Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 14, 2021
My friends in Christ, we enter into the desert of Lent this week, and with it comes the close of my homily series that began in October. Two weeks ago, I presented the bold and unapologetic claim that our primary focus, as Church, as a people of faith who dare to claim the blessed name of Christian, is this: the salvation of souls for the glorious majesty of God. Dioceses and seminaries, schools and hospitals, parishes and families – every single institution of the Catholic Church…and every single one of us, for that matter…. We must have it clearly in mind this primary focus for why we were made in the first place…our purpose…our mission in life. And that was my bold claim a couple weeks ago and continues to be my bold claim.
In our Scripture text today from his First Letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul also proclaims this: “…whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” There it is from the man himself: all that we do is and ought to be for the glorious majesty of God. And he goes on and reports on why he does what he does: “I try to please everyone in every way.” Why? Well of course it is because he likes being liked! He is a people-pleaser! And he derives great benefit from pleasing everyone!
False! Instead, what does he actually say? “I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many…that they may be saved.” Or in other words, why he does what he does is precisely for this: the salvation of souls – and why? Above all, for the glorious majesty of God.
And then last week, we reflected upon two very different cultures in which the Church often finds herself in various times and places: Christendom and Apostolic Mission. We set out to define the terms, and then we reflected upon the strengths and challenges proper to each, and I concluded with yet another bold and outrageous claim: Christendom in the West – perhaps even especially in the United States – is over…. And then, the cliffhanger: what are we going to do about it?
Let us continue. If it is in fact true that Christendom is over and that we are quickly shifting toward an Apostolic Mission cultural context…then we have some work to do! And there is no easy answer, no quick solution. If the toilet is clogged, you just have to get the plunger and get to work.
So I shall present some ideas to consider, but please keep in mind that this will in no way be exhaustive at all. No one but God can have all the answers, after all. So again, this is not exhaustive, but merely a presentation of some ideas that hopefully will get the creative prayer juices flowing in your minds as you go forth, after Mass is ended, to continue reflecting upon and discerning these matters.
Okay. So…where do we go from here? What are we going to do about the challenges that are before us? Let us consider the Principle of Subsidiarity. What that means is this: when an issue arises or some problem or challenge presents itself, decisions with regard to how to address it need to be made at the lowest level possible, and so on up whenever necessary. It would make no sense, for example, for the Supreme Court of the United States to render judgment on whether or not the intersection at 4th and Adams be regulated by a stoplight or if the four-way stop signs are just fine.
For our purposes today, I appeal to the Principle of Subsidiarity because I think the overall basic gist can apply very well to any discussion about where we go from here in the cultural context of Apostolic Mission. I might also relate this to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a popular book by Stephen Covey. In his book, he speaks about what he calls the Circle of Concern, the Circle of Influence, and the Circle of Control; the Circle of Control and the lowest level of the Principle of Subsidiarity both are the first place to begin…. Start small, grow tall.
The Circle of Control: well, in point of fact, each of us can really only control one thing, and one thing only: ourselves. What am I going to do? How will I respond when my faith in Jesus Christ is challenged? I cannot possibly control the Pope or the president. I cannot possibly control even my spouse! But I can control myself. So…start with yourself. And then move on to what you can do for your spouse, your children, your families…and so on up. Start small, grow tall.
Regarding the self, then. There is something peculiar and powerful that Saint Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” I can control myself by controlling what I permit to come out of myself – my words, my actions, and so forth – and by controlling what I permit to come in. And so, I would do well to ask myself, “Self…what am I allowing to enter into my mind?” What do I watch on television, on the internet? To what sorts of music, or news, or talk radio, or podcasts do I listen? And also, for that matter, with what sorts of folks do I spend most of my time? And I think that last question is actually very important. I have heard it said that our personalities…my personality…and therefore, to a certain extent, what I think, what I believe, how I live…that who I am is the average of the five people with whom I spend most of my time.
Now, in these days of COVID, with so many people just staying at home all day, every day, and therefore with not much else to do but television…lots of people have been spending most of their time with talking-head pundits of corporate media. And so, if I am becoming the average of Chris Cuomo, Wolf Blitzer, Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow, and Stephen Colbert…then egads!
Much rather should I strive becoming the average of God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, Mother Mary, and Saint Joseph (especially in this Church Year of Saint Joseph); much rather, then, should I strive to put down the television remote and take up the Bible instead.
We can control ourselves; we can control what comes out and what goes in; therefore, we do well to gauge what we choose to allow to enter our minds, our bodies, through our senses. So what are we watching? To what are we listening? What foods are we eating? And so forth.
Start small, grow tall. Start with self, then go from there. We can control only ourselves…and we can influence our spouses, our children, our families. And here, I would propose a strange notion that actually one of our parishioners once told me – strange, perhaps…and yet compelling: it is not enough anymore merely to do things differently; rather, we need to do different things. I think that entire families need to take a good hard look at themselves and discern what actually is working and what is not working. Because if a family wants to change things and yet never actually tries different things, then that is the very definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and yet always expecting a different result. So…do different things. Here are some examples.
