Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sequere Me

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office;
And He said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew rose and followed Him.[1]

Homily for the Twenty Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
September 22nd, 2013

Saint Joseph’s- Worcester, NY
Saint Paul’s- Schenectady, NY
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (Rosa Road)

Rev. Michael Taylor

            So, every now and then, you’ll have been working on a homily for the week. And you think you have it down. And then something happens in the world that causes your idea for the homily to fly out the window. This past week, it was the interview the Pope that seems to have everyone in a frenzy. Now, I read the interview when it first came out. However, in the days that followed, in all of the different news outlets such as the BBC, CNN, Fox News, NPR, I began to think I’d read the wrong interview. No, it just turns out they care more for headlines than for what the Pope actually said. So go read the interview. Here. No, seriously. Stop reading this, and go read the interview. Then come back.
            And welcome back! Alright, so first things first. The media will twist things as they deem fit. They didn’t cover him when he said that “it is not possible to find Jesus outside of the Church” or "there is no reconciliation outside of Mother Church” or even last Friday right after the interview is published when he preached against abortion. We need to make sure we read what the Pope actually says. The pope didn’t change one single thing as regards faith and morals. He’s not going to change anything in regards to faith and morals. It’s not his job to change things in regards to faith and morals. I think we Americans are susceptible to a certain fallacy of thinking when it comes to the papacy. We’re use to elections where a new president, a new administration, a new party comes to power, and with their arrival comes different political theories, practices and world view. Yet that is not the job of the papacy. The job of the papacy,[2] as it is for all the faithful, is to hand on the faith as they have received it, as it is written, to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.[3]
That being said, each pope brings something new and unique to the Chair of Peter. If God had wanted the same type of person for the papal office, he’d allow us to clone (and would have told Peter how to do it). So, let us remember that we should not play one pope off another. It’s disingenuous to how the popes themselves see their role, and it does us no good to imagine our faith as a political platform just waiting for the next pope to finally change things. This will help us to appreciate each pope for who they are. Pope John Paul II was a mystic and a philosopher, who’s understanding of prayer and meditation, especially as regards devotion to the Blessed Mother,[4] was hugely inspiring to many, and it helped bring many closer to Christ. That is a good and holy thing. Pope Benedict XVI has one of the most brilliant minds our Church has produced in the last hundred years. His ability to explain theology [5] clearly while showing the depth of thought capable within our tradition lead many people closer to Christ Jesus. And that is a good and holy thing. Pope Francis has a simpler style and speaks in simpler terms,[6] which is convincing many to grow closer to Christ Jesus. And that’s a good thing. So let us appreciate them for the gifts they bring rather than playing one against the other.
That being said, this is not the most striking part of the interview and the media’s coverage of it. In none of the stories that I heard or read about what Pope Francis “said” did I find what concerned him the most. Not once did they mention Jesus or His mercy.[7] Stunning how they could miss such the central theme of the interview. You see the hope in God’s mercy is at the heart of who Pope Francis is. At the beginning of the interview, Father Spadaro, the interviewer, asks the question, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” Pope Francis, after a pause, answers, “I do not know what might be the most fitting description…I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”
This is the heart of the encounter with Christ. First, a side note. Let us notice something. Realize that when Jesus encountered those whom he would call, His first message wasn’t, “Hey, guys, I have this new Christian philosophy, a set of ideas, that you’re really going to find reasonable.” No, so often, the first words out of Jesus mouth were; follow me.[8] Don’t worry about what I say or do, just follow me and it’s all going to make sense. That’s what Pope Francis is trying to communicate. Not that these moral teachings aren’t important, and even less is he saying that they’re not true.[9] Rather, he’s saying they are not who we are. We cannot allow ourselves to be defined by our prohibitions or affirmations, but rather by the one whom we follow. We are Christians because we follow Jesus of Nazareth who was the Christ. We are marked by our journey with Him. The teachings we follow are a sign of that faith, but they are not the faith itself. Follow Christ and everything will make sense. If Christ is not the heart of our message, everything will seem dry and pointless.[10]
            There is a reason though why these issues keep coming up. At the heart of it, it has nothing to do the actual issues and everything to do with no one likes to be told they’re a sinner. In the heart of every human being, regardless of culture, faith or lack therein, there is the awareness that we have sinned. That we have failed to be the person we were made to be.[11] In our more sober moments of reflection, we also realize that there is nothing we can do to make up for our sin, nothing we can do to dig ourselves out of the hole we dug ourselves into. And thus, no one likes to be told that they are a sinner.
            Yet Christianity takes this dynamic, and flips the narrative. It stands the logic on its head. Pope Francis began his interview by stating he is a sinner. Saint Paul, in his first letter to Timothy stated, How true is that saying, and what a welcome it deserves, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I was the worst of all…[12] The authentic Christian is the one who knows they were a sinner and can proclaim the glorious transformative power that Christ’s mercy can have. I know that I am a sinner. I know the wretch that I was. I know the chains and scars that I still carry with me. I am deserving of God’s wrath and justice because I have sinned against God and man. Yet in His infinite love, God sent His Son into the world to die upon a cross so that I might have life. Blessed be God forever! Because of so great a gift of mercy, I would do anything I can to serve the one who loved me so greatly. I want people to see me and know that if God can do such good things to me, then surely he can work in their lives. As Saint Paul says, Three times I besought the Lord about this [my weakness], that it should leave me; but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.[13] That needs to be our message. That Christ can take save you from the chains of sin that held you back. That’s worth following.

