A text version of the homily I gave this weekend. Actual presentation was from notes and not read from a prepared text.
Given at St. Mary Catholic Church, Trenton IL
August 27 & 28, 2011
Scripture for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time assigned by the Lectionary of the Roman Catholic Church
Teenagers, indeed all youth want to “fit-in” with there piers. It is devastating to be picked on or the butt of jokes. Young people, adults too, want to fit in and be part of the popular group. They want to dress like other kids with the latest fashions, not the stuff mom want’s to buy cheaper at Wal-Mart. The pressure to fit in with the group is huge! Being different is a curse. To be unpopular leads to loneliness, even depression.
Sometimes Christians try to blend into the society, to blend in with the culture they find themselves living among, too. Those of you old enough to remember will recall candidate for president John Kennedy had to make a speech before a group of protestant ministers and declare that he was like any other U.S. citizen, that he would not be taking orders from a foreign ruler, the Pope, in order to get elected. Since the 19th century Catholics have put U.S. flags in their church worship spaces to show others that we are good Americans, like the rest of you and that we don’t swear allegiance to a foreign power, so great was our desire to fit in that we’d bring a secular symbol into sacred space. Even today, there are constant calls for the church to “get with it, get with the times!” The church should adopt cultural values like living together before marriage. Everyone does it. Sometimes Christians try to blend into the culture in which they live to be more acceptable to others, to “fit-in.”
Yet, we Christians are supposed to be different! When we Christians are baptized we are marked with the sign of Christ, his cross and told this is now our way of life. When we Catholics are confirmed, chrism oil (which means Christ) is placed on our heads, sealing us with his Spirit, making us more conformed to his image, people who continue to carry out his mission. That makes us, like Christ, a leader among humanity, prophets (people who speak the truth, the way it is, not fortune tellers, by the way). This is the true way to find life! But we live in a very hedonistic society. The culture we find ourselves in the midst of is very much about individual rights and the pursuit of what will ME happy or fulfilled. What is the Christian message? What do Catholics preach as truth revealed by Jesus? Sex is for marriage, for the building up of a committed relationship not for getting to know a person or just to have a recreationally fun moment. And if that fun sex results in a pregnancy, well, I have the right to do with “my body” what I want. If the baby growing in my womb is inconvenient I can get rid of it. It’s MY right, MY happiness.
Our Christian message is the message of Jesus! Our message, speaking for Christ challenges the notion of “me first” or “it’s all about me!” He said life comes from being selfless. Happiness comes from choosing to sacrifice my self, my desires for the sake of another person. Jesus said die to the self and consistently offer the self for the well-being of others! In his words, “Take up your cross and follow me.” When Christ says “take up your cross” he’s not saying that if you have the misfortune of being sick with a cancer or the circumstances of a difficult family situation that you should say “O, that’s my cross to bear given me by God.” God doesn’t give us misfortune. He does not purposefully send bad, life destroying events into people’s lives. He is the God of life. To “take up his cross” is to make a conscious decision to sacrifice my needs, wants, time, talent, treasure, what ever I’ve got for the sake of another person’s well being. I offer the gift of myself for the life of another human being. I take on the attitude of Christ, I make his self offering my pattern of life. I carry his act of self offering on the cross in my own living. This attitude, this practice of living life as bearer of the cross denying self for the sake of others is counter cultural for sure!
Some preachers claiming to proclaim the Gospel of Christ proclaim a “me centered” Gospel. Beware! In an effort to gain followers, to earn a reputation that ultimately glorifies the preacher and not the Christ some preach a “me centered” good news. For instance there is the “Prosperity Gospel” some preach. In this me centered gospel, people are encouraged to “follow the teachings of scripture” and wealth and happiness will come their way. You live this gospel to benefit yourself! Really?
You don’t have to go too far to hear this preaching of “prosperity” for the self coming from observance of rules. Even Catholics fall prey to the temptation they can earn their own salvation, they think that they earn or deserve to get to heaven. I went to Mass, I said the right prayers, I followed the rules so I get admittance to salvation. What did Jesus say. What can a person give God to save their own soul? It was a rhetorical question by the way. The obvious answer is “nothing.” The one who acted in a totally selfless manner for the sake of humanity has already saved our life. Salvation is gift, not something we give God proper observance of religious rites and rules to get for ourselves. Being joined to Christ’s Body by baptism we imitate him, we let his saving act flow through us to others by our selfless service of others. That requires being different from the loud voices of commercials and social mores that say the way to personal happiness is to pamper yourself.
Kids often feel parents trick them into doing what’s good for the child, like eating vegetables, going to the doctor, getting homework done on time and the like. When the child discovers the ruse they complain “you tricked me!” Perhaps we, the children of God may feel God tricks or dupes us (like Jeremiah complained). God promises a wonderful life both here on earth and forever in heaven if we get baptized and practice what the church teaches. Then we find out the promise involves being different; the task of being Christian is going to be difficult at times. Hopefully like a son or daughter who matures and in adult life says to the mom and dad, “thank you for making me eat the vegetables, going to school and working hard. It’s made me a better person!” we’ll say to God at our judgement day something similar. “Thank you, Father. It wasn’t easy, and at times I wondered how I’d make it, but I’m glad you got me to be different from the folks who didn’t bother. It saved my life! I wouldn’t be here in heaven otherwise!”
© 2011, Rev. Joseph C. Rascher