Sunday, June 30, 2013

Homily 13 Sun OT C–Only the Truth Makes Us Free to Follow Jesus with Resolve.

Last weekend when I introduced myself, there was one part of my story that I didn’t tell: How I came to discern that God was calling me to be a priest. I grew up Catholic, our family went to Mass every Sunday, and I knew what Catholics believe but I didn’t know why we believe it and it really didn’t dawn on me to care. But, then came my senior year in college when a girl I was dating asked me questions about Catholicism that I had no clue how to answer: Why do you go to Mass? Why do you go to confession to a priest? Why do you have statues in Church, etc. All I could say was “Ugh… I dunno… that’s just what we do…” But, I felt lame that I couldn’t give her better answers to her questions, so I did some research. When I discovered Why we believe what we believe, my eyes were opened. By the grace of God what I discovered changed my life and I began to take my faith more seriously.

Before that point I just wanted to be like any other college student: stay out late, mess around, be irresponsible, do whatever… but after my “reversion” I wanted to be a better man, a more honorable man. Obviously, my relationship with that girl didn’t work out. And the more I learned about the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist, the more I fell in love with them and imagined what it would be like if I was celebrating them. I made new friends who drew me closer to Christ and helped me to hear God’s call for me to be a priest.

I must say though that in that initial period of change, it was hard not to look back on my former way of life and think, “Man, it was fun hanging out with that crowd and doing this or that…” or be tempted to get back into my old ways. But I knew the Lord wanted me to be resolute in following him, in heading down the Way. Our Lord was resolute and he expects his messengers, his disciples, to be the same. The Gospel said that he “resolutely determined” to journey to Jerusalem and just outside its gates, the site of the Crucifixion and our salvation.

Elijah in the first reading allowed his disciple, Elisha, to kiss his parents goodbye before he followed him. But we follow a greater prophet than Elijah, our Lord Jesus Christ, who has a higher standard. When those he called wanted to tend to their families first before they followed Jesus, our Lord insisted that they follow him first. Of course our Lord was not intending for them to dishonor their parents; of course Jesus keeps the Fourth Commandments to Honor Thy Father and Mother. The point he is trying to make is that he should come first in our priorities, even before our families and even before ourselves.

When Elijah called his disciple he signaled the call by throwing his cloak around him, showing Elisha that he wanted him to share in his identity and mission. We too have been “cloaked,” so to speak – we have “put on” Christ at our Baptism. In the ritual the priest says to the child, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” With that white garment we “put on” Christ and became his disciples. Thank God for the Eucharist and Confession which re-creates this garment whenever we fall away.

But, we can’t afford to fall away. We must be resolute in our call. It may seem at first that marching forward with determination, not looking back on our former way of life is too harsh or restrictive. This is because we often misunderstand what freedom truly is. We tend to confuse freedom for license. Freedom is the ability to do what we ought, whereas license is the ability to do whatever we want. For Paul in the 2nd reading, freedom is not license. Christian freedom is not a license to indulge in sin and selfishness. We are free, rather, to mature in grace and become the saints we are called to be.

If freedom is not license then the commitment to protecting freedom does not mean protecting license. So many in our society today are grasping at more and more liberties and demanding they be protected as God-given freedoms. They claim, “If I want to do it, I should be able to do it, and no one should say I can’t.” We have seen this especially in recent news concerning the Supreme Court’s decisions regarding so-called gay “marriage.” In their decision on Proposition 8 – the Constitutional amendment the people of California voted for to protect the traditional definition of marriage as a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman – the Court did not strike it down but it did miss the opportunity to uphold it.

More worrisome is the Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act. There, the Court undercut true freedom and true equality. What the federal government and the Court failed to realize is that it is OK to treat different things differently. So-called “gay marriage” is not the same as traditional marriage. Marriage, by definition, brings a man and a woman together for life and ensures that children who are a gift and the fruit of their love are raised by their own mother and father together. Gay “marriage” is simply a different thing and should be treated differently – that doesn’t imply that an injustice or hatred is being done.

Given these types of challenges to true freedom, again, we must be resolute. The Gospel says our Lord “sent messengers ahead of him” to prepare for his arrival. We are those messengers, sent to proclaim the Truth and to ready men’s hearts to receive It, especially when we experience setbacks or when times are tough. What we must Not do is react to these setbacks with violence or anger or pessimism or cynicism. We must not seek vengeance in any way. When the town our Lord’s disciples went to “would not welcome him,” James and John asked him, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” This is something that Elijah did! But, again, we follow a higher prophet than he. Our Lord “turned and rebuked them” for suggesting such a thing.

St. Ambrose explains that Jesus reproves his disciples’ desire for revenge because it is out of keeping with his mission as Messiah; he has come to save people, not destroy them. This helps them to see that zeal for the things of God should never be bitter or violent: “The Lord does everything in an admirable way… He acts in this way to teach us that perfect virtue retains no desire for vengeance, and that where there is true charity there is no room for anger – in other words, that weakness should not be treated with harshness, but should be helped.” When Christians advocate for the truth regarding marriage, for example, we do not do so because we hate persons with same sex attraction; we do so because we love them! We do so, not to be harsh to them but to help them to know the truth, for it is the truth that makes us free.

We must re-double our efforts to be disciples and messengers of the Truth. We must have courage to proclaim the Truth even when… especially when it is hard. To give in to falsifications of the truth serve no one. We must re-commit with resolve to the truth, knowing that only a determined commitment to God makes us fit for the kingdom of God, glorifies him, and serves the common good.

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