Saturday, September 8, 2018

Homily – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cries of the Poor

Isaiah 35:4-7a
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37
          “Be strong, fear not.”
These powerful words come from this week’s readings and are meant to help settle our hearts.  But are our ears open to hearing this hope-filled message?
Let’s face it, our hearts are heavy, angry, confused and burdened by weeks and weeks of bad news about the Catholic Church.
It’s a painful and ugly mess.  For many, it’s just too much.
Our first reading from Isaiah is a reminder of how suffering is always followed by salvation. This is God’s Covenant promise with His people.
Our Catechism teaches us that God will ultimately provide justice for the victims and the perpetrators. Only He can bring good out of even the gravest evils.
As the Catechism states, “The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil.”
"Two thousand years ago, while he hung on the Cross, Jesus saw the filth that would threaten to obscure the holiness of his Church. He saw each egregious sin now detailed in grand jury reports and victims’ testimonies. He knew that some of his clergy would abandon him like Judas. He knew that some people—right in the heart of the Church—would commit evil, abhorrent acts and others would work to cover them up. He knew that people would leave the Church, offended and wounded by these sins against God. Jesus cried tears of blood as these heartrending scenes flashed before his eyes. These sins and their effects were so burdensome, so unimaginably painful that the Son of God cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46)," the words of Sr. Theresa Aletheia on social media this week.
Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain issued the following official statement on the crisis last month:
The sexual abuse of a minor is an intrinsic moral evil and a crime, and anyone responsible for such an act, or for shielding those who do, including bishops and other Church leaders, must be held accountable for their actions.”
In the flood of all this bad news, it was encouraging to read a story this past week about how young Catholics are reacting to all of this bad news.
Yes, some are walking away from the faith because of the scandals.  But many other young people are staying -- staying to fight for church reform, staying to help bring healing to the victims, staying because of the Eucharist and because of Jesus Christ.  “They are looking for a spiritual tradition to guide their lives.”  They are the future of our Church!
Yes, they’re angry. Some say they can defend the Catholic faith, but cannot defend the Catholic Church right now.  Many of them are channeling their anger into action.
This is the #MeToo generation and they have something to say – if our ears are open to hearing their message.
As one young adult put it, “That’s part of why the younger generation is having a different response: not because it’s new information, but because it’s the only story of the church we’ve known.”
So, many young people are organizing prayer vigils for the victims and signing petitions calling on Bishops and the Vatican to bring justice and transparency to this issue. 
A noted deacon and popular author had a powerful blog post this past week that may offer us all a way forward.
Deacon William Ditewig is a theologian who once headed up the office of the permanent diaconate at the USCCB. He’s also a retired Naval Commander who taught at Santa Clara University in recent years.
In his blog post he said this on the sex abuse issue: “It’s past time for action.”
He suggests we all (the People of God and our leaders) get “back to the basics.”
First, Ditewig says we have to live the profession of faith, the Credo, or Creed, we recite every week. We have to give our hearts to God, the Father Almighty; to Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord; and give our hearts to the Holy Spirit, the giver of life.  “Everything builds on that; without it nothing else matters.”
 Second, Ditewig says we have to rebuild from the bottom and become ones who serve. Recalling the lesson Jesus taught with the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, Ditewig says, “The reforms we need right now start from that perspective of humility, compassion and service, and the Church must be one which is in a constant state of reform, renewal and conversion.”
Lastly, Ditewig says, “’Religion’ refers to binding ourselves to God.  Our religion should be known first and foremost for how we care for those most in need, not by our vestments, our grand churches, our rituals or the brilliance of our teaching.  When people think of Christianity, may they come to think first of the thousands upon thousands of selfless people – laity, religious, clergy – who pour their lives out in service.”
This is how we bind ourselves to God.  
This week’s Gospel reading gives us an instruction manual of sorts for discipleship.
Jesus has headed into hostile territory. Today he’s healing in the District of Decapolis, an area known for pagan idolatry.  These people would have rejected Jesus’ message. Their ears would have been closed. 
The Aramaic language of Jesus is rarely used in the Gospels. In Mark’s Gospel it is used only twice. Today, we hear the Aramaic word, “ephphatha” or “be opened.”
Jesus’ powerful command helps him to make two important points to us, His disciples:  opening our ears to His voice – and –  opening our mouths to speak out on behalf of the poor.
To do this better we must first ask ourselves:  How is my prayer life?  Am I spending enough time with Jesus? Am I taking time from the distractions of daily life to hear what he’s trying to tell me? How do I know when I’m becoming deaf to the voice of Christ? 
Now is a time to increase our time with Jesus so as to make sure our connection to Christ is plugged-in and recharging us daily. 
Are we actively witnessing Christ in our daily lives? This is another sign of mature discipleship and precisely what the Letter of Saint James is sharing with us today.
Am I using my voice to speak out for the victims and to call on the bishops and the Pope to do the right thing? The victims should be our priority now.
How we treat the poor versus how we treat the powerful is a good indicator of understanding the message of Jesus Christ.
As we all step forward as Church to clean up this ugly mess, let us commit ourselves to working together in humility with our bishops and our Pope to promote accountability and transparency. Let us compassionately listen to our young people, our future, to hear their wisdom on how to fix things. Let our words and our actions help promote healing to those who have been hurt by the Church.
Deacon Ditewig has a dream.  His dream is that someday when a person googles images of the “Catholic Church” the first pictures shown will not be of St. Peter’s and the Vatican, but of advocates working humbly, tirelessly and fearlessly to meet the needs of others: teachers, medical professionals, volunteers and yes, spouses and parents giving their all for each other and their children.”
            This should be our dream, too.