’s not why they come to Mass. and secondly, how can I tell them with certainty to follow something that I may later discover not to be true? My mind is not the source of all truth. But when I teach the Truth that Christ has given through the Catholic faith that he gave the apostles and is handed down to us today through his Church, then I can speak with certitude and tell my people they must follow it, for what the Church clearly teaches as the truth of Christ must be correct or Jesus lied to St. Peter!
Lots of times people follow individuals who are very charismatic and perhaps do a good job praying and leading people in prayer before the Lord. I don’t question for a moment the sincerity of any of these individuals. I’m sure they are very well intended and are doing their best to follow the Lord. But before we can say we speak definitively in the name of Jesus we have to be sure that what we’re saying is in fact what he has revealed and that we are well schooled in what he reveals. We firmly believe that Jesus gave the deposit of revelation to the apostles and told them to preserve it through the generations and that he gave Peter and the other apostles the authority to speak in his name; therefore, in order to say we are speaking the definitive truth of Jesus we must be in union with that Church, be well schooled in what we believe, and have the authority to teach in the name of Christ given to us by someone with the authority to do so, namely, a bishop, one of the successors of the apostles. Many people today don’t do that. They somehow find Jesus and come to believe in him, and they want to go out and bear witness to him, and that’s wonderful. But they go out without any authorization from him and without any schooling on their own and rent a storefront and claim that they are now a minister for Christ and that they’re speaking the truth in his name. But how do they know that what they think is the meaning of a certain Bible text is the correct interpretation, especially when so many storefront preachers and denominations of Christianity disagree with each other? I get the fact that many people listen to them because they can be very charismatic and very entertaining and that they feel very comfortable around the person. Perhaps he is a compassionate individual that makes them feel good and that’s all wonderful. But try this analogy: suppose you were sick and needed a doctor and a friend of yours told you about this wonderful guy that they go to who is very compassionate. He’s funny and his office is beautiful, and you go to the guy and he is a wonderful person and he really gives you all sorts of good sounding advice. Maybe he even tells jokes, perhaps he sings and he makes your experience in his office so wonderful, whereas the doctor you used to go to you just went in, he met you, he gave you a prescription and that was it. You decide that, from now on this is the doctor for you! Then you discover that this new doctor you are going to is not in fact a doctor; he never went to medical school and has no medical degree. All he did was pick up a couple of books on medicine and read them. Would you be comfortable receiving medical advice from this man? And if he’s not giving you any medicine – which he can’t do if he’s not a doctor because he doesn’t have the right to give you a prescription – in the long run, is he doing you any good? He may have been very comforting and compassionate, but when you leave your still sick. So just because the experience was a lot more enjoyable doesn’t mean the man in fact helped you in any way. It’s the same thing when we seek out denominations of Christianity or storefront churches or ministers or whomever it may be that say things that we like to hear or who give us a lot more of an enjoyable experience in our prayer but who are in fact not giving us the truth of Christ. All that warmth is wonderful, but if it’s not being accompanied by the truth of Christ then it’s not doing us any good.
I don’t know if it still there, but I remember when I was in the seminary and we would go down to the cathedral once a month to serve mass for the Cardinal we passed a storefront church in Harlem whose title was “The True Church of Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith.” I realized right away what that minister was attempting. He realized that, with all these ministers out there saying such vastly different things, that people needed to know who in fact was teaching the truth of Jesus. He therefore decided to try to rediscover what Jesus taught the apostles to hand down to us, and that his church would be the place where people heard the true teachings of Christ. But what that man didn’t realize is that he attempted to re-create the Catholic Church! That is precisely what we are! We are the true Church of Jesus Christ of the apostolic faith. We are the only ones who can say that Jesus clearly gave us the authority to speak in his name. No one else can make that claim!
