23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 7, 2014
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
I’ve been reading this week about Governor and Mrs. McDonnell’s trial for bribery.
To be honest, while I was pretty angry about what they did,
it seemed to me it was only business as usual in politics, but not a crime.
So I was honestly shocked that they were convicted on 11 counts.
Turns out the jury’s decision may have turned on
the definitions of some legal terms that the judge gave them,
one in particular that some argue is very different
than the definition usually applied.
Regardless of the merits of this particular case,
all this reminds me of the importance of understanding that
words have meaning,
and changing that meaning, or redefining words,
can have devastating effects on the world around us.
We see this all around us.
Of course, we see it in obvious and dramatic ways,
like efforts to change the definition of “marriage.”
But that’s more a result of a long series of word re-definitions,
successful efforts redefining the very words
that undergird and guide every discussion we have.
I think, in particular, of words like “tolerance” and “love.”
It used be that “tolerance” meant
coexisting peacefully with those you disagreed with,
or “putting up” with something you considered wrong or even evil,
but could not avoid.
This kind of “tolerance” allowed us then to live in peace
in a society with different religions, political views and ethnicities.
It allowed us to disagree but also to discuss things rationally,
and to enter into dialogue not about eliminating our differences
but freely working toward on our truly common goals.
In short, this tolerance was a big reason America could freely progress
as a society that embraced liberty,
including things like freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
But in recent years that definition has changed.
“Tolerance” no longer means merely coexisting or putting up with our differences,
now it means accepting another person’s position as correct,
even if it means approving of as good and true
something that a moment ago you saw as evil or a lie.
Of course in practice this means chaos:
Catholics would have to embrace the beliefs of atheists,
but atheists would have to embrace Catholicism.
But then they’d have to keep this up, constantly switching back and forth.
The only way to make this work is if tolerance goes in only one direction, which can only happen if there is coercion, forcing one side to move to the other.
But there are many ways to coerce people.
When I was young and studying martial arts I was taught the principle of using other people’s strengths to defeat them.
It’s a very successful principle in any kind of fight or struggle.
That’s what the terrorists did on 9/11
using the freedom and openness of our society to attack us,
and they have continued to do the same for 13 years.
And it’s also been used very successfully in America to attack Christianity.
One of the strongest doctrines and virtues of Christianity is “love.”
So, our opponents have tried use that strength against us,
by trying to redefine, ever so subtly, the definition of “love.”
And it’s working.
Many people now define love
not as willing and striving for the true good of the other,
but as never saying or doing anything that might offend someone else.
So that since a Christian believes in love as the first and greatest virtue,
with this new definition a Christian would be bound
not to say anything negative about other people’s sinful behavior,
lest they offend them.
Even if that behavior is destructive, even self-destructive.
And since Christians believe we can sin in our thoughts,
this redefinition tells a Christian that love means
he can’t even think something negative about other people’s sinful behavior.
So for a Christian, it now apparently becomes a sin
to merely recognize a sin when you see it.
And from there it’s only a short step
to accepting the one-way redefinition of tolerance,
to accepting the evil as good,
to embracing what you once merely put up with.
But all this runs directly against the complete message of Scripture.
For example, today’s first reading from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel tells us:
“If…you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,
the wicked shall die for his guilt,
but I will hold you responsible for his death.”
Here and elsewhere Scripture makes it very clear
that we must recognize sins around us,
and that we cannot either remain silent or actively accept them.
But people try to take the Scripture out of context
and even twist the words of Jesus to justify the acceptance of sins.
One of the most common examples is pointing out that
Jesus ate and drank with all sorts of people,
even the “Gentiles and tax collectors”,
and then try to use this to convince us that Jesus
accepted their sinful behavior out love.
But they forget that when the pious Jews complained to Jesus
about his eating with sinners
Jesus didn’t tell them they were being intolerant and unloving
but instead he said:
“People who are in good health do not need a doctor;
sick people do.
I have come to call not the self-righteous, but sinners.”
In other words, Jesus said the tax collectors were sinners who need to change,
comparing them to sick people who needed to be cured.
Some then they try to confuse things,
again they use our strengths against us,
twisting Scripture out of context to redefine the meaning of love.
