23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 10, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
We live in a very strange, confusing and even nonsensical time.
A time when the primary virtue often seems to be “tolerance”
but where tolerance means not merely putting up with evil,
but accepting and even embracing evil things as if they were good,
A time when “charity” is defined as
never saying anything that might offend someone else,
no matter how destructive we know their behavior to be.
A time when it sometimes seems
the only sin is recognizing someone else’s sins.
At the same time, we’re told that we can’t judge anyone else,
unless, of course we judge them as being guilty
of some offense against, for lack of a better term,
in which case, the all-important virtue of tolerance doesn’t apply:
it’s okay to be intolerant of these people.
We see this all around us:
from the school that recently punished a first grader
who committed the grievous crime of calling a little boy a little boy
when he wanted to be called a little girl,
to radical groups suppressing free speech on campuses.
And we even see it growing in the Church as well,
as various churchmen urge us to refrain
from preaching the hard sayings of Jesus, lest we offend someone,
and risk causing them to feel excluded from the life of the Church.
We sometimes call this “political correctness,”
but all too often that term is much too benign a description,
as more and more it involves the enshrinement lies and ignorance,
often through violent coercion.
But all this runs directly against the complete message of Scripture
Over and over again Scripture tells us that we must judge the actions of others
—not in the sense of deciding who’s going to heaven or hell:
only God does that
– but we must make objective judgments about good and evil,
including in the actions of other people.
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 have to recognize sins around us,
and that we cannot merely silently tolerate or accept them.
And yet often people try to take the Scripture out of context
and twist the words of Jesus to justify tolerance or 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 they try to use this to convince us that Jesus
was always accepting of the sins of sinners.
But they forget that when the pious Jews complained to Jesus
about his eating with people who were clearly, objectively, leading sinful lives
that the Law of Moses required to be shunned by the community,
Jesus didn’t rebuke them for being intolerant,
telling them that they should “get over it,”
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.”
Christ judged the tax collectors to be sinners
—and He compared them to sick people
–there was something wrong with them
that needed to be cured.
Some are confused by this: and they point to texts
like today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“[The] commandment[s] …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 being “judgmental” and “intolerant” isn’t loving,
and loving is all that really matters.
But St. Paul doesn’t equate love with making other people feel good,
or avoiding making them feel bad.
He’s not saying we don’t have to keep the commandments
if the alternative feels better.
He’s saying that the commandments themselves tell us 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 hungry and you gave me no food,
… 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 starve to death?
Well then how is it loving to just stand by and let your neighbor
be destroyed by evil, and maybe go down the road to hell?
By not doing something to help—isn’t that the same as doing evil?
An intentional “sin of omission.”
If your brother is sick, you have an obligation to help him.
The very least you can do is tell him—warn him–that he’s sick,
even if he doesn’t want to hear it!
How many times do we not love our neighbors —truly love them—
enough to even, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel:
“go and tell him his fault.”
Not with hate or contempt or self-righteousness,
but with genuine compassion and patience and a depth of love
that isn’t seen in the cowardice of the easy way out of silent tolerance.
In love, I would not tolerate cancer in my brother,
—and I will not tolerate 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”
It doesn’t matter if it makes you feel uncomfortable, or even afraid.
We must obey Jesus, who is love Himself,
and loves more purely and completely than all of mankind combined,
but tells us, if you love your brother:
“If your brother sins…go and tell him his fault ….”
Sometimes our lone voice isn’t enough to convince the people we’re close to
that what their doing is seriously wrong or evil.
And so, Jesus goes on to tell us:
“…. If he does not listen [to you alone],
take one or two others along with you.”
But 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—
but all She is doing is “hearing” what God says,
and “warning” His children, Her children.
Most of the time the Church warns Her children very gently, like a tender Mother:
gently, but firmly, and clearly.
But sometimes, when necessary, Holy Mother Church warns Her children
by being very strong and strict with them:
and sometimes She is even forced to cut them off
from full communion with the Church.
she denies Holy Communion to any person in the state of mortal sin
especially public sinners who
publicly obstinately persist in grave manifest sin,
such as pro-abortion Catholic politicians,
divorced and civilly remarried Catholics,
and Catholics in so called same-sex marriages.
She even sometimes excommunicates some of her children,
whether it’s a theologian spreading the poison of heresy,
or someone involved in the abortion of an unborn baby.
In love, and as a last desperate resort, she treats them,
according to Jesus’ own specific instructions,
just as God commanded the Jews 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, and to amend their lives, and in the love of Christ,
to receive his wonderful forgiveness and reconciliation
—with Himself and with His Bride, the Church.
As the saying goes: even the devils 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.
Instead, we must not be afraid or intimidated into forsaking
the truth and the complete message of revelation.
In a culture 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 silent toleration of evil.
Because the Lord who loves us and calls us to love each other,
and to help each other, is not confused at all.
He tells us very simply:
“If …you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,
I will hold you responsible for his death.”
because: “Love does no evil to the neighbor.”