TEXT: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 3, 2017

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 3, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

A couple of weeks ago I took a vacation,

driving out to the Midwest to see some family.

When I got back I realized something remarkable:

for 7 days, I had largely avoided all TV and radio,

and even the internet, for the most part.

It was one of the most relaxing things about my vacation.

 

Doesn’t it seem that nowadays we’re constantly inundated from all directions

with new information and ideas.

Much of that information is very useful.

But much of it is useless, and some of it is even destructive.

 

How often do we ever stop to think about what we’re learning

and how its shaping who we are?

Are we shaping our minds with the merely human wisdom of this age,

or are we renewing our minds with the Wisdom of God.

 

Think about it:

for example, how much time do you spend in front of a TV set?

And yet, since we often watch TV to relax,

think of how much “human wisdom” you, or your family,

takes in without critically evaluating the information you receive.

But most of what we see comes out of Hollywood or Madison Avenue:

do you really want them shaping the mind of you or your children?

 

And think about the internet,

and all the wronghead and even disgusting information

just a few key-strokes away.

Look at social media:

foolish, ignorant, and unprincipled people

are given a worldwide platform.

I’m a big advocate of freedom of speech, but also the freedom to listen, or not.

 

Or think about the news we receive.

A couple of years ago a survey showed that something like

90% of news reporters don’t believe in God,

but that about 90% of Americans do—and you do!

And yet we so often uncritically let all these human sources shape our minds.

 

Even the best and most impressive human wisdom is limited

–it makes mistakes, sometimes huge mistakes.

I can remember when, not so long ago, scientists were telling us

the world was about to enter a new ice age.

In the last century alone the so called “wisest” people of our time

and worked diligently on problems like

political unrest, poverty, racism, starvation and violence

and yet those problems are still around, some worse than ever.

 

____

Human wisdom, so called, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The fact is, that if we form our minds and consciences

by learning solely or even principally from human  wisdom

we’ll inevitably wind up leading a life

full of confusion, frustration, disappointment and even despair.

 

But St. Paul tells us today in his letter to the Romans,

“Do not conform yourselves to this age

but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,

that you may discern what is the will of God,

what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

He “begs” us to let divine wisdom enlighten our human wisdom

so that we can begin to see and understand things as they really are.

Elsewhere, he calls this “put[ting] on the mind of Christ.”

 

____

In today’s Gospel, we find out what happens

when we use human wisdom without divine wisdom.

When Jesus tells the apostles that he has to go to Jerusalem

to suffer and be killed, St.  Peter “rebukes” Him:

“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”,

And Jesus turns on him and says

“Get behind me, Satan….

You are thinking not as God does, but as [men] do.”

Here the word “satan”, is used as the Hebrew word for “enemy“.

Now to some this is very shocking, especially since

just last week we read the text that comes right before this one

in Matthew’s Gospel

where Jesus called Peter, not his “enemy,”

but the “rock” upon which he will build his Church:

the famous text of the institution of the papacy.

How can he call Peter the rock one minute, and his enemy the next?

 

The thing is, we believe that the promise Jesus made to Peter

means that it was Christ’s will and plan to build and protect the Church,

by using the popes as a unifying source of direction and doctrine.

—what we believe and how we live out that belief.

 

But we don’t believe that everything every pope says or does is infallible dogma.

And we especially don’t believe that they can’t make mistakes

in their day to day personal life, just like the rest of us.

 

In last week’s Gospel, Peter was teaching as a pope,

stating a central dogma of our faith that he had learned from Jesus,

and that divine grace had helped him to finally understand:

proclaiming: Jesus “you are the Messiah.”

But in this week’s Gospel, he’s not so much teaching at all,

and he’s clearly not taking from what Jesus had taught him,

or being guided by divine grace.

Instead, Peter is relying on simple, basic and imminently fallible human wisdom

–and he completely blows it.

And Jesus tells him: “You are thinking not as God does, but as [men] do.”

 

In his human wisdom, Peter looks to Jerusalem

and sees only horrible suffering

and he just doesn’t want Jesus to go there.

But Jesus looks to Jerusalem with the mind of God,

and sees not only his great suffering

–and his death on the Cross–

but He also sees the plan of the Father, the wisdom of the Father,

coming to fulfillment in redemption for the children of God

and in the Resurrection.

 

___

St. Peter’s problem is the exact problem we face every day of our lives:

all too often we also don’t “thin[k] as God does, but as human beings do.”

For Peter, the issue was whether or not Christ should suffer.

For us the issues usually aren’t much different.

Christ says

“Whoever wishes to come after me

must …take up his cross, and follow me.”

But the wisdom of men doesn’t like crosses and suffering.

Rather, it often tells us that we should constantly

be seeking pleasure and avoiding personal pain.

So we see some of the so-called “wisest” people of this age

embracing things that they think will somehow end suffering:

things like abortion, euthanasia, divorce and contraception

And they tell us that pleasure is the purpose of living.

