26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 27, 2015
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 27, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Sometimes we’re so busy seeing the differences between ourselves and others
that we fail to see the good things we have in common.
On the other hand, it is important to recognize those differences,
first of all to see the differences that we may want to overcome,
but also, to recognize and protect ourselves
against values that we don’t share.
This tension between recognizing both the good and the bad in others
is a source of particular difficulty for Christians
–we want to see the good in others,
but we don’t want the good that they possess to blind us
so that we fail to notice the goodness that they lack.
It’s sort of like the apostles in today’s Gospel when they discover that a man,
a stranger who did “not follow” them
is performing miracles in the name of Jesus.
And it seems that the apostles are confused,
wondering if they should do something to stop him.
But even though this stranger lacks the fullness of the good that would come
with being in the intimate company of Christ,
Jesus tells the apostles:
“Do not prevent him….For whoever is not against us is for us.”
This need to recognize Christian works in those who are not fully in our company
leads us to understand the great importance
that the Catholic Church places on ecumenism.
We’re called to look for the things we have in common
with the various non-Catholic denominations,
and then to use those as a starting point for both mutual cooperation
in spreading the Gospel
and in beginning the process
of striving for the unity of all Christians everywhere.
And we’re not just called to recognize the goodness of Christ’s truth
in other Christians,
but also to recognize that goodness when it’s possessed by non-Christians
Because even a non-Christian can come to recognize some of the truth of Christ
–even if they don’t recognize it as Christ’s
–to the extent they pursue the truth with an open and humble heart.
By working with tolerance with people of other religions, or even with atheists,
on issues that we share strong beliefs,
we can build a better and more just society,
and lay the foundation so that the Gospel of Christ might then take root
and spread to all men of goodwill.
And yet, as our ecumenism and religious tolerance increases,
we find ourselves in the dilemma I mentioned earlier.
Sometimes in our rush to see the good in others,
we confuse cooperation and toleration with indifferentism,
truth with ignorance and error,
and even sometimes good with evil.
The good that is present seems to overshadow or mask that which is lacking.
But it’s important to remember
that just as Jesus insists that we must recognize and respect
the truth that others possess,
he’s even more adamant that we can never compromise
on the fullness of the truth.
He tells his apostles: ” whoever is not against us is for us.”
but he immediately goes on to warn them:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.”
Now, I don’t mean to imply that non-Catholics
should have a millstone tied around their neck.
The point is to consider the intensity with which Jesus insists
we not lead anyone astray from him in any way.
Notice that Christ calls us not to mislead his “little ones”
–but by that he means not only children, but all of us that he calls to
“become like these little ones.”
It’s wrong to lead anyone away from Christ in any way–even ourselves.
Leading people astray is easy nowadays
because there’s such a tendency in our society
to see the good in others and then immediately move
to accept everything about the person as good.
We see this everyday.
Sometimes we lead ourselves or others astray in a radical and drastic way
by overtly rejecting Christ and his teachings or his Church.
For example, consider young couples living together before marriage,
who excuse their actions by saying that the law of God is the law of love,
so anything done expressing love can’t be evil.
All the time ignoring the many times that Scripture and Jesus himself
completely reject this false notion of love,
and condemn these actions as the sin of fornication.
How many of their friends or younger brothers and sisters
have they led astray by their example?
And how many parents have tolerated this in their adult children,
perhaps even letting the couples sleep in the same room
when they come to visit.
It’s easy to come up with all sorts of good things about their children
that seem to excuse their gravely sinful behavior.
That’s just one example of what I’m talking about.
And I’m not going to point the finger just at lay people.
How many priests fall into this same trap?
We were all torn apart a few years ago
with the scandals of priests and bishops
who clearly ignored Christ’s warning
about causing a little one who believes in him to sin.
But as terrible as those cases are,
they are comparatively really very rare.
More common are the times when priests lead little ones to sin
by the heresies they preach from the pulpit,
or the false compassion they show in the confessional.
How many times has a grown man told me
that they can’t get rid of a gravely sinful habit
because they started when they were a kid,
and the priest in confession told them it wasn’t a sin.
Or how many married couples tell me
“but Father, Fr. Smith told us contraception was okay.”
These priests will tell you that they’re trying not to overburden you with guilt.
But Jesus didn’t care about that kind of false compassion:
He had a much more direct and truly compassionate approach:
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.”
But sometimes we lead ourselves or others astray in less dramatic ways,
such as when we accept anything less than the fullness of the Catholic faith,
either through ignorance, which is not knowing the fullness of the faith,
or through indifference,
which is disregarding the fact that this ignorance is a problem.
And this ignorance is a problem because while it’s not evil per se,
there’s no way that we’d ever say that this ignorance
–or lacking of the fullness of the faith–is a good thing.
So it would be wrong to mislead others by allowing them
to remain away from following the true Church of Christ
without making any effort to share the fullness of the faith with them.
And it would be wrong both to mislead ourselves or others to think
that the fullness of the faith and the company of the Catholic Church
But its easy to mislead people–especially ourselves.
It’s so very hard to walk the fine line between
recognizing the good that others do in Christ’s name
and charitably rejecting what runs contrary
to the fullness of Christ’s teaching.
We can never completely reject those who would–intentionally or unintentionally
–lead us astray of the Gospel in any way
–because then we’d wind up rejecting everyone
and whatever truth they posses, or good they do.
But we must also be so careful not to let the good that we see in others
cause us to fail to recognize what is lacking.
In those who actively oppose Christ, we must recognize evil,
even as we see the good they may do.
In those who love Christ but don’t share in the fullness of the Catholic faith that we do,
we must recognize not evil but ignorance,
even as we see the true beauty of the faith they do have
–a faith that may be 10 times as strong as yours or mine.
And in those who love Christ but who cannot see
that God wants neither evil nor ignorance for his children,
we must recognize indifference.
This is the seemingly impossible dilemma of the true Christian.
And yet, it’s not really impossible, because Christ is here with us,
instructing us through his Sacred Scripture and his Catholic Church
and through the power of his Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
Today, let us pray for the gift to see Christ’s truth
and his goodness in all those around us,
as we strive for Christian unity,
the conversion of the whole world and goodwill among all peoples.
But let us also pray that we may always discern clearly
what is for Christ and what is against him.
And let us pray that we may never, in even the smallest way
–either by our sin, or indifference or ignorance—
lead anyone, especially ourselves, away from the fullness of life with Christ.