12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 21, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
This is a very difficult time to be a Catholic,
as we’re surrounded by a popular culture that increasingly
not only rejects but ridicules Catholicism and Christianity.
More and more we’re stunned by the reality that
basic Christian moral values and principles,
which 40 years ago were shared
by virtually everyone in Western society,
are now considered by so many to be
not merely outdated but extremist and even dangerous.
And now, in these last few months we’re told that the Holy Mass
the thing we hold most sacred, and most important to our well-being,
not only spiritually but in every respect, is NOT essential to our lives,
and for over 2 months we were forbidden to attend.
It is a very difficult time to be a Catholic.
But I also think that it’s been a great time to be a Catholic—priest or lay.
As Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Most of us go through life satisfied with being what I call “anonymous Catholics”
–we go to Mass and confession regularly,
and we try to keep the commandments.
But other than that, we kind of like to keep our Catholicism as a private matter,
we don’t like to speak up about it.
A lot of the time this is because, frankly, we’re afraid.
Afraid that people will think we’re strange,
afraid we might lose a friend, or perhaps a business contact,
or just afraid life will become a little more awkward.
But while this fear is real, it has no place in the life of a Christian.
As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel:
“Fear no one….What I say to you in the darkness,
…proclaim on the housetops.”
Don’t be afraid to be a Catholic.
Because while this might be a difficult time to be a Catholic,
it’s also a great time to be a Catholic—a time of great opportunity.
First of all, it’s a time of opportunity to do what Jesus talks about in the Gospel:
to “acknowledges Him before others,”
so that He “will acknowledge [us] before [His] heavenly Father.
But it’s also a time of opportunity to be part of great changes in the Church.
Not changes in terms of throwing out the teachings of the Church,
but a change in hearts that will renew those teachings,
and restore them to their proper place in the lives of Catholics.
It is an old saying that “history repeats itself.”
This can be a great source of consolation,
since we know the Church has seen worse times than this and survived.
But it is also be a reminder that the great opportunities are presented to us today,
just as they were presented to great saints before us.
I believe we may now be at an historic crossroads,
where the choices we make can change the Church and the world forever.
The last comparable moment came, I believe, approximately 500 years ago,
at the beginning of the 16th century, the 1500’s.
At that time we also had a crisis of doctrine and morals, as we do today.
A crisis beginning with the doctrinal and moral corruption
of so many bishops, priests, and even popes,
and by their poor example and leadership
it spread to millions of Catholics the world over.
And as a result, millions of Catholics, priest and laity alike,
almost half of the whole Church,
led by a troubled and confused priest named Martin Luther,
decided to reject so much of what they had always believed to be true
—what their parents and grandparents and centuries of ancestors
had handed on to them.
And confusing reform and renewal with revolution and schism
began what came to be known as “protestant reformation”.
A similar situation exists today.
For over 50 years the Catholic Church has endured
doctrinal dissent by priests and bishops,
on everything from the real presence in the Eucharist,
to the divinity of Christ Himself.
In particular 52 years ago, in 1968, priests and bishops around the world
rejected the apostolic teaching of the Church against contraception,
laid out so clearly in Pope Paul VI’s heroic letter Humanae Vitae,
and from then on, all the moral doctrine and the moral life of the Church
seemed to be up for grabs.
And as the dissent became ubiquitous so did the moral decay.
And that moral decay wasn’t limited to sins like lust and greed,
or to morally depraved degenerates.
Ordinary faithful Catholics, including too many bishops and priests,
saw their moral courage crumble
and they became afraid to speak the truth.
So that today we are content to be anonymous Catholics
living in fear, and denying Christ every day.
How do we conquer this fear?
For many the solution to conquer fear is to gain power.
But, as the saying goes, power can corrupt.
Historically we saw this clearly in the 16th century, especially in England,
where both the most august bishops and laymen were corrupted by power.
In particular, when the bishops were so personally corrupt
that they could no longer lead and defend the faith,
the lay man known to history as King Henry VIII,
came forward and demanded absolute power in his kingdom,
even over the Church.
The thing is, the solution does rest in power—but not in the power of men.
The solution—500 years ago and today—rests in holiness,
which is the power of Christ acting in our lives.
And so, when human power corrupted both bishops and laity
in 16th century England
God raised up with His power 2 holy men—one bishop and one layman—
to stand in their way
2 great saints whose feast is celebrated every June 22, Monday/tomorrow.
The first, was Bishop John Fisher,
the bishop of Rochester, imminent theologian
and chancellor of Cambridge University.
The second, the layman, Sir Thomas More, chancellor of all England,
the highest government office in the kingdom,
and one of the greatest intellects of 16th century.
Two of the most powerful men in England
—one having the power of the Church, the other the power of the state,
and both having the power of being famous, world-class scholars.
And yet, in the end, it was not by this power that they were effective:
you can’t exercise worldly power from a prison cell.
No, the power that these men exercised was the power of personal holiness,
the power of Christ.
And in this holiness they stood in opposition to the heresy and the immorality
of the king and the bishops,
bearing witness to Christ, even as their heads were cut off for doing so.
But this power is not something they discovered on the executioner’s block.
Rather they had lived their whole lives striving to be holy men,
learning to allow the power of God
to transform every aspect of their daily lives.
Consider in particular, on this Fathers’ Day, St. Thomas, the layman.
As a judge, he was famous for his honesty.
As a wealthy lawyer he was famous
for his works of charity and kindness to the poor.
As a theologian he was renowned for his brilliant defense against Luther’s errors.
As a husband and father he took pains
to be home for dinner every night he could, and to lead his family in prayer.
He spent long hours in private prayer, and attended daily Mass.
And every day he, the most 2nd most powerful man in England,
humbled himself before the power of God
by wearing a painful hair shirt under his clothes as a form of penance.
In today’s second reading we read: “Through one man sin entered the world.”
One man, Adam, had a huge impact on the world.
And so did the one man, Luther, and the one man Henry VIII.
But so did the one man, Jesus Christ: as we also read today:
“if by the transgression of the one the many died,
how much more did the …gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow for the many.”
So we stand at a crossroads in history,
but more fundamentally, it is a crossroads of our own personal lives,
as Christ calls each “one man” or “one woman” of us,
to accept His power to grow in personal holiness,
and thereby “fear no one.”
The question is, will you respond?
Fathers in particular: “Through one man sin entered the world,”
but also through “one man,” Jesus did salvation.
Fathers…”through one man.”
In 16th century England, most people responded poorly,
and the Church in England began to wither like leaves on a vine.
But imagine what would have happened if 100,000 ordinary Catholics
would have joined in More’s holy cause?
Or if the bishops of England would have stood by Fisher.
The renewal begins with you and me,
individual fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, priests and bishops.
But it’s not us alone:
–rather, it’s Christ working through us;
–and if you and I can respond to God’s call to holiness,
and allow His power to overcome your fear,
so can thousands and millions of others.
It is the worst of times to be a Catholic,
but is also the best of times to be a Catholic.
A time not to be an anonymous Catholic,
but a time of tremendous opportunity to witness to the truth,
and to renew the Church in holiness
We stand at an historic crossroads for the World, the Church and for ourselves.
Let us turn at this crossroad and walk together down the road of holiness
carved out by wood of the Cross of Christ,
and well worn before us by feet of great saints like More and Fisher.
Let us each personally as individual Catholics
answer the challenge of history,
answer the call to holiness.
And “by the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ,”
His Church, and the whole world, will be renewed.