Saturday, August 25, 2018

Homily for 26 Aug 2018

26 Aug 2018
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

We heard one of the most reviled and hated Scripture passages there is: “Wives, be submissive to your husbands.”  I mean, it just reeks of male domination, inequality, loss of dignity for women and, to be honest, it brings to mind spousal abuse, or just abuse in general.  And none of these things is good.  If “submission” means loss of basic human dignity and respect, then we ought to run from it; “submission” should be reviled and hated.

When you think about all the women’s struggles to be recognized as equal in dignity to men; when you think about the reality that many women have been abused by men (and continue to be), it’s no wonder the idea of wives being submissive to their husbands is so hated and outright rejected by people today—by both women and men, inside and outside the Church.

And when you broaden this idea of being submissive to include other relationships beyond husbands and wives—friendship, co-workers and bosses, Church and parishioners—we see that people can be taken advantage of and hurt quite easily.  One of the factors beyond the clergy abuse we hear about is that some priests (and I hesitate to call them “priests”) took advantage of the fact that they were in positions of authority; they were the “domineering husband,” they were “over” somebody else, and made somebody else “submit” to them.

If “submission” means loss of basic human dignity, then we should run from it; “submission” should be reviled and hated, and denounced as a societal evil. it is in Sacred Scripture: “Wives, be submissive to your husbands.”  Even if it’s not in the Gospel, it’s still in Scripture, it’s still the Word of God.  So we can’t just ignore it. 

We can’t just turn our backs on the Word because it sounds screwed up to us.  Even if the crowds in the gospel did that to Jesus...we can’t, or we shouldn’t.  We can’t say to Jesus, “This is crazy!  This ‘submission’ garbage...I’m not listening to what you have to say.”  We can’t do that because it’s like “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”  It’s like throwing away an ugly oyster...with the pearl that’s inside.      

It goes without saying that we never submit ourselves to people who hurt us and tear us down.  That is not scriptural—contrary to what some Evangelical Christians think. We should never do that, out of respect for our own dignity as sons and daughters of God.  We do not put up with abuse in any circumstance—not in our friendships, in our work relationships, certainly not in marriage, nor our relationships with the Church—whether those are other parishioners, neighbors, or the clergy.  We never submit ourselves to people who hurt us and trample on our basic human dignity. 

So what is St Paul saying here in his letter to the Ephesians?  Well, the passage that’s the flip side of “wives, be submissive to your husbands,” is: “Husbands, love your wives.”  Those two passages go together; they cannot be taken apart.  And the word “love” here refers to the kind of love which says: “I’m going to put you ahead of me.  I’m going to sacrifice and give myself in whatever way I can for your good because I love you.”  And our minds should immediately go the Cross. 

On the Cross, we see a man completely submissive.  On the Cross we see the bridegroom, the “husband of humanity” stripped naked, hung out, defenseless, and vulnerable.  St. Paul says: “Husbands, love your wives;” in other words, “Husbands, submit yourselves to your wife and to her well-being.”  But we’re talking about something more than simply husbands and wives; we’re talking about all of us in all our relationships and, most especially, in our relationship with God. 

There’s a significant connection here between “love” and “submission”—they’re the same thing.  Self-giving love and submission are the same thing: that’s the pearl of wisdom hidden in this “ugly” passage about submission.  St Paul isn’t saying, “Submit yourself to someone who will degrade you and dishonor you;” no, he’s saying (to each of us—men and women alike), “Submit yourself to others who honestly love you and who submit themselves to you and to your good in return.

This is why St. Paul says right off the bat, “Be subordinate another.”  This mutual submission, mutual vulnerability, mutual sharing and trust in others is at the heart of what we call “love” and “friendship.”  If we don’t know how to be submissive and trust others with our heart, then we don’t know how to love and to be loved in return.  It can’t be overstated enough that this most hated, reviled, detested Scripture passage is also one of the most critical ones for us as men and women made in the image of God who is love.  To live our full potential, we have to learn how to be submissive and trustful of “the other.”

