Welcome to CatholicPreacher! I use this page as a type of archive of my thoughts for my Sunday homily.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

"Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile."

Purity is a word that few would consider pejorative; it sits alongside other words we associate with virtue such as honesty, courage, etc.  It is even more effective as a marketing tool to entice the consumer that you are getting 100% of what you are expecting.  The other word associated with this one is perfection. In a sense, purity is a type of perfection, and when you begin an endeavor, it common to hope for perfection.

It is this struggle to be perfect before God that the Jews turned to Torah (the first five books of the Bible).  These books contain a little over six-hundred laws that were composed between 600 and 400 BCE.  These laws were extended to interpretive texts that were designed to help people apply these laws to everyday life to keep better the original six-hundred or so laws in Torah.  By Jesus' time, some of these laws became impediments to the spirit that informed them.  Like so many good ideas, when people who have lost sight of why the law exists simply follow the law "because it is the law", the spirit suffers the ignorance of the law-abiding.

In today's gospel, those whose job it was to interpret and admonish adherence to the Law (Pharisees and scribes) were incensed that Jesus seemed oblivious to the demands of the Law.  He did not seem to chastise those among his disciples that did not wash before meals in violation, not of the law, per se (Leviticus 15:11), but explicitly from the Talmud, a group of interpretive statements to apply the Law.  When questioned as to why Jesus seemed such a scoff-law we get a two part answer:  You are like the hypocrites of whom Isaiah speaks "They honor me with their lips; but their hearts are far from me", and the spiritual insight that "Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile."

Jesus' statement in the fifth chapter of Matthew intends not to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and now he seems clear as to how the Law is fulfilled: intention.

The other day, I had a rather distressing conversation with a man who insisted that undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to receive any public services such as education and a driver's license. He said this about the poor entering our southern border.  He felt quite confident that his view wasn't obstructed by racism, but that "it was the law".  He insisted that being acting unlawfully was the fundamental transgression that could only be remedied by these people returning to their native country, and following the procedure for properly entering the United States. He was so focused on the violation of the law that the broader question of justice seemed to him as a distraction from the core issue of these folks breaking the law.

The law serves justice, but so many today have it reversed thinking that if it is law it presupposes being just.  Needless to say, in recent memory laws that kept blacks segregated from society, women from voting, and prohibiting consenting adults who are gay from marrying are examples of laws most would find difficult to reconcile with concepts of justice.

Jesus understood this insidious tendency to focus on law rather than justice.This focus provides a false sense of comfort to those who don't want to deal with the messiness of justice and opt for the simplistic purity of law. For many Christians, the Bible has become the modern equivalent to the religious law--studied to discover transgression rather than compassion in the false promise that by doing so one may become perfect.  But perfection does not lie in the observance of the law, but in its fulfillment as Christ fulfilled it: love of God and love of neighbor--the two most important commandments according to Jesus. 

The standard of civil justice for us as Americans is the Constitution, and the standard for Christian justice is love.  The Good News must be received and dispensed from the heart.  Reading the scripture to discover "what to do" is ignorant. We read scripture to become more like Christ.  It isn't so much searching the Scriptures to see "what would Jesus do" as much as it is searching scripture to see "what Jesus did".  Holy scripture doesn't interpret itself, but only comes to life in the circumcised heart of someone who loves aided by the Spirit.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him"

This line taken from John's gospel is the core of what Catholics believe about unity.  However, this unity of which John speaks is sometimes confused with uniformity by the institutional Church..  Case in point: last year's doctrinal investigation by Rome of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious assessing how well the organization is aligned with Church teaching on matters of "feminist issues"(op. cit. NCR).  Specifically, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is concerned that the LCWR is silent in matters of birth control/abortion and marriage norms set by the institutional Church, and that it gives dissenting voices from Church teaching, some of them quite radical (i.e. espousing a post-Church spirituality, post-Jesus, spirituality [op. cit. Bishop Leonard P. Blair]). The name of this investigation is formally called a "doctrinal assessment".  The goal is to have the LCWR align what they say (or what they allow their members to say publicly)  with official Church teaching; for Rome, having holy people saying different things about what it means to be an ecclesiastical community undermines the Faith for all believers.  However, it is this mistaken notion of uniformity for unity that I believe is a threat to the Faith.  Pope Benedict wrote

"We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman. ... It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God's grace, we ourselves have received."
- Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 2010

This is precisely what the sisters of the LCWR are attempting.  In their mission statement, they declare that bringing the Good News, "to further the mission of the Gospel" to the "world today"is the animating nexus of their community.  The Good News is often messy, because everyone who has been transformed by this "encounter" with Christ has, as part of her or his story, the uniqueness of the encounter.  Different that these encounters may be, we seek community to share our stories, and listen to the stories of others from the founding of the Church in the first century down to the present.  It should not be surprising, then, that the meanings attached to these personal experiences diverge in many places--good for spiritual health, bad for institutional uniformity.

Jesus said I am the "living bread" because he established a relationship with his disciples that continues as "living bread", a nourishing relationship through the Holy Spirit.  The unity, of which the Church speaks so much about, is borne from this living and dynamic relationship, and yields poorly to the box-building structures of institutional rule-making; unity is full of dissent, divergent understandings and practices, and embraces everyone who claims a relationship with Christ within and without the institutional Church. The keeper of uniformity is doctrine; the keeper of unity is dialogue.  It takes greater faith to live working with unity than simply abandoning the responsibility of communion by blind obedience to institutional decrees; one's conscience must be given the ability to speak truth to authority.

Dialogue is communion, because it presupposes sharing rather than declaring.  That isn't to say that there can be no doctrine or statements of definition, provided they are a product of this dialogue, something the Church increasingly is seeing as a threat to its centralized authority.  To be a living church, is to allow the messiness of relationship and espouse the humility to seek a new direction when the old one no longer speaks Good News to the world.  If we seek the eternal in human institutions, we worship a false God.

Jesus' admonition in today's gospel to "stop murmuring among yourselves" because "no one can come to me unless the Father, who sent me-draw[sic] him."  He then goes on to cite Isaiah 54 "They shall all be taught by God."  Our first and primary teacher in our spiritual journey is not the decrees of church, per se, but God, or more specifically, our living and dynamic relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit that is tested not against a rigid authority, but against a sensus fidelium--honoring the experiences of the faith-filled as a foundation of expressing what we believe and understand to be true. When Church doctrine no longer speaks to the faithful, it becomes bread with bleached flour, void of sustaining nutrition, not the Bread of Life from which one may eat and never go hungry.