Sunday, February 9, 2020

Homily - Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - What is Truth?

Isaiah 58:7-10
1st Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-16
Have you noticed a rising tension in our culture?  How angry we’ve become? How intolerant we are of the views of others? How divided we are as a nation? How outraged we are about everything?
Our battle lines are drawn around “the truth” as we see it.  
The truth Jesus is calling us all to live in today’s Gospel made a lot of people angry in His day. The truth can do that sometimes.
We continue to live in a world where the truth has been turned upside down, twisted and distorted – many times for personal or political reasons, not Gospel reasons.  
The plague of relativism is tearing at the fabric of society. It’s a cancer eating away at the soul of our nation.
The best way to understand the concept of relativism is to remember that famous conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate found in John’s Gospel:
So Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king.  For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’”
In a nutshell, this conversation is Exhibit A of the concept of relativism: “What is truth?” 
The danger in our world today is this:  “I have my truth. You have your truth. Everyone has their own truth.”
So, we can see why Pontius Pilate was tempted to throw up his hands and say, “What is truth?” 
Jesus is challenging us all to go even deeper – and to live his truth by the actions of our lives.  
He‘s just finished sharing his Beatitudes during the Sermon on the Mount, helping us to understand who is blessed in the world: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. He then turns to the metaphors of salt and light to encourage us to live these beatitudes (these truths) for all to see.
Truth is we sometimes carry God’s law in hearts filled with our personal angers, our personal prejudices, our personal justifications, our personal fears.
These deep-down truths are bubbling to the surface in today’s divided culture, causing much anger, hatred and division.
I’m reminded of something that happened about a year ago. On a January Saturday, a story popped up in social media showing high school students taunting a Native American man at the annual March for Life in Washington DC. Some of them wore Make America Great hats.
Many became outraged. The news media jumped all over the story. Soon, the young men from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky were being vilified on the internet and in news stories.
The outrage was felt by many. Maybe even some us here -- yours truly included.
One mom became so outraged she tried to use the story to talk to her teenage son about racism. She wanted it to be a teaching moment. But her son told his mom she needed to watch the whole video of the encounter. Not just the short clip making its way around the internet.
She did and saw something completely different. The young men were not the aggressors. They did not surround the Native American man. He walked up to them.
At the time of this encounter, these high school students were being verbally taunted by a group called the Black Hebrew Israelites who were calling the teens all sorts of vile things.
Yes, some students were acting like teenagers and doing stupid stuff, but the full context of the situation changed the narrative she believed to be the truth.
This woman wrote an essay for The Atlantic magazine, entitled: I Failed The Covington Catholic Test. (READ the Atlantic article here)
Perhaps in our rush to judgment we, too, failed the Covington Catholic Test.
We are not salt of the earth or light of the world when we lower ourselves to live into anger and intolerance. Especially when we don’t have all the facts or twist the facts to fit our own personal truth.
This is what Jesus is talking about today: how we live our lives of faith in the light of his truth.
Are we people of integrity? Or are we hypocrites?
In his series of Screwtape Letters, noted Christian author C.S. Lewis foretold our democratic society’s penchant to be led down the primrose path of polarization, and the anger that would follow. 
Reviewing this 75-year-old letter, one contemporary author says it perfectly reflects what’s happening in present day America.
C.S. Lewis was asking this important question many years ago, “Are we becoming the democracy Hell wishes us to be?” 
Is this how Jesus is calling us to live the truths of our faith?
As we heard from the Prophet Isaiah, If you remove from your midst … false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness.”
This is how we are a light of the world and salt of the earth: by our actions. 
My sisters and brothers, it’s our actions more than our words that preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There’s an old saying, “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” This quote has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, as is this prayer. I think it perfectly reflects the truth Jesus encourages us to live:

Lord, make me an channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is injury, let me bring pardon.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Creator, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

May we all have ears to hear and hearts to act.

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