            We need to decide though if we’re in this all the way. Are we going to follow Christ completely, or are we just going to dabble in it? In his interview, Pope Francis was asked about some of his favorite pieces of art. He talked about Caravaggio’s The Calling of Saint Matthew situated in the Church of St. Louis of France. Pope Francis said,

“That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” Then the pope whispers in Latin: Peccator sum, sed confido autem in infinitum misericordia et patientia in Christo Iesu Domino nostro, et accipio Pænitentiæ animo accipio.[14]

We need to decide if we’re going to clutch onto the things that have held us back or if we’re going to do follow Christ completely. The invitation has been made. Are we willing to follow? Are we willing to extend the invitation to others? This is our faith. Christ Jesus is the heart. Let us respond to the invitation, for He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. [15]

[1] Matthew 9.9
[2] II Vatican Council. Lumen Gentium. Ch. 3 §18: “This Sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father (Jn 20.21); and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion (cf. I Vatican Council. Const. Dogm. Pastor aeternus). And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ (Cf. Council of Florence. Decretum pro Græcis), the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God.”
[3] Jude 1.3
[4][4] Blessed Pope John Paul II. Redemptoris Mater. 25 March 1987. §45: “The Redeemer entrusts Mary to John because he entrusts John to Mary. At the foot of the Cross there begins that special entrusting of humanity to the Mother of Christ, which in the history of the Church has been practiced and expressed in different ways. The same Apostle and Evangelist, after reporting the words addressed by Jesus on the Cross to his Mother and to himself, adds: "And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (Jn. 19:27). This statement certainly means that the role of son was attributed to the disciple and that he assumed responsibility for the Mother of his beloved Master. And since Mary was given as a mother to him personally, the statement indicates, even though indirectly, everything expressed by the intimate relationship of a child with its mother. And all of this can be included in the word "entrusting." Such entrusting is the response to a person's love, and in particular to the love of a mother. The Marian dimension of the life of a disciple of Christ is expressed in a special way precisely through this filial entrusting to the Mother of Christ, which began with the testament of the Redeemer on Golgotha. Entrusting himself to Mary in a filial manner, the Christian, like the Apostle John, "welcomes" the Mother of Christ "into his own home"(Jn 19.27; cf. St. Augustine.In Ioan. Evang. 119.3) and brings her into everything that makes up his inner life, that is to say into his human and Christian "I": he "took her to his own home." Thus the Christian seeks to be taken into that "maternal charity" with which the Redeemer's Mother "cares for the brethren of her Son,"(II Vatican Council. Lumen Gentium, §62) "in whose birth and development she cooperates" (II Vatican Council. Lumen Gentium §63) in the measure of the gift proper to each one through the power of Christ's Spirit. Thus also is exercised that motherhood in the Spirit which became Mary's role at the foot of the Cross and in the Upper Room.”
[5] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology. Ignatius Press. San Francisco. 1987, p. 316: “But if it is true that the search for truth and the openness to it that are the subject matter of both philosophy and theology are indispensable to the humanity of man, then we have arrived here at a very central point. I am convinced, in fact, that the crisis we are experiencing in the Church and in humanity is closely allied to the exclusion of God as a topic with which reason can properly be concerned- an exclusion that has lead to the degeneration of theology first into historicism, then into sociologism, and, at the same time, to the impoverishment of philosophy.”
[6] Pope Francis. Message from the Holy Father on World Youth Day 2013: “I encourage you to think of the gifts you have received from God so that you can pass them on to others in turn. Learn to reread your personal history. Be conscious of the wonderful legacy passed down to you from previous generations. So many faith-filled people have been courageous in handing down the faith in the face of trials and incomprehension. Let us never forget that we are links in a great chain of men and women who have transmitted the truth of the faith and who depend on us to pass it on to others. Being a missionary presupposes knowledge of this legacy, which is the faith of the Church. It is necessary to know what you believe in, so that you can proclaim it. As I wrote in the introduction to the YouCat, the catechism for young people that I gave you at World Youth Day in Madrid, “you need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer. You need to understand it like a good musician knows the piece he is playing. Yes, you need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents so that you can engage the challenges and temptations of this time with strength and determination” (Foreward).
[7] Pope Francis and Antonio Spadaro, S.J. “A Big Heart Open to God-Papal Interview”. America Magazine. “The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all. The confessor for example, is always indanger of being either too much of a rigorist or too lax. Neither is merciful, because neither of them takes responsibility for the person.”
[8] Cf. Matthew 4.19
[9] Pope Francis and Spadaro. “A Big Heart”: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
[10] Pope Francis and Spadaro. “A Big Heart”: ““The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”
[11] Cf. Romans 1.18-25: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.”
[12] I Timothy 1.15
[13] II Corinthians 12.8-9
[14] “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”
[15] I Thessalonians 5.24

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