In the end, while it’s nice to look for exciting communities with uplifting music and powerful pray-ers, ultimately it is more important to find those who have the authority to teach in the name of Christ and who are faithful to what Christ revealed to the apostles. Neither exciting liturgy nor charismatic preaching will set you free, only the truth of Christ can do that, which he reveals in its fulness through the only Church he gave the authority to speak in his name: The Catholic Church.
I don’t normally read Dear Abby because I rarely agree with the advice she gives, but today’s headline caught my attention and I was horrified at what I read. Did anyone else see it? Here is the column for today:
DEAR ABBY: My brother and sister-in-law have been dressing my 2-year-old nephew, “Charlie,” in dresses and pink clothes. They say these are what the boy has chosen. To me, a toddler will pick out whatever gets his attention at the moment, and children that age have only a rudimentary understanding of gender.
It would be one thing if Charlie were old enough to understand and still insisted he felt more comfortable in girls’ clothing. But at his age I feel what they’re doing will only confuse him. Keep in mind, I do not believe this is a transgender issue. I think people who are transgender should dress and act the way they feel. I just feel that age 2 is too young to determine this.
My parents (the boy’s grandparents) are worried and angry. My sister-in-law knows this upsets my mother and yet it’s like she’s taunting her with texts and pictures of Charlie in pink and/or dresses.
Should we be worried about this or should it be none of our business? Are we overreacting? Would it be best to approach my brother to tell him our concerns? — TOO YOUNG TO UNDERSTAND
DEAR TOO YOUNG: It is likely that Charlie is going through a phase and doing something he has seen other people do. But more important than what his mother buys for him is how others respond to it. A family’s negative reaction sends a strong message. If Charlie is innocently testing out his/her authentic self, his grandparents’ negative response will signal that they disapprove of who he is, which could have lasting ramifications for him.
Counselors at PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) have told me that many parents say that, looking back, they realize that by disapproving, they had sent their child the message that they couldn’t accept him/her. One child had suicidal thoughts at the age of 5 because of it. (And yes, sometimes children that young do act on the impulse.)
Hello??? The child is two years old!!! What two-year-old chooses his own clothing for the day? It is obvious to any sane person that the decision to dress the child in pink and dresses is the parents’ and not the toddler’s.
Why are these parents behaving in this way? Are they trying to encourage him to grow up believing he’s actually a girl? Did they perhaps want a girl but got a boy instead? What their rationale is I certainly cannot say, but whatever it is, what they are doing to the child is downright cruel. What parent would want to encourage their child to grow up gender confused?
As for Dear Abby’s response, this is a clear example of what I have repeatedly said is the dangerous afterbirth of an overly accepting attitude toward gender confusion. What started out as a perhaps noble attempt to understand and be compassionate toward those who are gender-confused has deteriorated into an effort to encourage people to be whatever gender they choose to be. There are even some people who will tell you that can change from day to day. “If I want to be a woman today, I’ll be a woman, and if tomorrow I want to be a man I’ll do so.” Don’t believe me? Look at one case that took place in a Ross department store in Texas.
A female customer complained that a man was changing in the ladies’ fitting room. When confronted by the manager, the man said “he was identifying as a woman today” and the manager told the woman who had complained that he had the right to change in there. see video here Target has also had serious problems with abuses due to their policy openly welcoming people to use whatever bathroom they feel better matches their identity. See this link: click here
When it comes to a toddler (as it is in this case), whatever the motive of the parents is, trying to force their child to identify with the opposite gender is unconscionable! It is an unthinkable kind of violence to do such a thing to a child.
I think it’s time the world wake up and face reality: we are male or female down to every gene in our body, and with the exception of the rare case of people with genetic abnormalities, our gender was determined at the moment of our conception and does not change because we feel differently. Feelings don’t dictate reality; only facts do, and encouraging people to choose whatever gender they want to be is an insult to the Lord who “created them male and female” (cf Gen. 1:27).
This article was published in the ChristLife Magazine at the request of Dianne Davis and David Nodar of ChristLife.
