Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 11, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
In today’s 2nd reading St. Paul tells us:
“Avoid giving offense, …just as I try to please everyone in every way…”
This is a very simple but important instruction,
but it is so often either ignored or misunderstood.
Nowadays it seems the people get offended much more easily than they used to.
And at the same time we have a phenomenon sometimes called
“political correctness,” which tries to regulate offensive speech or actions.
Now, some say what I call “political correctness”
is really just loving your neighbor.
But the thing is, it’s not really based on true love, but on arbitrary standards
–sometimes rooted in fear, sometimes on ideology–
that absolutely prohibit us from offending some groups
but permit us to offend others.
So it sometimes leads to utterly absurd results,
like when American government officials refuse to recognize
that an army of Muslim terrorists is, well, Muslim.
Or, consider how the media would never dream of saying a negative word about
the so called “gay community,”
but they wouldn’t hesitate to insult
tradition-minded Catholics Evangelical Christian.
It’s interesting how so many in the media claim “free speech”
when they say something offensive about Catholics or Evangelicals,
but if the Pope or an Evangelical preacher
says something which is a simple statement of our ancient faith
they call him a bigot, and his teaching “hate speech”.
No mention of “free speech” here, much less “freedom of religion.”
Some would say that on many issues,
Catholic priests, even the Pope, don’t following St. Paul’s advice to,
“Avoid giving offense …”
Unfortunately, they confuse “giving offense”
with charitably “giving good advice.”
Look at today’s readings again.
In the first reading God tells Moses that lepers should be
“declare[d] unclean,” and “shall dwell apart,” from the rest of the Jews.
On the other hand the Gospel tells that Jesus allowed the leper to “come to” him
and that Jesus was “moved with pity” and healed him.
Some would say that
the Old Testament seems judgmental and uncharitable to the leper,
while Jesus seems welcoming and charitable.
But the reality is that both attitudes reflect charity.
Moses didn’t have the power to heal lepers,
so all he could do, in charity,
was protect the community from being infected by leprosy
by requiring the lepers to dwell apart.
And notice that Christ does not rescind this law of Moses:
but since He does have the power to heal,
Jesus acts with particular charity for the leper and heals him.
And then, with charity for both the leper and the community,
Christ tells the man to obey the law and go to the priest
to reassure the community that the man is safe to associate with.
Also, notice what both the Old Testament and the New Testament do:
they both recognize leprosy for the terrible disease it is,
for both the person and the community.
Some people say that charity requires the Church
to be silent about some things it calls sins,
since some folks might be offended by what we say.
But that’s like saying that charity would require Jesus
to ignore the man’s leprosy.
That’s not charity, that’s simply political correctness at it’s most absurd.
But what about St. Paul’s instruction to, “Avoid giving offense…”?
Clearly what he’s talking about causing unnecessary offense.
Sometimes a life-saving surgery is painful, and that pain is necessary.
—but we still have the surgery,
and use anesthesia to avoid unnecessary pain.
Jesus Himself was constantly telling people their sins in order to save them.
Think of the story of the woman at the well.
Of course, this is the a great story of Jesus’ mercy and charity,
but when the woman runs to tell everyone about Jesus she doesn’t say
“come see a really nice guy”
but rather “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.”
Today’s gospel tells us that:
“it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.”
It’s fascinating that both Jesus and the leper can’t enter town,
but for opposite reasons:
one is too popular, the other is too unpopular.
But in the end, Jesus will be as unpopular as a leper:
when the people figure out
that He didn’t come just to cure the sick,
but to preach about the true meaning of love and sin.
The Church is also popular when people see us
helping the sick and feeding the poor.
But when we exercise our freedom of speech and freedom of religion
to proclaim Christ’s teaching on love and sin,
the world also treats us lepers.
And they say we’re uncharitable.
In charity we must always try to “avoid giving offense”,
trying always to be considerate of others.
But never be confused
between the charity of correcting moral evils,
and the foolishness of political correctness.
The Church—and all Christians—must always proclaim the truth
—true love, true charity, demands it.
Always following St. Paul’s instruction
not to give unnecessary offense to anyone,
but always keeping in mind first, as St. Paul also says:
“doing everything for the glory of God.”