But we can do that.  We can submit ourselves to those who love us.  Those are the people we want to submit ourselves to.  And, you know, we submit ourselves to other people all the time. 

For example, every time we tell a friend something secret in our hearts, we submit ourselves; we make ourselves vulnerable and weak when we do that.  We open ourselves up to ridicule and shame.  But we’re submitting ourselves to that friend in the hopes that they’ll love us in return with their own self-gift and sharing. 

Or just think of the various mentors in your life.  Maybe you play sports and you trust your coach to teach you the right way.  You’re submitting yourself to someone in the hopes that that he or she will do what’s in your best interest as a player.  You trust the coach and, in that, a relationship of a kind is formed built on trust.

Without knowing it, we submit ourselves to others all the time; whether in marriage or friendship, or out on the football field or in the office, or in our relationship with God.  We submit ourselves to others all the time.  And that’s right.  We should submit ourselves to others . . . but only to those whom we trust, and who actually love us and respect our basic human dignity.

And at the top of that list of people is God; our selfless, sacrificial, passionate God who died on the Cross so that we could live; God who pours himself out in the Eucharist for our benefit.  If we can’t trust God and be submissive to God (who loves us in more ways than we can count) who else can we possibly submit ourselves to?  But we can trust him, we can love him and share our hearts and minds and bodies with him because, first and always, he loves us—completely and without reservation.  He submits himself to us. 

And if we forget that, just think of what and whom we hold in ours hands at communion—that little Host, our God who lets himself be put into our hands and broken.  At the center of this thing we call “the Mass” is sacrifice—self-giving, other-centered submission for the good of another.  And what more perfect gift can we bring to the altar than our own submission to him, our Bridegroom, who wants nothing more than for us to have life, life in abundance today and always. 

From this most hated passage of Scripture, there is a hidden pearl; something we can keep close to our hearts.  And the pearl is this:  We can and we should submit ourselves to those who love us in return.  And at the top of that list is our loving friend, our Lord and God, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Homily for 12 Aug 2018

12 Aug 2018
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

It was time for recess, so the kids went outside to play.  But four of the kids, instead of going to play kickball, went over to an old tree stump by the baseball field.  And when they got there, they each took a pen and “carved” their initials into the top of the stump.  They’d obviously planned it out beforehand, because then they each raised their right hand and said an oath of friendship to one another.

And from that day on they called each other “the Stumpers.”  And as they grew up, they always remembered the stump and their promise of friendship to another.  And the very first Christians did something similar—not around an old stump.  But they did take an oath—of a sort, a pledge to one another and to Christ.  And they even had a name for their group; they were “followers of the Way.”  We hear about that often in the Acts of the Apostles: those who “belonged to the Way.”

And “the Way” was, of course, Jesus, who called himself, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  But “the Way” was also an oath.  It was a promise to be one with their fellow Christians; it was a pledge to live in a certain way; guided by certain standards, values, and beliefs.  And we hear some of those today from Saint Paul. 

First off, he calls them “brothers and sisters.”  Now, it’s not just a pleasant greeting—it’s part of the experience of being “a follower of the Way.”  Kind of like the kids at the stump: “brothers and sisters of the stump”—except here it’s “brothers and sisters of the Way,” “brothers and sisters in Christ.” 

“All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling” must not be part of the community.  “Be kind to one another, compassionate; imitators of God...and live in love.”  That’s all part of the “oath” they swore to one another, and Saint Paul was just reminding them of that.  And, of course, each of us belongs to “the Way” as well. 

We have our rituals, just like the Stumpers.  We have our “rules,” and we have our set of standards, values, and beliefs.  We have an identity that’s centered on Jesus Christ; it’s why we call ourselves “Christians.”  And we take an oath to be a brother or sister to every other Christian, in every place; that’s why we call ourselves “Catholic”—we’re part of a big group of Christians friends called the Catholic Church, the “universal” Church, the “all-encompassing” Church.

And if you’re wondering exactly when you took that was at Baptism.  It was reaffirmed at Confirmation.  And it’s renewed every time we receive the Eucharist.  And just think of the Creed—what could be a more perfect oath but when we each say, “I believe...”  Each of us—because of our belief in Jesus and our faith in what he claims to be true—each of us is still today a member of “the Way.”

