26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 1, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
This last week I was on vacation with three of my brother priests.
I had a very relaxing time, playing golf, seeing some movies, watching sports,
and just goofing off.
It’s good to get away, to put the problems of the world around us aside,
and just relax and refresh.
And there are a lot of problems: the world seems to be in a mess.
On a global scale,
we have the threats of Islam-ist terrorism and nuclear proliferation,
not to mention the decline of Western culture and morality in general.
On a national level, we have the problems of
rising leftist-anarchism, anti-Americanism, racism, lawlessness,
and economic hardship,
not to mention the political confusion in Washington.
On a cultural level we have attacks against
freedom of speech, conscience and religion,
as well as on traditional moral values, and common sense itself.
Not to mention the promotion of greed and envy among both the rich and poor,
the glorification of hatred and destruction of those who disagree with you,
and redefinition of the meaning of words like love and truth.
And then we have increasing problems in the Church,
as confusion spreads over teaching and the papal authority.
Today, the American Bishops call us to reflect on
one of the most terrible problems in a particular way:
today is “Respect Life Sunday,”
and the beginning of “Respect Life Month,”
reminding us of a fundamental problem
that is both a symptom and a cause
of so many of our other terrible cultural problems today:
that is, the scourge of abortion,
the willful murder of the most innocent human life, an unborn baby.
Think about it.
Abortion erodes the fundamental respect
for the dignity and worth of every human life.
If you don’t have to protect an innocent baby, who do you have to protect?
If you don’t have a right to life, what other right do you really have?
—without life, no other rights exist!
If mothers and fathers can be convinced it’s okay to kill their own children,
what is the worth and meaning of being a mother or father,
or being a family?
And if babies have no value, then it’s ridiculous to argue,
as society has for thousands of years,
that marriage and sex are largely about having and protecting babies
—if babies are useless, then how can marriage and sex
gain any meaning from them,
so sex and marriage have nothing to do with
the reproductive union of male and female,
and so you can have sex with or marry anyone you want
–males can marry males, mothers can marry their daughters.
And really then, sexuality, or “gender,” loses a lot of its meaning too.
And then of course, if babies are useless and without dignity or rights,
what could be wrong with killing unborn Black babies:
so even though Blacks make up only 13 percent of our population
35 percent of abortions in the U.S. are of Black babies.
Abortion, as I say, is both a symptom and a cause
of many of the other terrible problems today:
it is related to the rise of racism, sexism, pornography, homosexuality,
transgenderism, divorce, greed, envy, poverty, violence,
and a general decline in patriotism and respect for the rule of law.
Of course, abortion is not the cause of every problem, directly or indirectly.
But the same things that cause abortion
also cause most of our most terrible problems
—that’s what I mean by abortion being a “symptom.”
So, abortion doesn’t cause terrorism,
but abortion and terrorism are both caused by
the same profound lack of respect for innocent human life.
And that in turn is rooted in a fundamental lack of understanding
of why human life is so important.
All decent people, in our guts, by our nature, by common sense,
seem to understand that innocent human life is different from other life:
human life is different, better, higher
than the life of trees, or bugs, or cows.
And innocent human life is different from non-innocent human life,
life corrupted by willful evil choices:
it’s natural, common sense, to think that
it’s okay to do violence to a person who’s about to murder your son, and not okay to do violence to a child playing on a swing.
But why is that—why is human life special?
Christians and Jews, and the cultures they formed all over the world,
tell us it’s because God made us different—
“little less than the angels” …. “in the image and likeness of God.”
And governments throughout the last 1600 years are founded on this principle.
Even our own government, as we read in the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, [common sense]
that all men are created equal, …endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life….”
Sadly, the world had lost sight of both
this common sense/natural understanding of the dignity of human life,
and the Judeo-Christian explanation of where it comes from.
So that is not surprising that the rise of so many of our terrible problems
we have today
coincides with the rise the rejection of traditional Christianity,
that began in the early 1900s and is reaching its new highs today.
Man has turned away from God,
or perhaps turned toward a different kind of god.
The very first Commandment of the Judeo-Christian Decalogue is:
“I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.”
More and more our society is turning away from the God of the Bible,
and even the God of the Declaration of Independence,
and turning toward other false gods.
The false gods of wealth, pleasure and selfishness.
The false god of a total license to do whatever you want.
