Homily for the XIV Sunday Through the YEar
5 July 2015
Parish Church of St. John the Baptist, New Haven
“I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Thus St. Paul speaks to us in today’s epistle. Persecutions. (PAUSE) Persecutions. I think that very soon we will know a good deal about persecutions. Last weekend, as you know, the Supreme Court of this country legalized marriage between persons of the same sex, the capstone of a movement throughout modern society that has rejected the truth of human sexuality written into the natural law and our human nature. And while it is true that the action of the Supreme Court is unjust and contrary to the natural law, it is not an isolated event. It is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court would have legalized marriage between members of the same sex if the rest of American society had not already come to accept it. Just last year, a study found that 57% of American Catholics, CATHOLICS, supported a “right to marry” for members of the same sex, and 70% said that homosexuality should be accepted rather than discouraged. And the numbers for those who claimed to go to Mass on a weekly basis were not much lower.
The consequences of this decision, as we know, will be far reaching, especially for our ability to practice our Catholic faith in public life. We have heard already of those involved in the wedding industry being sued for their refusal to violate their consciences in providing services that recognize the legitimacy of same-sex unions. In fact, just last week, one such couple was issued a cease-and-desist order from even speaking about their religious convictions in public, in a move more reminiscent of the totalitarian regime of North Korea than what one would hope for from our own beloved country. Gradually, our freedom to practice our religion is being reduced to a freedom merely to worship in private as our freedom to live our faith as Catholics in public is trampled upon. They have come for the bakers and florists, and eventually they will come for us, the ministers of the Church, and eventually they will come for our tax-free status. Yes, the persecution is coming.
Even beyond the institutional persecution that the Church will experience, persecution in the court of public opinion is already underway. Many of you, I’m sure, in your work places or among your friends and acquaintances have discovered that it is no longer publicly acceptable to hold the truth taught by Christ and His Church regarding human sexuality. Again, just last year, the CEO of a major technology corporation was forced to resign because of his opposition to the legalization of same-sex marriage, and many of you, I’m sure, have experienced the public shame rapidly being heaped on those of us who have been determined to be “on the wrong side of history.”
In the face of the massive headwinds of cultural change, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But St. Paul tells us, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” If our appointed hour is at hand, our chance to suffer humiliation and persecution for the sake of Christ and His truth, then, like St. Paul, we should rejoice! We should rejoice because we have been found worthy to fill up what is lacking in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, that is, our participation in His sacrifice. No one was more “on the wrong side of history” than our Lord, no one has proclaimed a teaching more contrary to the values of his own culture than our Lord, and no one has suffered more cruelly and more undeservedly than He did. So if we have been found worthy to suffer weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of the truth that we received from Him through His Church we should rejoice, because we have been found worthy of imitating Him.
Many people have asked me since last Friday, “Father, what do we do now?” For many years so many people have fought valiantly to proclaim the truth regarding human sexuality, the proper love of a man and a woman. They have spoken the truth with love and compassion, and yet they have not been believed. But again, we should not be surprised. In the Gospel today the people of our Lord’s native place come out to hear Him teach but, it says, “they took offense at Him.” And if the people of Nazareth took offense at our Lord, how much more will the people of New Haven, of Allen County, of Indiana, of the United States take offense at us when we dare to proclaim the truth regarding marriage and human sexuality. And indeed, they have taken offense.
So indeed, what do we do now? What do we when we wake up to find that the cultural ground on which we stood has changed so much and the court of public opinion has been, at least on a national level, thoroughly lost? What do we do in the face of weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints? First, I want to offer one caveat. We can never give up the proclamation of the Truth, because Jesus Christ is the Truth, and we can never stop proclaiming Him. That said, we will need to come up with new arguments, new strategies of communication, new ways of winning people over. But that is not my focus today. Today, I want to focus on how do we suffer persecution, because we will be facing it very soon.
