Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time 9/13/2020
My friends in Christ, last weekend, we reflected upon suffering. Today, it is “Suffering, Part Two.” In Part One, we considered some of the more prominent forms of personal suffering, and we focused especially on the suffering of sin. Today, in Part Two, there are large-scale sufferings, broad-context breakdowns that we do well to consider. And lastly, in Part One, I used the image of Priest Lake, the sandy beach of Reeder Bay, to illustrate that we must persevere through the hot sand to the lake – through the pain to the joy…through suffering to salvation…through the Cross to the Kingdom.
Today, in Part Two, we shall consider some brief reflections on fundamental mathematics, the basic operations of arithmetic that we learned in grade school, in order to help us grapple with those large-scale sufferings, those broad-context breakdowns, that each of us – our culture – sadly is made to endure right now…. And trust me, this will get a bit cheesy! But just humor me, okay?
Consider the “plus” sign. Looks suspiciously like a cross. That is because it is a cross. And another word for “plus” also just happens to be another word for “cross,” and that word is and. We say that “two and two is four.” Just so, with the cross (because of the cross, in fact), we have Heaven and Earth…divinity and humanity…justice and mercy. And that is because Christ, Whose cross it is, is both God and man…Priest and Victim…and, in the Eucharist, the source and the summit.
Consider the multiplication sign: times. Looks a lot like the cross of Saint Andrew, who was one of the very first martyrs of the Church. Regarding the Apostles and their martyrdom – how the Church multiplied in those earliest years of Christianity! (See? I told you it will get a bit cheesy!)
Now consider the division sign. It also looks like a cross, somewhat…but an incomplete cross, a fractured cross, a divided cross. That is because divisions are one form of those large-scale sufferings of which I spoke…one form of the broad-context breakdowns that effect the utter ruination of the culture in which we live, of which we are a part…. Divisions fracture the Cross of Christ.
My friends in Christ, we all know how pathetically divided our culture is right now. And we all know how scandalously divided our Church is right now. And we might even know that even our parish is divided right now.
How is our culture divided? Criminy! Just turn on the evening news! Is there or is there not any truth to global warming (or “climate shift,” or whatever you want to call it)? Is there or is there
not systemic, institutional racism in this nation? And then of course there is the pox upon us every four years – yes, I do in fact dare to bring up politics in my homily, I do dare! Because why is it that perfectly good neighbors can be best friends for three years (the backyard barbecues, all of the kids racing bikes up and down the cul-de-sac, everyone attending the same church, the parents standing in as godparents for one another’s babies) – why can we have that going on for three years…just to have that dreaded fourth year come along, and this household puts up signs for candidate R and that household puts up signs for candidate D – and now, the friendship is all over! And the kids are not allowed to play with each other anymore. And we go to different churches now, or different Mass times at least. And the precious bond of godparents-and-godchild is completely ignored and soon completely forgotten. Why is that? And why do we let that happen?
How is our Church divided? I shall answer that by asking a couple questions of my own, and how you all are tempted to answer my questions will reveal quite plainly that the Church, indeed, is divided. Question one: should the priest face toward the people or away from the people? (Both are, in fact, valid options by the way.) Question two: after COVID passes, should we have the Sign of Peace or not? Question three: can the Mass (even just a couple of small parts of it) be in Latin, or should all of it always be in English?
Now, for lots of you, you could go either way with any of those questions; you do not really have a dog in that fight…but there is a fight nonetheless, and many of you do have some very strong thoughts on these and other related matters. But notice that these only concern liturgical matters, to say nothing of faith and morals. Is Jesus Christ the one and only means of salvation, for all people, yes or no? Can only Catholics validly receive Holy Communion, and only when in the state of grace, yes or no? Can two men get married, or can two women get married, yes or no? (Why stop at two, for that matter, and just let any number of any people get married.) Is contraception allowed, yes or no? On these and other matters of faith and morals, we clearly see that the Church, indeed, definitely is divided! The Church does have very definite answers to these questions of faith and morals…but still, even so, we continue to be divided.
How is our parish divided? Easy! One word: COVID. On the one extreme, you have the folks who insist that we do not open anything at all until there is a cure for death itself, and on the other extreme, you have Farragut revisited. (“Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”) Now for the most part, everybody is somewhere between those two ridiculous extremes – but still…are we really going to let COVID divide us?
Even apart from COVID, you have those who, for example, gasp that Father Lewis wears a cassock, and he is trying to bring us back to the dark ages before Vatican II, and so, they threaten to leave. And you have those who gasp that Father Lewis still has not mounted a proper crucifix in the sanctuary, and it has been a year already, and so, they threaten to leave. Really? Really?
Divisions! The Cross is fractured! And Jesus suffers because of it! Jesus suffers because we suffer, and He suffers even more because we cannot see it or else we refuse to see it that there are times when we are the agents and the architects of our own self-willed, self-imposed suffering! And when we allow ourselves to be divided because we have removed our eyes and our hearts away from Jesus and instead have set our sights and attached our allegiances to lesser things – as important, yes, as they are, no doubt about it!)…when we do that, then we are divided, and we nail Jesus to that cross again.
But we are not satisfied only with making Him suffer again – and so we actually rip that cross down and wrench it apart – divide it, fracture it, break it to pieces – and why?
Because divisions…fracture…the cross!
And we are supposed to be better than this. We really, truly are. It is we who dare to claim the blessed Name of Christian who are supposed to be the light of the world. We are supposed to rise above the petty stupid garbage of our darkened times and be the light instead. We are supposed to transcend this bull-puckey because we are supposed to be the light, and the light is supposed to be held up in dark places so that it can be seen by all who are trapped in darkness and the shadow of death, thus empowering them to see where they are to go and how they are to get there.
But when we are the petty ones…when we are slime and muck…when we are the agents and the architects of divisions…then what possible hope could there ever possibly be for the rest of the world when the salt of the earth loses its savor and the light of the world snuffed itself out?
We gripe about the former friend who supports candidate R or candidate D, but do we ever pray for him or her? Father Lewis might be making you feel convicted right now with his homily so that you want to run him out on a rail…but will you even try to forgive him? And will you ever even try to forgive anybody, any of the people who have ever injured you? Jesus tells us today that we must, and that we must forgive lots of times…but are we even listening to Him right now?
And how many times was it again that we are supposed to forgive those who have wounded us? Once? Twice? As many as seven times? Oh, I forgot! Jesus tells us – commands us, in fact: “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” But how many of us simply refuse to forgive, or will not even try to forgive, not even once – let alone seven times – let alone seventy-seven times?
My friends in Christ…this really has been a brutal year! The pandemic…then, the economic and societal shutdown…then, the race riots…then, the hundreds of opinions posing as solutions for every single one of the world’s thousands and thousands of problems…and now, because it has been four years already…we have the election…. Well, Lord have mercy!
But I tell you what, I fully expect – yes, I expect – that each of you (and yes, obviously, myself definitely included) not only can rise above but will rise above. We will be the salt of the earth that, by the grace of God, will preserve a fallen, broken world against the corruption that already is infecting it, and we will be the light of the world that, by the grace of God, will enlighten the darkness of evil days. And I fully expect, and I do insist, that we will be Christian!
Or else, I fear that we will be damned.
And so, and in conclusion…. Salt of the earth…or foul corruption? Light of the world…or the darkness of death? Charity and patience…or fracture and division? Salvation…or damnation?
Because in the end, there really is only this. Therefore, which do we choose? And what are we going to do today – right now – to make our choice a reality?
on Tuesday, September 15 at 10:55AM