Sunday, January 22, 2017

The garden that flourishes

          Friends, please pray with me tomorrow for a greater respect for life: especially that our nation will become a place where every life, from conception to natural death, is protected and respected.
Homily: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A
          If there is anything that last year’s election and this past Friday’s presidential inauguration has demonstrated for us, it is that our country remains woefully divided.  This is sad, because ultimately we should be celebrating our democracy and looking forward to the future; but instead we are bickering like overly-emotional twelve year olds trying to make mom or dad pick a side and declare a winner.
          And while I wish that I could say that this is a secular problem that doesn’t affect the Church, simple observation will show that it is a human problem; and since the Church is as much a human institution as it is a divine one, our human capacity to bicker like twelve year olds finds its own place among us.  The history of the Church, in fact, is a history of one crisis after another.  This is because, as I’ve already mentioned, of our fallen human nature, but also because, from the time of Christ's Ascension into heaven until the day of his Second Coming, the Church has been and will continue to be engaged in a spiritual war, in which Satan attacks our fallen humanity and constantly seeks to divide us. 
          This very fact is on display even in the first generation of Christians.  If you read through Saint Paul's letters, you’ll find that many of them were, in fact, exercises in crisis management, written in response to crises of faith, morals, or church discipline.  The passage we heard today from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is a good example of this.
          Paul had founded the Christian community in Corinth during his second missionary journey.  As he usually did, he spent months gathering and instructing believers after which he appointed local leaders—the first priests and bishops—to continue his work, while he moved on to another place to repeat the same work.  Now, however, he has received news that the community he established in Corinth is becoming divided.  Strife has broken out among different cliques of believers, who had declared allegiances to different early Church leaders, thus breaking up the family of Christians.  And so Saint Paul wrote to them to remind them that it's not the person who preaches that matters, but rather the person who is preached: that is, Jesus Christ, and that all Christians are called to be united in Christ, the one Lord, not divided into camps of “I’m with her” or “I’m with him”.  He strongly exhorts them to "be united in the same mind and in the same purpose", because Christ is of one mind and of one purpose. 
          This same problem has come up many times in the history of the Church.  For example, in the thirteenth century, when the Franciscans and the Dominicans were founded, many Catholics began to be divided: praising one group while criticizing the other.  This, of course, was a division that neither Francis nor Dominic intended and which, like Saint Paul, they worked diligently to eliminate.
          Today, of course, we face the same temptation.  In recent years, God has raised up a variety of new movements, religious orders, apostolates, and lay associations.  He has done this in order to open up new channels of grace, arming and supporting the Church in a new period of history.  Unfortunately, this flowering of new spiritualties has also caused rivalries and divisions.  “Unfortunately”, because we all know that a garden is often most beautiful and most flourishing when there are a wide variety of blossoms within it.  And so why would any of us in the garden criticize the roses because they don’t look like daffodils, or criticize the daffodils because they don’t smell like lilies?  My brothers and sisters, as Saint Paul urges us, we must put to rest all un-Christian rivalries, we must silence all of our destructive criticism, and we must be of one mind and of one purpose if we hope to fulfill God’s one purpose for us: that is, that all peoples would be united to him in the Catholic Church.
          So why haven’t we done this yet?  Because, as I’ve mentioned earlier, we are fallen human beings and we are full of selfish tendencies.  Thanks be to God, therefore, that Christ is always at work in us to counteract our fallen nature.  Through prayer and the sacraments, his grace penetrates our minds and hearts, transforming us into mature, wise, and fruitful Christians.  But God's grace doesn't do all the work for us; rather, he gives it freely and then leaves it up to us to put it to good use.  And while there are many practical things that we can do to activate God's grace and become agents of unity, instead of division, today I’ll highlight just two (this is your homework).
          First, we must develop self-discipline in what we say.  Words, as we all know, can be powerful weapons for both good and evil.  In today's culture, lack of respect for words has become rampant (just spend five minutes on social media and you’ll see).  Sadly, it has become normal and acceptable to use words like knives, cutting people up.  A Christian, however, should use words like keys: opening hearts and minds, encouraging others, building communion, speaking well of one's neighbors, or not speaking at all.  If we hope to be agents of unity, instead of division, my brothers and sisters, then this is a skill that we all must practice constantly.
          Second, we must develop self-control in the area of our emotions.  How many times have we regretted words spoken in anger, emails or texts written in frustration, and decisions made in the midst of passion?  When waves of strong emotions break over us like a storm, they can cause us to lose our self-discipline in what we say and quickly lead us to use words destructively.  Therefore, even if our emotions seem righteous, we should practice the discipline of walking away from any important decisions, conversations, or correspondence until our emotions have subsided and we can think clearly again.  Then we will be ready to use our words constructively and thus contribute to building up the Church and our community, instead of tearing it down.
          Of course all this disunity and division will not disappear overnight; but it will disappear if we begin to work diligently towards building up unity by being “united in the same mind and in the same purpose”, which is Christ.  And so, today, as Christ renews his commitment to us in this Mass, let's ask him for the grace that we will need to heal the divisions that plague us, and let us promise to do our part to always be "united in mind and purpose" with him and with his Church.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 22nd, 2017

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