The first response is this: The most important and fundamental element of our response is our own personal holiness. In the face of conflict, loss, and persecution, the response of the Christian must always be to look back to himself and examine his own life. Any progress to be made, any victory for Christ, will come first through our own holiness. So the solution to the challenge facing us is not just a renewed apologetic, a renewed explanation of the faith, but a deepening of our own commitment to Christ, but often we think that the problem lies with others instead of with ourselves. So the first step in renewing our proclamation of the truth about marriage and human sexuality is in being better Christians. It means more attendance at Holy Mass; more confessions; more acts of sacrifice and penance, especially on Fridays; more time spent adoring our Lord in the Most Holy Eucharist at adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, available in this church every Thursday afternoon and evening; more acts of reparation for the atrocities committed against the Sacred Heart of Jesus by our world; more acts of love and devotion for our families, friends, and communities; more of our time, talent, and treasure given to the poor and needy; more time spent every day in prayer, especially the Holy Rosary. In short, as Catholics, we need to get “back to basics.”
The second response is just as important: love. We have been told countless times that we must love everyone, and it is ultimately in the ways in which we love that our religious convictions will be found credible or wanting. In this regard, the way in which we speak about these issues is of tantamount importance. It can be so tempting to react harshly and rashly with a negative comment to others or, worse yet, on social media, but we have to be conscious that all of our reactions, all our words and deeds, are forming people’s perception of the Church’s teaching. It is very difficult to accept the Church’s teaching on marriage as true and life-giving for someone whose experience is of judgementalism, accusations, and mean-spirited comments from Christians. Love. (PAUSE) Love for our persecutors, love for those who live apart from the truth of the Gospel, love for those who vilify us, love for those who hate us. Only love.
This gentle witness of love is also important because of the presence of our brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attractions. Like all people, those who deal with this reality want to be loved and accepted. Many are scared to talk about their experience, scared that they will be rejected and scorned, especially by practicing Catholics. They do not conform to simplistic stereotypes and oftentimes they are married or in heterosexual relationships. If you think that you don’t know anyone who experiences this, or that you are free to speak about it in a disrespectful or belittling way, then you have allowed the Evil One to deceive you. It is also the case that nearly everyone now has friends or family members who experience same-sex attraction, and many people are offended by the way that religious people frequently speak about this issue. We must do everything we can to speak and act with respect and love in order to communicate the unconditional love of Christ for all peoples, even as we speak the truth regarding marriage.
Our witness of love is important for another reason: as acceptance of behaviors contrary to truth of human sexuality continues to grow, those who hold to that truth will increasingly be labeled as bigots with irrational prejudices who cannot be reasoned with and are to be ostracized from public discourse and censored, and who will even cease to be polite company. In such an environment, which I fear is not too far away, when we are no longer regarded as possible interlocutors in rational discourse, our witness of love will be all we have left.
“I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” St. Paul’s words come back to us again. “I am content.” It’s hard to imagine that one could be content when faced with such tribulations. But we should remember that we stand in a long line of saints who have bravely faced persecutions, and even death, saints who have defied the civil power for the sake of the Gospel. The first Christians, such as Saints Peter and Paul, did not have hospitals, schools, church buildings, or tax-exempt status that they risked losing. And perhaps they were better for it. It is possible that we have grown complacent and content with our institutionalized Catholicism. But they faced down even harsher persecutions than we, and why? Why were they, in St. Paul’s words, content? Why were they strongest when they were weakest? In a word, because they had Christ. After all, who has become weaker than Christ, very God Himself who deigned to suffer as a slave on the Cross? Who has been subject to more cruelty and persecution unworthily than Our Lord? If we are content to suffer, it is only because He was content to suffer, He was content to be scorned, He was content to be mocked, He was content to be spit upon, and in our suffering we are, mysteriously, close to Him. When we are weak because of persecution by the State and Society, we are at our strongest because we are closest to Christ.
May His Blessed Mother, who stood at the foot of the Cross, intercede for us, that we might grown in holiness and offer a consistent witness of love to our world, which is so in need of the love of Her Son.