And so we live in a society immersed in

consumerism, materialism, sexual depravity, and escapism.

and driven by greed, and lust, power and selfishness.

But the wisdom of God tells us:

deny [your]self, take up [your] cross, and follow me.”

 

____

[But] How do we know if we are thinking with the human or divine wisdom?

How do we go about transforming our minds in Christ?

We begin by doing what we do when we want to know the mind of anyone:

we talk to them and spend time with them.

So to take on the mind of God we begin to by talking with him–by praying.

And by spending time just being with God.

What a great thing it is to spend time praying before our Lord

truly present in the Blessed Sacrament

—like the Psalm says today:

“So I gaze on you in the sanctuary

to see your strength and your glory.”

And we can do more than gaze:

we can be with Him by receiving Him in Holy Communion also.

 

And when we really want to know the mind of another person

we also try to find out everything we can about them from other people.

So, in putting on the mind of God, we go to Scripture and Tradition,

and the teaching of the Church.

And, by the grace of God, as we begin to prayerfully let these teachings take root,

we begin to experience the true transformation and renewal of our minds.

 

____

Some Catholics say nowadays,

that we don’t have to listen to, much less obey, Church teaching.

They say the Church and the Popes make mistakes

and that Vatican II told us we have to obey our own consciences.

It is true that many times individual priests, bishops and cardinals,

and sometimes even Popes,

make mistakes in their teaching.

But the constant teaching of the Church,

that which is passed down from the apostles

through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition,

and applied and clarified through centuries of prayerful teaching

by the Church’s Popes, Councils, theologians and saints,

in that, the Church does not make mistakes,

protected as it is by Christ’s promise that

“the gates of hell shall not prevail” against it.

It’s fallible human beings in the Church,

relying on their own or others merely human wisdom,

that make mistakes.

Just like Peter did in rebuking the Lord.

 

And while it is true that we do have to obey our consciences,

the conscience of a Catholic should be nothing less than

a mind which is conformed to the wisdom of God,

not the wisdom of men.

What Vatican II really taught was that Christians:

(quote) “… must always be governed according to

a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself,

and should be submissive toward the Church’s teaching office,

which authentically interprets that law

in the light of the Gospel.” (close quote)

So, if the preliminary judgment of our conscience

is NOT consistent with the mind of Christ

passed on to us through centuries of official teaching of the Church,

then we know we’ve been using human wisdom

and not the Wisdom of God.

 

We call this the “proper formation of conscience.”

But this forming of conscience, does not happen overnight:

it is a steady process, the result of a concerted effort

to pray, to spend time with the Lord

and to learn all we can about the teachings of the Church.

So, it must begin as early as possible: from the first moments of childhood.

And it must begin at home, with the family.

It begins with daily family prayer,

moms and dads gathered with their kids and with the Lord,

teaching them their Catholic prayers,

and that the Lord listens to their prayers.

Praying before meals, before bed, for particular needs.

Praying the family rosary and coming to Mass together every Sunday

… so many ways to pray as a Catholic family.

 

And it begins by parents teaching their children about Jesus and His Church.

Do you ever just talk about Jesus at the table?

Do talk about the day’s events in the light of the Gospel and Church teaching? When you’re in the car driving home from Mass on Sunday

do you talk about the readings, or the homily, or about the Eucharist?

When someone makes fun of your son or daughter at school

do you remind them that they made fun of Jesus too, and even killed Him,

but then He rose from the dead?

 

____

Last week, parents sent their kids back to school.

Ask yourself: does the school you send your kids to

teach them to conform to merely human wisdom?

Or does it help them transform their minds to think as God does?

And if you get the wrong answer to those questions, what are you doing about it?

Have you thought of changing schools, or homeschooling?

Or at least making concerted systematic effort at home to counter the problem?

 

Do you make the effort to bring them to CCD, Religious Education,

so they can spend at least an hour learning what the Church teaches,

after spending multiple hours at school learning what the world teaches?

And do you make sure they do their CCD homework

with the same diligence as their Math homework?

 

____

Almost every moment of our lives, we learn something.

But when we learn, what do we learn?

Do we form our minds and consciences by the eternal truth of God’s mind,

or merely the fallible opinions of men?

Do we imitate Peter as he listens to the mind of the Father and teaches:

“You are the messiah,”

or when he listens to his own weak human wisdom,

and gets rebuked by Christ: “Get behind me, Satan!”

 

____

We live in an age of much information and great human learning.

This can often be a great blessing.

But we must remember:

not all information is true or helpful,

and merely human learning can often be terribly flawed,

and even destructive in its error.

Today as we come together to pray,

to gaze on and receive Our Lord in the Sanctuary,

and to listen to his word,

let may these words of St. Paul be seared into our minds and hearts:

“Do not conform yourselves to this age

but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,

that you may discern what is the will of God,

what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

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