As Christians, our “mission statement” is very clear: “Go out and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you, and know that I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20) Any parish that is truly striving to be faithful to our call to be disciples and to have a missionary spirit rather than simply being stuck in maintenance mode struggles with the question of how to bring in people who have left the faith as well as reach people who have never known Christ. When we especially think of the question of people who have left, there are so many different ways we have tried to reach out to them. My experience, however, has convinced me that we’ve been addressing the symptoms and not the malady. Lots of people, for example, say that they’re bored at mass or they don’t get anything out of it. While this is true, we’ve responded in all the wrong ways to try to make them “get something out of mass.” We’ve brought in puppets and balloons, we’ve told jokes and done shtick, all to no avail. As a priest I’ve tried all the gimmicks that are touted with the promise that they will get people to come to mass. Perhaps they work for a time, but none of them offers the permanent effect of faithful discipleship. I was told for example that if you want to get teenagers to come to mass you need to have a rock mass. So we did that. We got all of the teenagers who had ability to play musical instruments together and set up a rock mass once a month on a Sunday night and we rocked the church! That place was jumping and many of the people there enjoyed it very much. But what we noticed month after month was that it never brought any other teenagers back to church. The teens who told their friends about it found it was not enough to get them to start coming to mass. They weren’t staying away because they didn’t like the music – that was the reason we told ourselves. The real reason was that they didn’t come to mass because they saw no value in it. When it comes to little children and getting their parents to attend mass, we were told that we should have special masses for children because their parents will come. This is true – to an extent. When children are doing something at mass the parents will come, but that doesn’t make them come back the next week.
I have come to realize that all of the things that we’re trying to do to bring people back are simply addressing the symptom and not the malady. People are not staying away from church because they don’t like the music or because the priest is boring; those are the excuses they use. No, they are staying away because they don’t realize why we go to mass in the first place and why they need to be there. Most people don’t like to go to the doctor, but they go because they know it is important for them to do so. They don’t complain that they don’t like the music they play in the waiting room or that the doctor is boring and doesn’t tell jokes. If someone actually were to use that as an excuse for why they don’t go to the doctor, I doubt that anyone would tell doctors to learn good jokes and start playing different music in the office. Why, then, do we think this is the answer for how to bring people back to mass? This is not to say that we don’t strive to provide prayerful music, homilies, etc., but that we don’t make this an end in itself.
I have come to believe very firmly that the only way we are going to get people to return faithfully is to get them to see that “I need a regular relationship with Jesus that I will find not by praying on my own at home, but that I will find when I come to church every Sunday to receive the Eucharist for the forgiveness of my sins, to unite myself with Christ in his suffering, death, and resurrection, and be strengthened by my fellow Christians as we journey together to follow Christ and be a community.”
We’ve had lots of wonderful programs that have attempted to provide precisely this, yet many of them in my opinion have failed. I’ve used lots of retreat programs that had people giving personal witness talks about the power of Christ in their lives and the things he’s done for them, and they can be very powerful. The problem is that not everybody’s witness talk is appropriate, and some are questionable in their content or in their interpretation of what God actually did for them. I’ve heard people say things that have made me cringe. In order to make sure every talk is appropriate the priest has to listen to every talk through beforehand to accept, modify, or reject it. Not only do most priests not have the ability to dedicate that much time to this, when he does suggest changes, some people’s feelings get hurt. Other times programs tend to become a clique. The people bind nicely to each other in the name of the program, but not in the parish and in the church, and it ends up creating a sub community of the parish rather than encouraging participants to be active members of the Church Universal. They tend to refer to each other as “my ‘Such-and-Such’ Program brothers and sisters”, but not “my fellow parishioners”, and certainly not, “my fellow Catholics.” Being members of the ministry program frequently becomes the end in itself to the exclusion of parishioners who are not part of the program. When this happens the program has failed in its stated purpose. It has brought people closer to each other but not together in Christ. They may strive to bring other people into the program, but it often becomes apparent that they are more interested in membership in the program rather than in the Church. ChristLife is different.
