8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
March 3, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
This last week we saw 2 outrageous failures committed by our leaders
that should make us all angry and bewildered.
Last Sunday, the leaders of the Catholic bishops’ conferences around the world
closed their Vatican summit with the Pope for the protection of children
with almost nothing really new accomplished.
And then on Monday, the democrats in the U.S. Senate defeated a bill called
“The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act”,
which would have required that babies born alive after failed abortions
would receive the same life-sustaining medical care all newborns receive
—meant to counter the growing trend at the state level to legalize
the killing of these newborn babies, either directly or by neglect,
as was recently promoted by our own governor and delegate.
It is amazing to me that our leaders, in the Church and in our nation,
could fail so miserably to see the truth of the great sins and crimes
that lay so obviously before them,
that they could have prevented or corrected, but chose not to.
It’s as if they were blind.
Which begs the question Jesus asks us today:
“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?”
How can the bishops plan to lead us,
when they are blind to the most basic problems staring them in the face?
How can they lead us to holiness, to purity, to the truth, to humility,
if they don’t see the impurity, lies, and pride that lead them
to abuse the vulnerable or to cover-up for or even promote those who do?
And how can senators lead us to be a nation
respecting the rights of human beings,
when they can’t even see that the most fundamental right to life
clearly applies to babies, at least once they’re born,
if not also while still in the womb.
If they can’t defend the most fundamental right to the life
of the most innocent and vulnerable among us,
how can we take seriously their claims to understand
what is good and necessary for the rest of us?
And if they are anti-human-life,
are they not also totally anti-woman, anti-gay, and anti-minority?
Today Jesus tells us:
“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
Both our nation and our Church are fundamentally good trees,
and not just good, but great trees.
So why is it that both are bearing such rotten fruit nowadays?
The thing is, both are actually bearing both good fruit and rotten fruit.
The Church is producing great saints,
but there are also so many great sinners in our midst,
like the McCarricks we know and don’t know.
And America is doing great things, and yielding some great leaders,
but also some who are so foolish, or even downright evil.
So while both trees are fundamentally good,
there seems to be something like a disease infecting both.
And not surprisingly, it’s the very same disease: sin.
But the thing is, that sin infects the whole tree:
not just our cardinals and bishops, and senators and congressmen,
but also the people of the Church and the nation—you and me.
How do you think we got so many rotten leaders?
In politics, the people elected them.
And they elected rotten leaders fundamentally because of sin.
For example, the sins of greed, envy and lust:
too many times we vote for whoever will offer us the most of what we want,
instead of what is best for each and all of us.
Or maybe just the sin of sloth, laziness, as we were too lazy to get out and vote.
And in the Church, how many times did I hear Ted McCarrick,
when he was cardinal, praised for how nice he was,
how smooth and clever he was.
In all candor, he was never known as a great defender of the faith.
He used to say things that made people feel good, that would make him popular.
But he would run away from saying the hard things that Jesus Himself taught.
As the first reading from Sirach tells us today:
“the fruit of a tree shows the care it has had;
so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”
And as St. Paul tells us elsewhere:
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine;
but wanting to have their ears tickled,
they will accumulate …teachers …in accordance to their own desires…
No doubt St. Paul despises the false teachers,
but he places part of the blame on the “people”
who “want to have their ears tickled.”
Jesus goes on to say today:
“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”
Now, I want to be careful here, because I don’t want to be misunderstood as
“blaming the victim.”
But let’s be honest with ourselves.
We can and should be mad as heck at the bishops or politicians
for being blind to the reality around us,
but don’t we also bear some part of the blame?
Aren’t we also blinded sometimes, by our own sins?
If not, how did all these bad politicians get elected?
Now, many of you did get out and vote, and you voted well.
And many of you do not want your ears tickled by weak priests and bishops,
and you’ve done your best to embrace sound doctrine.
But none of us is perfect.
People say that I’m pretty outspoken and forthright,
but how many times have I sat by and said nothing
when a bishop or priests preached heresy in the public square?
Maybe I did so out of wisdom or prudence,
but sometimes maybe it was just out of simple laziness or cowardice….
And maybe it’s not a great big “wooden beam” in your eye,
maybe it’s just a little “splinter.”
But, a tiny splinter in the eye can cause the same pain and blindness as a beam.
So, paraphrasing Jesus:
“Remove the splinter or beam from your eye first;
“then you will see clearly to remove the beam or splinter
in your brother’s eye.”
This Wednesday we begin the Season of Lent,
a great time to “perceive” and “remove the splinters and beams from” our eyes.
So, as a rule during Lent, I try to avoid preaching about things
that touch on broader societal or Church matters, like abortion or abuse,
and instead try to focus on growth in personal holiness
and appreciation of Jesus’ love for us.
But as you see, the 2 are connected, intimately.
So as we look out on a country and a Church in the middle of real crises,
mired in the corruption of sin,
we also begin Lent, and so turn our eyes to ourselves.
For, lasting change in the world and in the Church can only come
from cooperating with the grace of Jesus Christ,
and that change and cooperation must begin with us.
Whether it’s simply changing our willingness to accept and be satisfied
with the self-serving promises of politicians or bishops,
or whether it’s a turning away from our more deadly personal sins,
even those reflected in the lives of those same politicians and bishops.
Lying to ourselves and ignoring the truth
has gotten our country and especially our Church into the mess we are today.
Don’t let it do the same to you.
Whatever it is, let’s be brutally honest with ourselves this Lent.
Let us no longer be blinded, by the beams or splinters of sin,
but by the grace of Christ, let us remove them from our eyes first,
“then [we] will see clearly to remove the splinter in [our] brother’s eye.”