But, as we know, sometimes (oftentimes) “the Way” is a hard road to follow.  It’s part of what the Prophet Elijah experienced.  We heard that “he prayed for death, saying: ‘This is enough, O Lord!:’” I cannot take it anymore.  “Lord, I know I’m supposed to love my neighbor, but these people are just driving me nuts!”  “Lord, I know I’m supposed to pray in times of temptation, but sometimes temptation gets the better of me.”  “Lord, I try to be Christian to others, but they just laugh at me, or they tell me to get lost.”

Sometimes (oftentimes) “the Way” is a hard road to follow—and God knows that.  I mean, just think of the Crucifixion; God knows “the Way” isn’t always a pleasant journey.  And that’s why he gives us food along the way.  It’s like when you watch a marathon; the runners don’t just go from start to finish without anything to sustain themselves.  They’re always eating and drinking.  They set up little stations all along the way to make sure the runners can stay strong.

And God does that, too.  He sets up little stations along the way to make sure we can stay strong as “followers of the Way.”  And there are lots of stations he sets up to feed us.  Things like: devotional prayers, music and art, downtime so we can just be quiet with him.  He sets up the Church community as a way to feed us and sustain us.  And at the heart of this community of “followers of the Way” is the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is very...special.  It’s food, but it’s not just any food; it’s God himself.  When people are dying and they ask for “the last rites,” we go to them and give them the Eucharist.  And that’s because they’re asking for Jesus; they want Jesus to be with on “the Way.”  And what better person to ask for than Jesus, who is “the Way, (the Truth, and the Life”).  In fact, when we give the Eucharist to someone who’s dying, it’s called “viaticum,” a Latin word which means, “I am with you on the way.”

The Eucharist is very special; it’s the “bread of life,” “food for the journey”—God himself.  Some of you may have heard of J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings.  He was a Roman Catholic, and his stories often reflect his faith and beliefs.  And one item in particular reflects his approach to the Eucharist; it was a bread he called “lembas.” 

Lembas bread was made into thin cakes; it’s nourishing and it stays fresh for a very long time.  And it was taken as food on very long journeys.  It’s why lembas is also called “waybread,” or “bread for the Way.”  But, as with the Eucharist, lembas is very...special.  Only the Elves can make it, and exactly how it’s made is a closely guarded secret.  The lembas bread is bitter to any evil creature, so they avoid at all costs.  And, only rarely is lembas bread given to a non-Elf.  It’s not your ordinary food.

And that’s how we can approach this miracle we call the Eucharist.  It’s not like any other food.  We don’t give it out to just anybody passing by.  It’s reserved for those who are “followers of the Way.”  And that’s not just child’s play, or a “rule of the kid’s clubhouse.”  The specialness of the Eucharist has been part of “the Way” (the Church) since...forever. 

Saint Justin Martyr said in the year 155 AD, “This food we call ‘eucharist,’ and no one may share it unless he or she: believes that our teaching is true, has been cleansed in the bath of forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and lives as Christ taught.  For we do not receive these things as if they were ordinary food and drink” [Apologia I 66,1-2].  The Eucharist has always been for those who are “followers of the Way.”  It’s a privilege and a humbly honor to be called to eat and drink here at the altar of God. 

But, you know, as much as the Eucharist is for us “followers of the Way,” we also want others to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” in the Eucharist.  And that’s what the Lord wants, too.  Receiving the Eucharist doesn’t end with us; it doesn’t stop here.  The Church doesn’t have a big “no vacancy” sign out front.  We want others to join us, to be “followers of the Way.”  Whether or not others accept the invitation is their own decision.  But we still offer the invitation to come see what our way of life is all about.

And, sometimes, the best invitation is to just be an authentic “follower of the Way” ourselves; to live the values we profess, to put into practice what we believe, and to take full advantage of all the food and nourishment God gives us, especially the Eucharist, the Bread of Life—the center of our life.