26th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2012

September 30, 2012
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, Va.

Sometimes we’re so busy seeing the differences between ourselves and others
that we fail to see the good things we have in common.
On the other hand, it is important to recognize those differences,
first of all to see the differences that we may want to overcome,
but also, to recognize and protect ourselves
against values that we don’t share.
This tension between recognizing both the good and the bad in others
is a source of particular difficulty for Christians
–we want to see the good in others,
but we don’t want the good that they possess to blind us
so that we fail to notice the goodness that they lack.

Its sort of like the apostles in today’s Gospel when they discover that a man,
a stranger who did “not follow” them
is performing miracles in the name of Jesus.
And it seems that the apostles are confused,
wondering if they should do something to stop him.
But even though this stranger lacks the fullness of the good that would come
with being in the intimate company of Christ,
Jesus tells the apostles:
“Do not prevent him….For whoever is not against us is for us.”

This need to recognize Christian works in those who are not fully in our company
leads us to understand the great importance
that the Catholic Church places on ecumenism.
We’re called to look for the things we have in common
with the various non-Catholic but Christian denominations,
and then to use those as a starting point for both mutual cooperation
in spreading the Gospel
and in beginning the process
of striving for the unity of all Christians everywhere.

And we’re not just called to recognize the goodness of Christ’s truth
in other Christians,
but also to recognize that goodness when it’s possessed by non-Christians
–even atheists.
Because even a non-Christian can come to recognize some of the truth of Christ
–even if they don’t recognize it as Christ’s
–to the extent they pursue the truth with an open and humble heart.
By working with tolerance with people of other denominations, or religions,
or even with atheists,
on issues that we share strong beliefs,
we can build a better and more just society,
and lay the foundation so that the Gospel of Christ might then take root
and spread to all men of goodwill.

And yet, as our ecumenism and religious tolerance increases,
we find ourselves in the dilemma I mentioned earlier.
Sometimes in our rush to see the good in others,
we confuse cooperation and toleration with indifferentism,
truth with ignorance and error,
and even sometimes good with evil.
The good that is present seems to overshadow or mask that which is lacking.

But its important to remember
that just as Jesus insists that we must recognize and respect
the truth that others possess,
he’s even more adamant that we can never compromise
on the fullness of the truth.
He tells his apostles: ” whoever is not against us is for us.”
but he immediately goes on to warn them:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.”

Now, I don’t mean to imply at that non-Catholics
should have a millstone tied around their neck.
The point is to consider the intensity with which Jesus insists
we not lead anyone astray from him in any way.
Notice that Christ calls us not to mislead his “little ones”
–but by that he means not only children, but all of us that he calls to
“become like these little ones.”
Its wrong to lead anyone away from Christ in anyway–even ourselves.

Leading people astray is easy nowadays
because there’s such a tendency in our society
to see the good in others and then immediately move
to accept everything about the person as good.
We see this everyday.
Sometimes we lead ourselves or others astray in a radical and drastic way
by overtly rejecting Christ and his teachings or his Church.
For example, consider young couples living together before marriage.
How many Catholic parents have tolerated this in their adult children,
perhaps even letting the couples sleep in the same room
when they come to visit.
They focus on the good things about their children
and somehow let those excuse their gravely sinful behavior.
Those parents not only lead themselves astray,
they also lead these adult children astray,
and their younger children as well.
And in doing so cause all “these little ones …to sin.”

And I’m not going to point the finger at just lay people.
How many priests fall into this same trap?
And I’m not just talking about the terrible sexual scandals.
As terrible as those are, they are comparatively very rare.
More common are the times when priests lead little ones to sin
by the heresies they preach,
or the false compassion they show in the confessional.
For example, how many married couples tell me
“but Father, Fr. Smith told us contraception was okay.”
But Jesus had a much different approach to compassion:
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off [He said].
It is better …to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go …the unquenchable fire.”