We started using Christ life a year ago, and like any other program I was optimistic but also skeptical, because I’ve been down this path before. What pleases me about ChristLife is that the heart of the program is not personal witness by individual volunteers but rather the videos that ChristLife provides. The videos are solid in their theology, but also touching. They have a way of communicating the need for Christ in his Church in a common sense manner that combines the beauty of being part of a community with an authentic encounter with Jesus. The programs do not turn in on themselves, having the people do merely a group huddle, but are founded firmly on Christ. Yes, there is certainly group sharing, and yes there is a great sense of community, but it is a community founded on Christ and not merely on membership in the group. We had members as young as twelve and as old as their eighties who started seeing the work of Christ in each other. ChristLife does what we want to do as a parish and what we need in a program: it brings people together in Christ. So many of the other programs have brought people together but the “in Christ” portion of it was somehow missing.
I am very happy with using ChristLife in our parish, and we are now planning to use it as our pre-catechumenate in hopes that people will experience the need for Christ and develop a desire to know and follow him before entering into the formal catechesis of the RCIA process. ChristLife is far less expensive than many of the programs that we have tried and the support from the Christ life staff is fantastic. The people on the ChristLife staff see their work as a ministry and not merely an occupation. I strongly encourage the use of ChristLife in every parish, as I think it is the only program out there that truly addresses the real malady and doesn’t merely spend time putting Band-Aids on wounds.
Someone recently told me that he was having a discussion with a few people who were very much trying to follow the Lord, but they felt like fake Catholics because they don’t agree with the Church on some of the “hot button” topics today, and they wanted to know if that means they’re not good Catholics and are instead hypocrites. It’s an excellent question and I was very glad that these young people were considering it. There may be many others reading this who have the same feeling. Should you be considered a fake Catholic or a hypocrite if you don’t follow everything the Church teaches? My answer is, “not necessarily.” There is more information that needs to be looked at before anyone could judge himself and accuse himself of being fake or a hypocrite.
First of all, what does it mean to be a hypocrite? Hypocrites are not people who don’t understand or who don’t agree: hypocrites are people who claim they are doing God’s will and yet turn around and end up doing precisely the opposite of what God wants. I will give you an example of where I have found hypocrisy recently in some people in the church: Usually on my blog and in other places I find myself battling the liberal people who want the Church to change her teachings, but recently I have found myself in a strong battle against people on the extreme right who are condemning Pope Francis. I found myself in a conversation on a rather reactionary conservative site that is accusing Pope Francis of abandoning the faith in his new apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. They seem to have ignored all of the strong things the Pope said about the value of a traditional marriage and the things for families to do in order to keep their marriage strong and have focused their attention on a footnote in one comment about Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. In the exhortation the Pope clearly reiterated the Church’s teaching that divorced and remarried Catholics who have done so without an annulment are in an irregular situation and cannot licitly present themselves to receive Holy Communion. In a footnote to that the Pope mentions that under certain circumstances some people may be able to be admitted to Communion. That has always been the teaching of the Church. For example, couples who are invalidly married but willing to live as brother and sister-meaning they refrain from any sexual activity-may present themselves for Holy Communion after confession provided no scandal to the faithful exists. Unfortunately, these reactionary people read only the footnote and seemed to be convinced beforehand that Pope Francis, by not just bashing people over the head as sinners, is somehow altering the Faith and has changed the Church’s teaching on the matter. I put a comment on a question board on this site asking people, “please someone showed me the quote where Pope Francis changed the Church’s teaching on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics?” The reactions I got back from that were vile and obscene! While some very politely accused me of living in a naïvely Pollyanna world where I did not want to see the “serious danger of the Pope’s new teaching,” others told me I was doing the devil’s work and they were praying for my soul because I was in danger of being condemned for all eternity simply because I did not condemn Pope Francis! Another one said he would listen to tradition and not “the evil teachings of this evil Pope”. When I asked him where he found the justification to judge the Pope, he said to me “God has given me the right to judge the Pope!” Mamma Mia! That sounds like Martin Luther all over to me! That’s precisely what the Protestant reformers had said: they felt that the Pope had broken from Tradition and they had a God-given duty to correct the Pope and even broke away to “reform” the Church into what they thought it was supposed to be! I wrote a note to the editor of that website saying that I would no longer participate on the site because of the self-righteous and sanctimonious statements of some of the readers that they are attracting. I told him they are attracting people who believe they speak for God and when even the Pope says something they don’t like they believe the Pope is wrong and they are right; in other words, their minds and their thoughts are the ultimate judge of truth, and in their self-righteousness they have repeated exactly what the Pharisees did in condemning Jesus. The Pharisees were convinced they were defending God and attacking an evil person when they sent Jesus to his death, and I told the editor I would have no part of such an attitude! That to me is hypocrisy; the “I-am-right-and-anyone-who-disagrees-with-me-is-a-condemned-sinner” attitude.