The false god of hatred against those who disagree with you.
And most especially, the false gods of popular opinion,
or our own personal opinion.
And so more and more we turn away from God
and toward ourselves, as a group or as individuals.
But we are not God—and so disaster.
How do we fix this?
Well, we begin by turning back to God.
Specifically, we Christians turn back to Christ
and invite everyone we know to join us.
In today’s first reading St. Paul tells us:
“Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself…coming in human likeness;
…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to…death,…death on a cross.”
Jesus was truly God the Son, but he didn’t cling to his Divine Rights
when it was time for Him to humbly obey His Father
and become a human being to die on the Cross for us.
And yet we, who are merely lowly creatures created by God,
pretend to be equal to God.
If this doesn’t change, the problems that plague us will only get worse
and destroy us—in this life and in the life to come.
But it can change.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable of
a son who first tells his father “no,” “but afterwards changed his mind”
and obeyed his father.
Jesus goes on to point out that sinners can change their minds too,
and be saved.
And today’s first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel tells us the same thing:
“if [a man] turns from the wickedness he has committed,
and does what is right and just,
he shall preserve his life;
since he has turned away from …sins …he shall not die.”
Friends, what our world, nation and culture, and even our Church, needs
is for us all to turn away from the false gods we’ve created
that lead us to sins and the terrible consequences that come from them,
and to turn back to the true God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
We have to stop clinging to the false gods we have made ourselves out to be
—either individually or as a society or community—
and take on the same attitude as Jesus,
not grasping on to some ridiculously false sense of equality with God
but rather humbling ourselves, becoming obedient,
even if it means we have to suffer a little, or even a lot,
even as became “obedient to the point of death…. on a cross.”
We need to turn away from these false gods and turn toward the Lord,
turn toward God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ,
at whose name
“every knee should bend, …
in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”
For some time now, great men in the Church have been promoting the idea
that a powerful way to remind ourselves of this “turning toward the Lord”
is to revive the centuries old tradition
of the Church of turning toward the Lord at Mass.
That is, the whole Church, people and priest, gathered at the Mass together,
turning together to face the same direction
as a sign of their unity in turning together to worship the Father,
through Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.
Great men from the very-white German theologian-turned-Pope, Benedict XVI,
to the very-black African pastor-turned-Prefect for Divine Worship,
Cardinal Robert Sarah,
have called us to this practice.
In doing so they have repeatedly pointed out
that the overemphasis on the priest turning to face the people
during the Mass
reflects our overemphasis on turning toward each other
to find the answer to our problems.
They point out how the turning together toward God in prayer,
in humility, in obedience,
can help us to regain the proper attitude of Christ,
of not clinging to a false divinity, but embracing obedience to the true God.
Symbolically recognizing that all of us, including the priest,
need to, as Ezekiel reminds us today,
turn from the wickedness we have committed.
Not to turn our backs on each other, but to turn with each other toward God.
For some time now, we’ve celebrated our Sunday 8:45 Mass this way,
where after the Prayer of the Faithful,
during the most important prayers of the Mass,
including the offering of the sacrifice and the Consecration,
the priests stands at the altar facing the same direction as the people
—we usually call it “facing east” or “ad orientem.”
Today, we expand that practice to this/the 10:30 Mass
—and will do this from now on the first Sunday of every month.
There are lots of reasons for doing this,
but I think this counterculture symbolism I’ve just discussed
may be the most important
—at least the most powerful on a practical level.
I know it’s not easy for everyone to get used to
—that’s why most of our Masses will continue as usual,
with the priest facing the people.
But I think that having this symbol at some of our Masses
can be a powerful reminder of the need for all of us
not to depend merely or primarily on ourselves, individually or together,
to solve our problems.
Yes, we need to work together,
but depending primarily on the power, wisdom and mercy of God.
The world is mess—from terrorism, to sexual immorality,
to killing our own unborn babies.
And all this is because of sin—because we have made ourselves into gods.
As we now move more deeply into the great and holy mystery of this Holy Mass,
let us remember that in the Eucharist we stand at the very foot of the Cross,
where Jesus once
“humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.”
And so let us turn together toward the Lord,
either physically, or metaphorically.
So that we may leave here today and go out into our very troubled world,
always turning toward the Lord,
by taking on the attitude of Jesus,
not clinging to some false equality with God,
but humbling ourselves and becoming obedient to Him.