Saturday, October 5, 2013

Usquequo, Domine, clamabo, et non exaudies?

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 6th, 2013

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Parish (Union Street)
Rev. Michael Taylor

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
And thou wilt not hear?
Or cry to thee, “Violence!”
And thou wilt not save? [1]

                               What does it mean to proclaim the faith in the modern world? What does it mean to say that the message of Jesus Christ must be suited for contemporary times? The II Vatican Council declared, “the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present  life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other.” [2] So what language is intelligible to modern man? There’s a story that I pass along quite frequently from the 19th century philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard who tried to explain the challenge of warning the world. “In a theatre, it happened that a fire started offstage. The clown came out to tell the audience. They thought it was a joke and applauded. He told them again, and they became still more hilarious. This is the way, I suppose, that the world will be destroyed-amid the universal hilarity of wits and wages who think it is all a joke.”[3] Kierkegaard wasn’t a really cheerful storyteller. Ratzinger used Kierkegaard’s story in his book, Introduction to Christianity,[4] to point out though this is the Christian preacher in the modern world. Dressed in funny attire and yelling about things that don’t seem to make any sense, people assume he is just hooting and hollering to get people to fill the pews in order to put on a show for them to enjoy.
                               And so it is with us still today. The very language that we use to describe our faith is not making any sense. We tell of God’s mercy to a world that does not believe in God’s justice, we preach forgiveness to a world that doesn’t believe in sin, we warn against hell to a world that only believes in heaven, and while the world says we can have everything we want and be comfortable, we preach a Christ who tells his disciples, “if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.[5] It doesn’t seem like we’re preaching a language that’s understandable to the modern world.
                               Yet this problem is not unique to our times. When we look at our first reading, we see Habakkuk lamenting the same thing. He certainly seems to be bewildered by what is going on around him. He cries out, why dost thou make me see wrongs and look upon trouble [6] or when he says, behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith.[7] If you ever spend time with the prophets, they’re constantly warning, weeping, lamenting and in general just being real killjoys at the party. Who would want to be a prophet, really? Is it really the job of the priest to preach woe? I mean, I don’t want to have to talk about hard things.  I don’t get any sense of satisfaction about talking about sin, or any sense of joy from admonishing. I don’t want to be the funny dressed clown who’s jumping up and down about the coming fire. Yet there it is, right in the middle of our mass. I feel like Jeremiah when he prayed, O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived; thou art stronger than I, and thou hast prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; every one mocks me. For whenever I speak out, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all the day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.[8]
                               So there is this anxiety within me. When I see so many of the parents dropping their kids off for religious education but not attending mass, I am reminded of Jesus’ parable of what happened to those who refused the King’s invitation to the wedding feast.[9] When I think of last week’s gospel, and see how many of us have become inactive in our helping of the poor, I am nervous.[10] When I hear Jesus say things like he does in John He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him [11] or in Matthew , enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few,[12] and I see people walking away from the faith and no longer practicing, I am fearful.[13]
                               I have dedicated my life to Christ Jesus. I have dedicated my life to following him, completely, without reservation. And I have spent years studying scriptures and in doing so, reading them with the guides of the Church and her teachings. I would much rather be able to focus on the happier sayings of Christ, the easier sayings. Yet Jesus speaks of harder things too. There are some realities that we have to acknowledge. There is heaven to be sure. But there is also hell [14] and it is eternal.[15] And there is purgatory where those who are not condemned will still have to be purified.[16] Does not the bible say nothing unclean shall enter [heaven]? [17] Can we really say that right now we are without stain or blot of sin? Does not the Beloved Apostle warn us against making such a claim, that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us? [18] Why else would we pray for the dead at every mass? If they are in hell, our prayers could not help them. If they are in heaven, our prayers are not needed. Yet from the beginning, the Church have prayed for those whom have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.
                               Yet, what is the point to speaking of such things? The first is that we do not grow lax in the practice of our faith. Saint Paul encourages us to work our salvation with fear and trembling[19] and Saint Peter writes therefore, brethren, be more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall.[20] Still more importantly, if we become zealous for Christ, to let whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,[21] then people will become attracted to the faith. Most importantly, we need to rediscover our zeal for evangelization. Pope Francis has said that we need to get out into the streets, to go out and preach the Gospel.[22] The stakes are serious. We have to let people know about Christ Jesus. We cannot remain silent. Jesus did not make the great commission an option. He said, go therefore and make disciples! [23] Saint Paul says everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? [24] Without Christ there is no hope! Paul VI wrote “The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed.” [25] Pope Francis, in his first homily as pope said, “When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.” [26] We need to proclaim witness to Christ Jesus in word and deed. We cannot fail to be prophets.

[1] Habukkuk 1.2-3 [All scripture quotations taken from the Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition (RSV-CE) unless otherwise noted.]
[2] II Vatican Council. Gaudium et spes. §4
[3] Søren Kierkegaard. Either/Or: A Fragment of Life. Vol. 1. 1843, p. 30
[4] cf. Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI). Introduction to Christianity. Ignatius Press. 1968, p. 39
[5] Matthew 16.24
[6] Habakkuk 1.3
[7] Habakkuk 2.4
[8] Jeremiah 20.7-9
[9] cf. Matthew 22.1-7: And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to the marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again, he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”
[10] Cf. Luke 16.19-31
[11] John 3.36
[12] Matthew 7.13-14
[13] cf. II Vatican Council. Lumen Gentium. §14: “This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism(124) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.”
[14] Catechism of the Catholic Church §1034: Jesus often speaks of ‘Gehenna’ of “the unquenchable fire” reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost (cf. Mt 5.22; Mt 5.29; Mt 10.28; Mt. 13.42; Mt 13.50; Mk 9.43-48). Jesus solemnly proclaims that he “will send his angels, and they will gather…all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire,” (Mt 13.41-42) and that he will pronounce the condemnation: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!” (Mt. 25.41)
[15] Catechism of the Catholic Church §1035: The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire”. The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
[16]Catechism of the Catholic Church §1031-1032: The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned [Council of Florence (1439) and Council of Trent (1563); See also Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus (1336). The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent, the tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire (cf. I Corinthians 3.15; I Peter 1.7). “As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Finale Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgive in this age, but others in the age to come (Saint Gregory the Great, Dialogues 3.29; Matthew 12.31).”

§1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture. “Therefore Judas Maccabeus made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (II Macc. 1246). From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God (cf. Council of Lyons II-1274). The Church also comments almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead. “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for me (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. In I Cor. 41 §5).
[17] Revelation 21.27
[18] I John 1.8
[19] Philippians 2.12
[20] II Peter 1.10
[21] Colossians 3.17
[22] cf. Pope Francis and Antonio Spedaro, SJ. “A Big Heart Open to God.” 30SEP2013. “We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound.”
[23] Matthew 28.19
[24] Romans 10.13-14
[25] Pope Paul VI. Evangelii Nuntiandi. 1975, §22
[26] Pope Francis. “Homily of the Holy Father Pope Francis.” Sistine Chapel. 14MAR2013 

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