For example, take today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“The commandments …are summed up in this saying, namely,
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ”
Love does no evil to the neighbor;
hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
They argue that hurting your neighbor’s feelings isn’t loving,
and that the 10 Commandments and sins aren’t that important
–loving is all that really matters.
The problem is, St. Paul doesn’t accept their simplistic redefinition of love.
He does NOT equate love with avoiding making other people feel bad,
and he is not saying we don’t have to keep the commandments.
He’s saying that the commandments themselves define what true love really is:
it’s not loving to commit adultery—no matter how good it feels;
it’s not loving to kill or steal
—no matter how many problems it might solve for you or your loved ones.
St. Paul tells us: “Love does no evil to a neighbor”
Elsewhere in Scripture Jesus tells us:
“I was … sick and …you did not visit me.’
…’Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these,
you did it not to me.’
Is it loving to just stand by and let your neighbor be destroyed by evil?
By not doing something to help—isn’t that the same as doing evil?
If your brother is sick, you have an obligation to help him!
But how many times do we fail to love our neighbors enough to even,
as Jesus says in today’s Gospel:
“go and tell him his fault.”
Not with hate or contempt, but with patience and a depth of love
that isn’t seen in the cowardice of the easy way out of silent acceptance
or false tolerance.
In love I would not accept cancer as a good thing for my brother to have.
And in love, I will not embrace, accept or even ignore
the sin in my brother’s life.
Instead, with patience, prudence, and in love, I must, as Ezekiel tells us,
“speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,
… trying to turn him from his way”
Jesus tells us:
“If your brother sins…,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
Sometimes this works.
I remember once, years before I entered the seminary
when I still too lax in practicing the faith,
the 10 year old son of a dear friend of mine asked me one day
if I had been to Mass that Sunday.
And when I said “no” he broke down in tears telling me
I needed to go to Mass because he didn’t want me to go to hell.
Those were not tears of intolerance, and he wasn’t correcting me out of hate.
And I haven’t missed a Sunday Mass since.
But sometimes our lone voice isn’t enough to convince the people we’re close to
that what they’re doing is seriously wrong or evil.
And sometimes not even the voice of even all of our family and friends
is enough to wake us up to the dangerous presence of sin in our lives.
And so Jesus goes on to tell us:
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”
The Church sometimes teaches things that are very unpopular
—unpopular but true and good for us.
And so sometimes, when something is very serious, she warns her children
by being very strong and strict with them:
sometimes even cutting them off
from sharing the fullness of life with the Church.
she denies Holy Communion to any person in the state of mortal sin,
especially Catholics who publicly and obviously persist in grave sin.
She even sometimes excommunicates some of her children, not out of hate,
but as a medicinal warning.
In love, and as a last resort, she treats them,
according to Jesus’ own specific instructions,
like the Jews were supposed to treat “a Gentiles or a tax collector”
—as outcast from the community.
But at the same time she also treats them as Jesus treated
“a Gentile or a tax collector”:
she goes to them over and over and calls them, in true love,
to recognize their sins, amend their lives,
and receive Christ’s forgiveness and reconciliation.
As the saying goes: even the devil can quote Scripture.
But we must not to be misled by people
who quote one or two lines of Scripture out of context
or twist common sense beyond all recognition,
to redefine the most basic concepts of faith and reason.
Instead, we must not be afraid or intimidated into forsaking
the truth and the complete message of revelation.
In a world that is more and more confused about
the true meaning of love and tolerance,
we must always love our neighbor enough
to never confuse love with the acceptance of evil.
And we must not remain silent when sin is destroying our neighbor.
Because the Lord who loves us and calls us to love and help each other
is not confused at all.
And he is not silent.
He tells us very simply:
“If …you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,
I will hold you responsible….”
because: “Love does no evil to the neighbor.”
 This is the way I began the homily at 7pm Saturday and 845am Sunday Masses. At 1030am I added the following before the rest: “In the movie ‘The Princess Bride’ one of the characters kept saying the phrase, ‘that’s inconceivable.’ And one of the other characters would respond, ‘I do not think that word means what you think it means.’ I feel like that sometimes when people use some words nowadays. I thought about that this week when I read about Governor and Mrs. McDonnell’s trial for bribery….” I then went on with the above text.