Sunday, October 7, 2018

Human dignity and the mission of the Church

Homily: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Friends, when we listen to our Scriptures today we can see that they are inviting us to consider God’s plan for marriage: that, “from the beginning” God made humankind male and female and that marriage—the union of man and woman in an indissoluble bond—is so fundamental to human nature, that it causes persons to break the natural bonds of family to enter into it.  I think that if we look a little more closely, however, we can see that these readings speak to us of something even deeper.
Within this exposition of God’s plan for marriage, we see revealed something of the dignity of humankind.  In our reading from the Book of Genesis we begin by hearing God, having just created man, exclaim “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.”  Then God creates the animals of the earth and presents them to the man, none of which prove to be a “suitable partner”.  Saint John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, explains to us that God, in this story, is not some “bumbling inventor” trying to impress the man and failing before he comes up with the “genius idea” to make one “equal” to him to be his partner.  Rather, God is slowly revealing to the man something very important about himself: that he is not one unique type of animal, otherwise equal to them; but rather he is above them, more like God than the other animals.  This “original solitude”, as Saint John Paul II calls it—man recognizing that he is alone and without a “suitable partner” among the animals—is a sign of that fact.  The “suitable partner”, therefore, is the one who is “bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh”, that is, one who is equal to him: a human person.
This idea is further shown to us in the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews.  There, the author reminds us that Jesus came to live as one of us so that “he might taste death for everyone”: meaning that he would pay the price for our sins so that we might be restored to communion with God, which we lost through the sin of our first parents.  The author reveals that Jesus did this because he is “of the same origin” of those who he saved.  “He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin”, he wrote, reflecting what was revealed to us through the creation story of the book of Genesis: that we are not just one type of animal among the others, but that we are above them, more like God than the other animals.
Friends, that Jesus, the Son of God, who is God himself, came to save us from sin and eternal death because he is “of the same origin” as us is not news to us (or, at least, it shouldn’t be).  What we sometimes forget, however, is that Jesus did not just come to save us (although that was his primary mission).  Rather, he also came to establish a Church to be the place where humankind would be reminded of this truth that sin has caused him to forget: that we have a particular dignity above the other creatures and that our destiny is not in this world, but in a world yet unknown to us, in which we will come to know God face to face: a dignity not afforded to any of the other animals.
            Ever since Christ’s ascension, the Church has proclaimed this truth that had been forgotten by man.  Today, this continues so that every person might rediscover their original dignity and order their lives in such a way so as to realize the end for which they were made: eternal life with God.  This proclamation happens though an enduring structure that helps ensure that this mission is as widespread as possible.  Our diocese, the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana provides for this mission here in north-central Indiana.  As a parish, we are here because of a diocese (originally, the diocese of Vincennes, then the diocese of Fort Wayne, and now, for the past 74 years, the diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana).  It is through the diocese that we realize that we are connected to something bigger, something truly universal.
As a parish, we have a responsibility and a capacity to reach many persons with this saving message; but we can’t reach everyone.  Through the diocese, persons who might not otherwise be touched by this saving message, or efficiencies that might not otherwise be realized, are made possible for us.  One perennial example is Catholic ministries at universities in our diocese.  Saint Thomas Aquinas parish on Purdue’s campus, Saint Francis of Assisi parish on Ball State’s Campus, and the Newman Center ministry on Wabash College’s campus are all supported by funds provided by the diocese because, as all of you well know, I’m sure, none of them could survive on contributions provided by students alone.
Further, the diocesan offices help support parishes by providing resources to help each parish accomplish its mission: its various offices helping to provide and support priests for every parish, administrative support (from human resources, to payroll, to IT support, and beyond), and pastoral support: so that parishes with less resources don’t always have to “re-invent the wheel” to provide quality ministry to those whom they serve.
Therefore, we, as Catholics, have a responsibility to our parish and, because of our parish, to the diocese.  The biennial Fruitful Harvest Appeal is our opportunity to directly help the Bishop in his ministries—ministries that we could not provide on our own—and the administration of the diocese as a whole: without which we would not exist as a parish.  It is fundamental that we support Fruitful Harvest so that this mission to bring this radical message of the dignity of each human person, redeemed as they have been in Christ, to all who are in need of hearing it continues (even if we, ourselves, may be in need of hearing it again).
As a sign of our recognition of our responsibility to the Bishop, and of our gratefulness to God that we have this diocese through which we connect with him, we are all invited to offer our pledges here today at Mass to be united to the sacrifice of the Eucharist that will be presented on this altar.  If you received your pledge card in the mail and have already returned it, THANK YOU!  If you brought your pledge card with you today, great.  In a few moments we will collect it from you.  If you forgot your pledge card, but still want to make your pledge with us here today, or if you didn’t receive a pledge card in the mail, but want to be included, please use one of the blank cards in the pew.  We’ll give you a couple of minutes to fill it out before taking up the collection.  When the ushers come forward, please place your cards—sealed in the envelopes—into the baskets.  Please be generous.  In this difficult time for God’s Church, your gifts are sign of faith that the Church is Jesus Christ’s and not man’s and that its mission to proclaim to each person their exalted dignity must continue.
On behalf of Bishop Doherty and his staff, thank you for your generosity.  May God bless each of us as we Walk Together in the Light of Christ.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – October 6th & 7th, 2018

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