Sunday, June 29, 2014

The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail

          I cannot chalk it up to anything but God's providence that a federal judge in Indiana would declare it unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses in this state during the Fortnight For Freedom and when we are celebrating the feast of the Church's greatest martyrs, Saints Peter and Paul.  It provided a great opportunity for me to speak about how our faithfulness to God and the mission we have received from him will keep us under God's sovereignty, in spite of whatever our government tries to throw at us.  Therefore be bold!  Confess the truth about God and the human person, in love, wherever you are and you, too, will come to share the crown of righteousness!

          Click here to read the Indiana Bishops' statement regarding this week's ruling.  Take note of what they highlight as the difference between what we know as marriage and what our courts are trying to define it as.  If you are married, you should make sure that your marriage falls on the correct side of that distinction.


Homily: Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles – Cycle A
          Well, my friends, let’s face it.  When it comes to national politics, Indiana just isn’t on anybody’s radar.  If you’ve been around for a while and have been through a few election cycles, you’ll know that the words “Indiana” and “swing state” or “critical to this election” are almost never uttered in the same sentence.  Although big in size, we just don’t have enough people to make a difference one way or another.  Oh sure, perhaps one of our senate seats will be up for grabs and the outcome of that race might be important for which party has the majority, like it was in the last election cycle, but other than that Indiana doesn’t get a lot of air play on the national scene.
          The ancient Jewish nation of Judah experienced much of the same thing during the time of the early Church.  Occupied by the Roman Empire, the nation that, at different times in its history, was a powerful nation in the area was simply a small outpost along the Roman trade route with Egypt.  Nothing that happened there really made news elsewhere in the Roman Empire.
          Unlike other empires before them, the Roman Empire didn’t try to wipe out the culture of the peoples that they conquered.  Rather, they kept the local government intact, as long as it made itself obedient to Caesar.  Thus, during the time of Jesus and the early Church, a Jew named Herod was still in place as the King of Judah, in spite of the Roman occupation.
          Now Herod knew that his place as king was a tenuous one.  Many of the Jews were not happy with the Roman occupation and it looked like Herod wasn’t trying to do anything about it.  Yet he knew that to try and do anything against them would mean almost certain destruction—both for the nation and for himself—so he walked the line between the two.
          This followed into his dealings with Jewish religious life.  John the Baptizer had made quite a stir with his teachings; and when Herod let himself get tricked into having him killed, he knew that it didn’t bode well with the people.  And so when Jesus came his way, he basically ignored him, sending him back to Pilate to be judged.
          The nascent group of Jesus’ followers, however, was causing a real stir in Judah and so, increasingly, Herod knew that he was going to have to act.  When he did take a firm action and had James the Apostle killed, he found that the people, in general, were pleased with this and, thus, that it boosted his image.  Emboldened by this, he then had Peter arrested so as to convict and execute him as well.  Perhaps he thought that if he worked swiftly and decisively against these followers of Jesus that he would get noticed by Rome (and at least secure his place as King of Judah).
          A federal judge here in Indiana has, in a way, done much of the same thing in this past week.  Seeing that bans on giving marriage licenses to couples of the same sex were being ruled “unconstitutional” in states across the nation, he ruled the same here in Indiana.  Now, I cannot stand here and claim that this was in any way an attempt by this judge to grab notoriety.  I don’t know anything about him except that he is the judge that ruled that Indiana’s ban on giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples is “unconstitutional”.  Nevertheless, it does seem to me to be an example of someone who might not otherwise tread out into tumultuous waters such as these being emboldened to do so because he sees that it is “pleasing to the people”.
          With Peter and Paul, however, we see that it wasn’t the political power that had the last word.  Although after having Peter arrested Herod had him bound and guarded tighter than any other criminal, God intervened and provided for Peter’s escape.  Of course, we know that this would be only a temporary escape and that in the not-so-distant future Peter would find himself in Rome where he would be crucified on the Vatican hill.  Nevertheless, this was a clear sign that God was in control and that he would not let Peter be martyred until he had finished the mission he had given him.
          In Paul’s letter to Timothy he speaks of how he, too, was delivered by God so that he could “finish the race”—that is, complete his mission here on earth.  He speaks of the Lord standing by him and giving him strength and of how the Lord rescued him “from the lion’s mouth” when all of his companions had abandoned him, so that “the proclamation might be completed”; which, for Paul, also led him to Rome where he, too, would be martyred.  These were meant to be proofs, both to Peter and to Paul—and to the Church and to those who were persecuting it—that God’s mission for these men (and, thus, the Church) would not be thwarted by the powers of this world.
          And this is the message that comes to us at this dangerous moment in the life of our nation (and, now, our state).  The powers that be continue to make decisions that undermine the institutions that are the foundations of our society.  These decisions are already negatively affecting the Church.  Catholic adoption agencies in states where couples of the same sex are given licenses to marry are forced to close their doors when federal funding is taken away from them because they refuse to place children in homes of same-sex couples.  Catholic health care institutions throughout the country are threatened by the Health and Human Services mandate that all employers must provide contraception in their employee’s health benefits.  Now, what constitutes a family is being completely redefined and it would be naïve to think that this will not, eventually, affect the Church.
          Yet what we celebrate today is that the sovereignty of God is greater than our fault-filled attempts to govern ourselves.  Just as God would not let Peter or Paul be martyred before their mission on earth was complete, so too he will not let these evil powers prevail against us until our mission here is complete.  We will only see that, however, if we remain faithful to our mission, like Peter and Paul did.  If we do, then we will be able to say, like Paul, that, even though we are “being poured out like a libation”, we know that the “crown of righteousness awaits [us]”; because we have “competed well” and have “finished the race”.  And, thus, we, too, will know that Jesus’ promise to Peter is true: for the “gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against [us]”.
          This, my brothers and sisters, is what we celebrate today: that, through Jesus, evil has been conquered, even if it still exists today; and that in his Church, founded on the pillars of the Apostles Peter and Paul, we are secure.  But, if we are secure, it is only so that we can fulfill our mission: the work of building up his kingdom that he has given to each one of us.
          Therefore, my brothers and sisters, we cannot lay idle.  Rather, we must finish the race.  Let us not think that we are too small to make a difference: for Peter was an uneducated fisherman, unqualified to lead, yet qualified by his faith in Christ, and Paul, although learned, was also a great sinner who, by God’s grace, turned from his effort to destroy the Church to become its greatest builder.  Each of us can and will make a difference if we remain faithful to our call and finish the race.  Fed and strengthened by this Eucharist—and by our support of one another—we cannot fail to finish it.
          Let us, then, take courage to continue to speak boldly the truths about God and the human person which God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ, and to act on them by serving one another, so that, when we have finished the race, we, too, might receive the “crown of righteousness” that both Peter and Paul received: the gift of eternal life.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – June 29th, 2014

The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

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