But sometimes we lead ourselves or others astray in less dramatic ways,
such as when we accept anything less than the fullness of the faith,
either through ignorance, which is not knowing the fullness of the faith,
or through indifference,
which is disregarding the fact that this ignorance is a problem.
And this ignorance is a problem because while its not evil per se,
there’s no way that we’d ever say that this ignorance
–or lacking of the fullness of the faith–is a good thing.
So it would be wrong to mislead others by allowing them
to remain away from following the true Church of Christ,
the Catholic Church,
without making any effort to share the fullness of the Catholic faith with them,
whether it’s your fallen away Catholic brother,
who’s a great guy but just won’t go to Mass,
or your friend who’s a devout Evangelical,
and you think, well they love Jesus
so I don’t need to tell them about Catholicism.

But it’s easy to mislead people–especially ourselves.
It’s so very hard to walk the fine line between
on the one hand, recognizing the good that others do,
especially when they do it in Christ’s name,
and on the other, charitably rejecting what runs contrary
to the fullness of Christ’s teaching.

Of course all this has great practical application in our lives
—in our families, at work and in society in general.
But especially right now in the middle of a heated political campaign season,
it’s so easy to get confused—to be misled or mislead ourselves.
We so often look at a candidate and want to see the good in them,
and then let the good we see excuse some evil policy they embrace.
On the other hand, it’s so easy to focus on our differences with someone
and fail to recognize the good policies that they embrace
—the good values we have in common with them.

And in all this we fail to recognize, we mislead ourselves,
as to who is for us and who is against us.

For example, in our presidential contest.
We have one candidate who is of a completely different faith than we are:
he’s a Mormon.
And make no mistake about it, Mormons are not Christians.
They say they believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior,
but they don’t mean what we mean by that:
they do not believe in the Trinitarian God
—one God in three persons;
nor do they believe in the co-equal and co-eternal divinity
of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
and I could go on and on.

And yet, you look at the lives that Mormons lead, their moral values,
and you see people striving to live very much as Catholics are striving to live.
In particular, you see in this “Mormon candidate”
a man who not only has a record of
serving those in need,
both personally and with extreme financial generosity,
but also someone who recognizes and promises to uphold
the most basic values Catholics hold dear:
the right to life, especially of unborn babies,
the true meaning of marriage
between one male and one female,
and the God-given right to practice our religion freely
without government coercion or persecution.

And then we have the other candidate, our current President,
who shares the basically same faith as we do
—although not a Catholic, he emphatically claims to be a Christian.
And he wraps himself in Biblical ethos:
he speaks of being “your brother’s keeper”;
and says “from to whom much is given, much shall be required.”
And he seems like a decent man—a good father and husband.
And yet he has consistently undermined
the most basic Christians values:
promoting the most extreme positions on abortion,
championing so-called “gay marriage”
and repeatedly violating the religious liberty of Christians,
especially Catholics,
including trying to force us to provide insurance
to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

Who really is for us, and who is really against us?
Who is leading us and our “little ones” astray?

We can never completely reject those who would—intentionally or unintentionally—
lead us astray of the Gospel in any way
because then we’d wind up rejecting almost everyone
and whatever truth they posses, or good they do.
But we must also be so careful not to let the good that we see in others
cause us to fail to recognize what is lacking
—and even the evil that is there.

In those who actively oppose Christ and His Church,
we must recognize evil,
even as we see the good they may do.
In those who love Christ but don’t share in the fullness of the faith,
we must recognize not evil but ignorance,
even as we see the true beauty of the faith they do have
–a faith that may be 10 times as strong as yours or mine.
And in those who love Christ but who cannot see
that God wants neither evil nor ignorance for his children,
we must recognize the sin of indifference.

Today, let us pray for the gift to see Christ’s truth
and his goodness in all those around us,
as we strive for Christian unity,
the conversion of the whole world,
and goodwill among all peoples.
But let us also pray that we may always discern clearly
what is for Christ and what is against him.
And let us pray that we may never, in even the smallest way
–either by our sin, or indifference or ignorance—
lead anyone, especially ourselves, away from the fullness of life with Christ.