Here is something that the father of a family I know at Saint Peter does in his home with his family: at random times of the day, at random days, he will just go up to one of his kids, get in their face, and ask them, “Why are you Catholic?” And he expects a good answer each time…. Wow! If my dad did that when I was growing up, I would probably wet myself each time! But then again, just as Saint Peter says, “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you” for a reason of your faith – why you believe what you believe. If a child cannot do that even in the safety of his or her home, then how can that child, now an adult, be able to do that out there in a hostile culture?
Doing different things.
Another example: the Saint Justin Martyr Society. Okay, so…what is that? Well, I shall tell you exactly what it is: the largest Catholic youth group in the entire diocese – which certainly puts it high in the ranking for the largest Catholic youth group on the entire west coast. I started it with a family up at Saint Peter, and it is a monthly gathering that, before COVID hit, saw an average…an average, mind you…of about 70 high-school kids, along with about a dozen of their dads joining us as well. And what do we do? For about two hours, we feed them dinner (usually spaghetti or else pizza), and they just hang out for a while…and then we put them through the ringer! Two of them are matched against each other, and they debate a specific topic of Catholic faith and morality – in the style of point-counterpoint. After about ten minutes, we discuss what went well and what can be improved, and then we break up into small groups and continue the conversation; and then we conclude with “Jeff-pardy.” We just quiz everybody with a game asking Catholic questions. (I get to be the host! Hence that hilarious name!) Basically, this youth group is a rather intense class on Catholic Christian apologetics. But who could have guessed that learning this intensely, with perhaps a little bit of food thrown in for good measure, would be the recipe for the biggest youth group in the diocese! Because everyone knows that high-school kids want only fun, fun, and more fun – certainly not learning! And yet, as the English say, the proof is in the pudding…and it clearly does seem to be working…. Doing different things.
You have already heard me say many times, ad nauseam, that I am absolutely convinced that the world would be a far better, more peaceful, more pleasant place if everybody would just turn off the television, turn off the internet, turn off the social media, and actually live just for once. “But you see, I just have to be informed; I just have to know everything about everything that is going on! I just have to know what my father’s brother’s cousin’s former roommate had for dessert!” No. You do not. But well, I guess we will never know how peaceful and pleasing it truly is…until we try it. Now…I have tried it…and I am doing it still…and I am telling you: it is glorious…. Doing different things.
Another example. We all know that businesses live and die by the almighty Dollar. That is simply how capitalism and commercial enterprise works. But I am just sick and tired of businesses contributing to causes that are opposed to what we believe as Catholic Christians. So…what if we actually took the time and effort to research which commercial vendors of what we need and want to buy actually are Catholic and that actually do support Catholic causes. Why Starbucks? Why not Wake-Up Call instead? You do know that Wake-Up Call is owned by Catholic parishioners, right?
Doing different things.
Some other considerations for family life. Imagine if parents did not let their children have smartphones, at least until they are old enough to drive and actually might need a phone…. Imagine if parents limited screen time to a reasonable, healthy dosage; my brother and my sister-in-law limit my nephew and niece to just thirty minutes of screen time per day, apart from school work. (That is, unless baseball is on – in which case, they can watch television all they want, because their dad, my brother, certainly is watching all he wants!)…. Imagine if parents insisted that there be no sports on Sunday…none at all…but instead that Sundays truly will be a day of rest and recreation that is spent together as a family….
Now as I say, by no means was this to be an exhaustive list of ideas; just a brief presentation of some ideas that hopefully might get the creative prayer juices flowing in our minds as we go forth to continue reflecting upon and discerning these matters. And I have focused on the self and, beyond the self, on the family. Of course, I realize that not all of us have families. But we do all have, I may presume, close friends, clusters of regular acquaintances, and social circles upon whom we might be able to exert some measure of healthy, holy influence.
In any event, it is the entire Church that needs to examine herself, her every level of ministry and mission, her every institution – from the universal Church and the pope on high right on down to the domestic Church and the hearth and home of family life…all of us really need to examine who we are and what we are about – what we are doing, why we are doing it, how we are doing it. We need to pray…we need to discern…and then…we need action – to figure out how we are going to continue with the good, holy, and noble work that God already has begun in us as we strive to operate within and minister to a cultural context that continually shifts away from proper Christian values.
And so, I conclude this homily series where it all began: with prayer. Prayer, specifically, in a spirit of discernment. God already has a plan for us. God already has the architectural plans drawn up. As God says to Moses, in the Book of Exodus, “See that you [do these things] according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” To discern, then, is to discover what that pattern is, what that plan is. And so, we need to discern…to sift…so to discover which is the voice of God and which are the voices of not-God. And then, we need humility to recognize that God is God and that we are not, and we need the fortitude to put aside what we want, whatever we have planned…and take up God’s plan instead…. Thus is our humble response to the High Call of Jesus Christ…to follow Him – to follow after the One Who bids us become the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Fiat lux…. Be the light!
We might ask ourselves as Chesterton did, “What is wrong with the world?” And we might answer, “I am.” But also…we do well to hear the High Call of Jesus Christ, “Who is the salt of the earth, the light of the world?” And we do well to answer, “I am.”
And may it be that our response is the response of the Prophets of old: “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening…. Here I am, Lord; I come to do Your will.”
on Thursday, February 18 at 10:49AM