Homily: 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Evangelical Catholicism is the name that Catholic author George Weigel gives to the “mode of being” that he proposes the Church must take on in order to remain a relevant voice proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in the 21st century. Among other things, Mr. Weigel proposes that, in contrast to the inwardly-focused Church of the Counter Reformation (which is the Church that we all know as the “pre-Vatican II Church”)—in which communion with the Church had clearly defined boundaries (you are either “in” or “out”) and was guarded closely by the Church hierarchy—an evangelical Catholic Church would be one that admits of various “degrees of communion”: that is, that having received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and communion would be the basis of communion, but that one could be more or less “in communion” with God and the Church based on how deeply one engaged the faith.
To be sure, this isn’t the first time that God’s people have grappled with this notion. In our Gospel today, Jesus encounters someone who is asking that very question. He or she says, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Really, what he or she is asking is “Lord, is salvation only for the select few (that is, the affiliated), or is it truly for everybody?” You see, in the ancient Jewish understanding of it, God selected the descendents of Abraham—
twelve sons (otherwise known as the Israelites)—to be his specially chosen
people on whom his favor would rest. Yet
in prophesies—much like the one we heard today from the prophet Isaiah—God revealed
that his favor (that is, salvation) would extend to peoples of every race and
nation throughout the world. And so this
person, it seems, was trying to see if this “salvation” that Jesus was talking
about would be just for a select few—meaning God’s “chosen” people—or if it
would be available to anyone, thus ushering in the final age that gathers all
of the nations into one in Jerusalem. Israel
Jesus, for his part, answers the question by saying something somewhat controversial: Affiliation in a particular group won’t be enough on its own to be saved. In other words, just being a part of the Israelite heritage won’t be enough for you to enter the
. This would have been a “slap in the face” to
many who saw themselves as “guaranteed a spot” in God’s coming Kingdom because
of their ancestral lineage. Kingdom
I suspect that I might find a few folks that, perhaps unwittingly, believe the same thing even today. The culture of the Counter Reformation Church was one that focused heavily on the notion that there would be “no salvation outside of the Church” and thus that salvation was all but guaranteed as long as you maintained a valid membership card in the Catholic Church. For these individuals, Mr. Weigel’s proposal that an evangelical Church is one that admits of varying “degrees of communion”—degrees that are affected by the level in which one engages in the faith, instead of being defined solely by the sacraments one has received—would be a similar “slap in the face”; because in this kind of thinking, for example, a non-Catholic Christian who adheres closely to biblical moral teaching could be considered more deeply in communion with the Church (and thus closer to salvation) than a fully-initiated Catholic who publically advocates for abortion rights or for the rights of same-sex couples to be married.
In answer to his interlocutor, Jesus offers encouragement. He says, “Strive to enter the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” Really, what he’s saying to him is: “Yes, salvation is available to everyone; but it isn’t easy to obtain. Salvation requires more than just affiliation; it requires effort and strength to live a life in communion with God and with others.” For many (and, perhaps, for this person) this was Good News, for it meant that there was hope for everyone, not just for the religious elite or those with Israelite heritage.
For us today Jesus’ message of encouragement is the same: “Strive to enter the narrow gate.” In other words, don’t just rest on your laurels of having received all of the sacraments of initiation and of having “punched your timecard” every Sunday. Rather, be a striving Catholic, an evangelical Catholic: someone who engages faith deeply, seeking a profound friendship with the master who is our communion so that at the final judgment you won’t be found outside of the door, pleading to get in and hearing those desperate words: “I do not know where you are from. Depart from me…”
This morning, we celebrated the Sacrament of Baptism for two children, Kate and David, which for them is the firm foundation for communion with Christ in the Church. Among their parents and godparents were Cradle Catholics, a convert to Catholicism, Catholics from the other side of the world (Burma) and one who witnessed it all as he awaits his own baptism at the Easter Vigil next spring. The message for them all, however, was the same: Salvation is yours, but you must strive for it.
My brothers and sisters, our Lord wants more from us than just membership in the Catholic Church, he wants communion. Our baptism is the entrance to that communion and what we receive from this altar effects that communion in its deepest sense, but only if we are striving for it. Therefore, do not be idle there in your pew, but choose today to seek what you receive and I promise you will find so much more: profound friendship with Jesus now and eternal joy with him in heaven.
Given at All Saints Parish:
– August 25th, 2013 Logansport, IN