11 Sep Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 10th, 2017
Father Shawn Hughes
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. So as we begin to post these homilies on our website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be nothing original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures.
God bless you.
It is often said that Jesus came to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable.
This weekend’s readings are very disturbing for us who are comfortable.
“Am I my Brother’s Keeper!”
This is Cain’s response to God when God came looking for Abel after Cain had killed him. “Where is Abel your brother?” God asks. And Cain replied: “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)
Today’s (This Sunday’s) readings answer with a resounding “Yes.” Yes we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.
Our readings today teach us what is referred to as fraternal correction and what our attitude should be towards those who exclude themselves.
The Scriptures today challenge us that out of love for those living in error we have a concrete responsibility to correct our brothers and sisters. In today’s gospel Jesus gives simple and concrete norms to tell us how to proceed in cases of conflict. If a brother or sister sins, we must not denounce him/her publicly. First we must speak to them alone. We need to try to find out why they acted in that way. Then if we get no result, then we are to call two or three members of the community to see whether some result can be achieved. And if there is no result then it is to be brought before the whole community. And if still no result is forthcoming anyone who does not listen to the community has cut him or herself off from the community.
Our first reading today is even stronger. The prophet Ezekiel clearly states that we have a responsibility and we are obligated to warn the wicked to turn away from their sinful ways so that they may be saved from spiritual death. If the sinners ignore our pleas to repent, they will suffer eternal damnation. (Ezekiel 33:7-9)
This is extremely hard to hear in our extremely individualistic age. We are loathe to say to someone else that their lifestyle or the choices they are making are wrong and hurting them spiritually. We can easily fall into the trap that our modern society falls into: that what I believe may be fine for me but I cannot impose that on anyone else. A good example: after one Mass when I was talking about the physician assisted suicide and that we had to speak up for the rights of our Catholic Health Care professionals, a person stopped me at the door of the church and said: “Father, I would never request for a doctor to kill me. I would never counsel anyone to have an abortion or kill my child. But I can’t tell anyone else that that is wrong.” What that person was saying is that what is truth for them is not necessarily truth for others. What this person was saying is that even though this person would never kill themselves, or have themselves killed or kill their child that they couldn’t tell anyone else that it was wrong for them to kill themselves or have their child killed. Such thinking makes no sense. But it is how our society has come to think.
This is the dictatorship of relativism that Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have so strongly spoken against. Relativism meaning that truth is defined by each individual and not universally applicable to all.
So I tried to gently and lovingly explain to this person that you can’t have two truths. Both of those positions can’t be right. It can’t be right for the person with whom I was speaking not to kill themselves or their child and for someone else it is OK. There can only be one objective truth. Jesus said very clearly: “I am the truth.” So we must wrestle to shape our will to God’s will. The person persisted and said well I don’t believe that I can impose my beliefs on someone else. Impose no! Everyone has free will and everyone makes choices. But, the Scriptures strongly state today that we are obligated to speak to people when they are doing something wrong, explain that they are spiritually in trouble…out love for them.
That brings us to another whole consideration…out of love for them. Do we love people enough to tell them they are doing something that is endangering their souls? Do we even believe that what the Church has defined as serious sin can endanger one’s soul when one persists in serious sin without repentance. A priest friend of mine said his father would often say: “I sure hope that someone would love me enough to point out my sins if the choices I was making would end me up in Hell.”
We saw a very strong example of fraternal correction in last week’s readings. Immediately after Jesus conferred on Peter his unique sacred office, “You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church. And the Gates of Hell cannot prevail against it” he reveals to the apostles his mission to suffer and die in Jerusalem. It was too much for Peter. Peter’s preconceptions wanted the Messiah to be a divine ruler, not the suffering servant promised by the prophet Isaiah. So Peter “…took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
The Lord’s response is immediate and stinging: Jesus “…turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.’” (Mt 16:23)
This is fraternal correction. The Lord’s rebuke may seem harsh by our standards. We mostly tend to share Peter’s fear of and contempt for—the necessity of suffering in the struggle against evil in this life. But Jesus’ rebuke and today’s readings demand that we stand up and speak the truth in the face of evil, when our brothers and sisters are actually making choices that harm their souls…harm their hope for eternal salvation.
From time to time you have seen quoted in the bulletin, Edmund Burke, the 18th C. Irish philosopher and politician who famously said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Saying nothing implies complicity in the evil…even agreement.
The Lord frequently teaches that salvation and the consequent union with God is, ultimately, a personal thing; nobody can take our place in this personal dealing with God. But, our Scriptures today, highlight that He also desires that we support each other and that we help each other on our way towards our final goal of Heaven. This support should be shown especially amongst those with whom we have spiritual bonds, especially the members of our families.
If you don’t lovingly and gently correct your children,…even your grown children….. your grandchildren, your friends and colleagues …… who will? I strongly emphasise lovingly and gently. So many will say: “I can’t do that,…I don’t want to rock the boat, disturb the peace”…and admittedly it is frightening to take the risk to do so…but we have to take seriously the good of their souls. That is how much we love them.
We risk being called self-righteous, even judgmental… Judging someone does not mean that we don’t point out that something is wrong…Judging someone lacks love, lacks hope, it means we don’t think they can change… Pointing out that what they are doing is wrong and pointing it out lovingly and gently, is not self-righteous or judgmental. It is an act of love.
Our second reading last week strongly encouraged us to “not be conformed to this world, but allow our minds to be transformed and renewed so we could know God’s will… so we could know what is good, acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
We are called to encourage our loved ones to change, and to repent.
We are all called to repentance. We are to repent when we have failed to love in the way God has called us to love. For most of our loved ones, for all of us, that simply means they have to go to confession, to the Sacrament of repentance. The Sacrament of Reconciliation does not exist to shame us…It exists to give a concrete way to turn around and to sincerely choose God’s love again and again and again. Restored divine life flows from the confessional and from every act of repentance we make.
Our second reading this week encouraged us to “owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”…Sometimes gently and lovingly correcting someone’s sinful choices is the most loving thing we can do…often not doing so is the least loving thing we can do. The second reading also says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbour.” Remaining silent, not gently challenging our loved ones to change is doing wrong to them. Not one of us would ever stand by and allow a young child play with a sharp knife or reach for a boiling pot on a stove; endangering their safety… we would immediately spring in to action and prevent it…
The Scriptures today call us to spring in to loving action, fraternal correction.
Jesus himself says such love is the fulfilling of the law.
Yes, we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.