TEXT: 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 22, 2017

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 22, 2017

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

“Make America Great again.”

We’ve heard this a lot lately.

But is it just a political slogan,

or is it truly a call for genuine reform of our nation?

And if it’s a call for reform,

is it a call for Americans to dedicate ourselves to becoming

a people governed by great administrators,

or a people who live great lives,

individually and as together as one nation.

 

The answer to these questions depends largely on what it means to be “great.”

Perhaps that depends largely on the word that follows it in the slogan: “again.”

It seems for many, especially those who make this their political motto today,

that to be great again means a return to a level of national

power, prosperity and peace that we have experienced in the past,

but which seems to have slipped out of our grasp in the last decade,

or decades.

 

Of course, some say our nation was never “great,”

pointing to certain moral injustices perpetrated or sustained

by our government or culture.

Others say America doesn’t have to become great again

because they think we’re already greater than we’ve ever been.

I would disagree with both of these.

I do think America has been great in the past, in spite of her imperfections,

as terrible as some have been.

And, sadly, I hang my head in sorrow and shame to admit to myself

that America today is clearly not as great as it once was.

And while I agree that power, prosperity and peace

are reasonable measures of “greatness” of a nation,

I would disagree with those who might tend to think these are enough

to give a full measure of greatness.

Rather, I believe that our nation is at its greatest

only when it is morally and spiritually great.

That’s not to say, morally and spiritually perfect, but morally and spiritually great:

when we strive to be a great nation in every way,

while at the same time recognizing our moral and spiritual

imperfections, flaws and sins, and try to overcome them.

 

And so, I believe that America was great when it fought for liberty

and established a nation based on “self-evident” “truths,”

the moral principles found in

“the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God

that “all men are created equal”

and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

 

And I believe that as it grew in the greatness of prosperity and power

it showed its true greatness by entering a bloody civil war

to end the horrible injustice of slavery.

And as it grew exponentially to lead the world in the Industrial Age,

on the way to becoming the greatest economic power on earth,

it recognized the greed and avarice that was taking hold,

and instituted laws to make sure that free enterprise capitalism

lived up to its just potential.

And as it has met every new challenge,

every temptation to abuse our great power, prosperity and peace,

we’ve seen time and time again the morality of our great nation rise up

to make sure we kept our moral greatness survived and flourished.

 

____

But where does this moral greatness come from?

Some argue that it comes from European philosophers of the enlightenment.

Certainly, it owes some of its political sense to these philosophers,

but in reality it is overwhelmingly rooted

in the morality of the religion espoused by almost all Americans

from our founding until the last few decades:

that is, Christianity.

 

____

Christian values and morals have made us truly great.

So that even in those times when we gave into sin

—whether the evil of greed, avarice, lust, envy, anger, sloth or pride—

the teachings of Christ have pulled us back toward greatness.

 

In today’s first reading we hear:

First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali;

but in the end he has glorified [them] …”

And then it goes on to say,

“Anguish has taken wing….

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”

In today’s Gospel St. Matthew tells us that this is a prophesy fulfilled in Jesus,

who is, as we read elsewhere in the Gospels,

the “light shining in the darkness,” “the light of the world.”

 

Sometimes America has had to slide to very low points

before we realized our failing, our great societal sins,

but “in the end” the light of Christ has always brought us back to greatness.

 

___

The light of Christ shines on Christians in so many ways,

but most basically in his teachings revealed in Scripture and Tradition.

I could stand here all day and go through all those teachings,

but they all begin with one word.

As St. Matthew tells us today, as Jesus began his public teaching,

“From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say,

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

 

“Repent.”

Christ’s fundamental teaching to repent

—to listen to all the rest of his teachings and follow them,

turning from sin to follow righteousness.

This has always been the key to American greatness.

Repenting slavery.

Repenting the greed and avarice of the overzealous materialism

of the industrial revolution.

Repent the sexual decadence of the roaring twenties.

Repent, repent, repent.

And make America great again.

 

_____

Friday, we inaugurated a new president.

Many see President Trump as a kind of savior.

He is not, no more than President Obama was the savior so many sought

when he came to power 8 years ago.

 

Our only savior is Jesus Christ.

He is the light of the world, and of our nation.

 

But in the last few years darkness has fallen over our nation,

as so many Americans have turned their back on Jesus and his teachings.

You know the list:

the normalization of sexual promiscuousness, depravity and perversion;

the degradation of the family and marriage;

the continued assault on the dignity of human life, especially by abortion;

and the attack on Christianity, especially the religious liberty of Christians,

particularly Catholics, like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

And worst of all, our government, our president, led the way.

 

First the Lord degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali;

but in the end he has glorified [them] …

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

 

The light is not Donald Trump, or his movement.

The light is Jesus Christ.

And in the last election it wasn’t so much Trump

that so many of his Christian supporters voted for

—rather, they voted for “Repentance.”

 

_____

Will our new president allow our nation, even lead our nation, to repent?

Maybe not because he believes,

but at least because he was elected by those who do believe?

The events of the next few weeks will tell if those Christians chose well.

And we begin those weeks today,

we remember that 44 years ago today, on January 22,1973,

the Supreme Court of the United States

really started our latest radical departure from greatest

by inventing a false right to kill unborn babies

in the infamous Roe v. Wade decision.

Word is that today our new president will sign an executive order

denying federal funding for abortion to international groups.

Please God.

And he has repeatedly promised, and rumors continue to confirm this,

that in the next week or two he will appoint

a strong pro-life, pro-Christian, Justice to the Supreme Court.

We shall see.

And we shall pray.

 

But we don’t have to just wait and see and pray.

The light of Christ shines not just on our nation,

but also on each of us as individuals.

And the call to “repent” is not some vague impersonal appeal,

but a personal call to you and me.

As we read in today’s Gospel,

Jesus called out to Peter and Andrew and James and John:

“‘Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’

[and] At once they left their nets and followed him.”

 

So as we begin this new year, and this new political era,

let us leave our nets behind and follow Jesus.

Nets filled with typical American sins,

like greed, avarice, lust, envy, anger, sloth and pride,

typical human sins that are destroying ourselves, our families

and our nation.

Leave those nets behind and follow Christ.

And not just follow him, but like Peter and Andrew and James and John,

by the grace of Jesus Christ become “fishers of men”

—beginning with your family, and then with all your friends and neighbors

at home, at work, in school and at play.

And by our repentance, our following Christ and our fishing for Him,

we can help lead our whole nation back to Jesus

and the moral principles that have always

made our nation the greatest it can be.

 

So… Today, let us pray for our nation’s new leaders,

especially our new President,

that the light of Christ may shine on them,

and they may lead us in the light.

But whatever they do,

let us join together, united to Jesus Christ, and in His grace,

to lead ourselves, our family and friends, and our whole nation

to repent and follow Christ.

So that with Jesus, we will “make America great again”!

 

God bless America, and Praised be Jesus Christ!

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