As for others who don’t believe they agree with the Church, we must remember that Jesus during his lifetime made some very provocative statements and he challenged people. Lots of things that he said went against the grain. Sometimes people rejected him without hearing him through and understanding why he taught what he did, and so they ended up not following Jesus and not experiencing the salvation he could offer them. That is a mistake. Take for example the situation when Jesus gave the Great Discourse on the Bread of Life, telling everyone they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life (cf John 6). For Jews that was a horror! Contact with human blood made you unclean, and so it violated everything they believed in. In addition, Jesus did not tell them he was going to turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and so they must have thought he was talking about cannibalism. St. John tells us that after this many of Jesus’ followers abandoned him and would no longer be his disciples. He turned to the apostles and asked them if they too wanted to leave him, and Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter didn’t understand any more than the others did, but he was so convinced in whom Jesus was that he accepted something that made no sense to him simply because Jesus said it and he knew Jesus could not be wrong. What Peter said is what Jesus was looking for: trust in him completely, so that even things that did not make sense to us we would accept because Jesus said it and then look for the answer and the explanation as to why Jesus said what he did. The apostles found that; those who left him did not.
So to people who accuse themselves of being fake Catholics because they reject the Church’s teaching on any number of issues, I ask them to ask themselves this: have you carefully looked at why the Church teaches what she does on this particular issue? Many times we reject something without understanding why it’s taught in the first place. Remember that we, thanks to Original Sin, are rewired in a faulty way whereby what is God’s will and what advances us on the spiritual journey to salvation is not natural to us. Because of that, our natural inclination is not to embrace the things that lead us to heaven but what makes us happy here on earth. Sometimes meeting a need here on earth would compromise our call to salvation. But we don’t see that, especially when to follow the Lord’s teaching would be to cause us inconvenience or even suffering here and now, and we end up rejecting the teaching because we only want convenience now and don’t see the high price we have to pay for that convenience.
So have we thought everything through and gotten complete and sufficient information to know that something that would satisfy our desire now will compromise our call to salvation, and then chosen to reject the teaching? If so, then I would say we are not authentic Catholics. But for most people we simply have our own opinions that have come from the world around us which we have openly accepted without even thinking through, and ended up rejecting the Church’s teaching without really thinking it through. So I’m not saying for a moment that it’s okay for someone to reject the Church’s teaching! At the same time, however, I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to accuse either himself or another of being a hypocrite or a fake Catholic simply because he has not completely come to understand why the Church teaches something it does. So before you condemn yourself, do research and find out why the Church teaches what she does on certain issues. If you are of honest faith and a desire to follow Jesus, chances are when you do, you will find yourself understanding the teaching better and perhaps even accepting it. Only if someone has completely understood the teaching and chosen to reject it should he say that he is not a faithful Catholic.