The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Dear brothers and sisters,
In many ways, the society in which we live today is not altogether unlike ancient Israel, for our ancestors, too, rebelled against the Lord and we, like them, continue to revolt against him to this very day (see Ezekiel 2:3). In how many ways have we made ourselves slaves to sin and refused to lift up our eyes to the Lord, to him who is enthroned in heaven and whose right hand is filled with saving justice (see Collect; Psalm 123:2; and Psalm 48:11)?
The many ways in which we rebel against the Lord are what we call sins and these sins can be both mortal or venial and personal or communal. Seen simply, a sin is a failure to love, a failure to love God and a failure to love my neighbor. What is more, each time we fail to love, in small ways or large, we rebel against the One who is Love itself and the more we rebel against him, the more our faces harden and the more obstinate our hearts become (see I John 4:8 and Ezekiel 2:4).
This hardening of faces and hearts happens both individually and societally, but before the heart of a society can be hardened, before a culture can rebel against the Lord, the individuals who make up the society and the culture must first have rebelled against the Lord themselves; individual rebellions join in one great rebellion against Love. This is where we find ourselves today and why the words of the Lord spoken first to his prophet Ezekiel remain true: “Son of man, I am sending you to … rebels who have rebelled against me,” to “a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 2:3).
Perhaps our society’s greatest rebellion against God today is happening within the family, a rebellion that began decades ago when individuals - and then the culture - embraced contraception. With the acceptance of birth control, husbands and wives sought to disconnect procreation from the marital act and so ushered in a chain of rebellions against both God and neighbor. The embrace of contraception also sought to remove the unitive aspect of the marital act and turned it into an act only for personal gratification; it weakened the bond between husband and wife and the bond of the family.
With both procreation and unity separated from the marital act, it was not long before marriage itself suffered a further serious attack when individuals – and then society – embraced divorce (even no fault divorce), in what was and what remains a clear rejection of the words of the Savior (see Mark 10:9). As all of this happened, pornography, extra-marital affairs, and pre-marital relations became widespread and accepted, furthering the attacks against the integrity of the family. As the family weakened, so weakened society.
The integrity of the family suffered another serious blow this past week with the attempt by Supreme Court to redefine marriage as nothing more than a union between two people. Though this decision is clearly wrong and in opposition to the will of God and the natural law, given what individuals and society has done and allowed to happen to marriage, it was not a surprise. Even so, we must speak against it; we must accept the prophetic mission we each received in baptism; whether individuals or society “heed or resist,” we must speak the truth of marriage, which is rooted in the reality of the human person made in the image and likeness of God (Ezekiel 2:5; see Genesis1:26). When we do speak the truth of marriage and resist all false redefinitions of it and assaults against it, we know that people will take offense at us, just as they took offense at Jesus himself (see Mark 6:3).
This rebellion against God, these grave failures to love authentically both God and neighbor, are rooted in freedom. Because he made us in his image and likeness, God gave us the perilous gift of free will because a creature who is not free cannot love. This weekend, we celebrate in these United Sates of America the liberty we enjoy in this great experiment. Sometimes Americans and America has used this liberty well, and sometimes not, all depending on our understanding of freedom.
We often think of freedom as nothing more than the ability to do whatever I want whenever I want. We place certain vague and weak notional restrictions on it – you cannot harm another person or impinge upon his liberty – but it largely remains an amoral notion; we do not see freedom as having an inherent purpose or goal and this is where we so perilously wrong and place our souls in danger. The freedom in which and for which we were made is not the ability to do whatever I want, but rather the freedom to do what is right and just; it is the freedom to love, to love both God and neighbor. God is not a rival to us, he is not the enemy who seeks to take away our freedom and enslave; rather, he is the one who liberates us and rescues us from slavery to sin and to our own passions; it is he who frees us – if we let him – to love and to be loved.
With deep regret, we must acknowledge that most people in our society today – even Christians – do not recognize this truth.
Today freedom and Christian life, the observance of God's commandments, go in opposite directions; being Christian is like a form of slavery; freedom is being emancipated from the Christian faith, emancipated — all things considered — from God. To many people the word “sin” seems almost ridiculous, because they say: “How can that be! We cannot offend God! God is so great, what does it matter to God if I make a small mistake? We cannot offend God, his concern for us is too great for us to offend him”.
This seems true but it is not true. God made himself vulnerable. In the crucified Christ we see that God is vulnerability, God’s love is his caring for man, God’s love means that our first concern must not be to hurt or destroy his love, not to do anything against his love for otherwise we also live against ourselves and against our freedom. And, in reality, this seeming liberty in emancipation from God immediately becomes a slavery of the many dictatorships of the time…
Both individuals and our culture as a whole do not want to hear this message; they do not want to hear what the Lord God says because they are a rebellious house, because they refuse to acknowledge their sinfulness, and that they have been - and remain - wrong. Perhaps even some among us now continue to take offense at Jesus and the truth he reveals to us. What, then, are we to do?
First, we must not despair because, as the Gaffer says in The Hobbit, “Where there’s life there’s hope, and need of vittles.” Each of us must then prayerfully examine our thoughts and deeds to see if they conform to the life of Jesus. We must ask for the grace of repentance in those areas of our lives where our love is not sincere, where our love is not that of Christ Jesus. We must lift our eyes to him “till he have pity on us” (Psalm123:2).
Second, we should look to the example of your heavenly patron, the Apostle Saint Thomas, from whom both those who embrace the truth about marriage and the human person and those who do not yet understand can take inspiration.
It was Saint Thomas who said to the other Apostles, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Those who took offense at Jesus killed him and the same happen with us; at the very least, we know that persecutions will come, because the Lord told us they would (see Mark 10:30). The willingness of Saint Thomas to follow Jesus so closely “reveals his total readiness to stand by Jesus, to the point of identifying his own destiny with that of Jesus and of desiring to share with him the supreme trial of death.” Each us should strive and pray for this same desire so that the Lord may not be amazed at our lack of faith (see Mark 6:6).
At the same time, though, we also remember that it was Saint Thomas who said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way” (John 14:5)? We might say that the boldness of his question
confers upon us the right, so to speak, to ask Jesus for explanations. We often do not understand him. Let us be brave enough to say: "I do not understand you, Lord; listen to me, help me to understand". In such a way, with this frankness which is the true way of praying, of speaking to Jesus, we express our meagre capacity to understand and at the same time place ourselves in the trusting attitude of someone who expects light and strength from the One able to provide them.
If we take our questions to the Lord in this way, with honesty and humility, then we can walk the path of conversion and live not in rebellion but in fidelity to the love of God and of neighbor. Amen.