Saturday, July 11, 2009

Homily for 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the 15th Sunday
in Ordinary Time

July 12, 2009
Psalm 85: 9-14
Our Lady of the Wayside, Millwood, N.Y.
Chapel of Our Lady of the Wayside in Millwood, a little piece of the town of New Castle in northern Westchester County.
“Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven” (Ps 85: 11-12).

You probably know that on Tuesday Pope Benedict’s new encyclical was published after about a year’s delay, an overhaul in the light of the economic crisis, further maturation. It’s a long reflection (30,000 words) on the social teaching of Christ and of Christ’s Church, an updating of Pope Paul VI’s great encyclical of 1967, Populorum progressio, “On the Progress of Peoples.”

The title of Benedict XVI’s letter to all Catholics and all people of good will is Caritas in veritate, “Charity in Truth.” That almost seems to echo our Responsorial Psalm this evening. Like the Pope’s encyclical, like the teaching tradition of the Catholic Church, the psalm connects heaven and earth, God and man, by linking kindness—or love or charity—and truth; by linking justice, which is the right ordering of all our relationships, and peace, which is the result of justice or a right relationship between God and us, between individuals, between nations. “Justice and peace shall kiss, kindness and truth shall meet.” Paul VI famously said, “If you want peace, work for justice”; you’ve probably seen that on bumper stickers. Nor should we be surprised to find a link between Catholic social teaching and the Scriptures: all of Catholic teaching (doctrinal, moral, social) is rooted in the Scriptures, in the Torah, in the preaching of the prophets, in the writings of St. Paul, in the practice of Jesus.

I haven’t had a chance to read the encyclical; it’s available only on-line at this point, and it’s far too long to read sitting at a computer or to print out; the official count is 144 pages, whatever size that may indicate. I have been reading the reviews and analyses, and these have highlighted the Pope’s call for greater attention to ethics in our economic and social practices. That means, essentially, a call for greater respect for the rights and dignity and needs of all human beings, and not only of the rich, powerful, and well connected. He calls for political, economic, and cultural decisions to be made on the basis of the common good and not for the advantage of a select few.

The Pope calls upon Catholics and all people of good will who have experienced God’s love for them to recognize and practice that love, be conduits of that love—God’s love for everyone, God’s desire that everyone have a fair share of this world’s goods, this world’s opportunities, this world’s happiness; a fair share of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” if you’d like to put it that way, altho I’m sure the Holy Father hasn’t.

How we use our life, our liberty, our wealth, our talent, our opportunities has an impact on our family and community, and in this age of globalization, on many, many other families and communities all over the world. That’s the “common good” impact, positive or negative. That’s the charity or love impact, or perhaps, unfortunately, a selfish and destructive impact. The Pope says of the economy and of society that “the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is the human person in his or her integrity.”[1]

In today’s gospel Jesus sends his apostles out to preach, to drive out demons, and to heal (Mark 6:7-13). There’s a mixture here of the other-worldly and the this-worldly, of attention to both souls and bodies, because the truth is that human beings, created in God’s image and destined for eternal life as his children, have our feet, and our hearts, planted in both heaven and earth. We live very much here, but, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, “we have here no lasting city, and we seek the one that is to come” (13:14). We need to be, and want to be, proud and productive citizens of our country, but, St. Paul reminds us, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20) as well.

We have both souls and bodies to attend to, and in need of salvation. “The integrity of the human person” of which Pope Benedict speaks, and John Paul the Great also spoke of it often, refers to our whole selves. So Jesus feeds the hungry and cures the sick as well as forgiving sins and expelling demons. Those who live in and for God’s kingdom have to be concerned about the whole person of their fellow citizens, all their fellow human beings: body, soul, mind, spirit. Hence the Church’s involvement in what some call the social gospel and others might call humanitarian work—schools, hospitals, famine and disaster relief, advocacy for the defenseless, and so on—as well as in prayer, sacraments, and spiritual direction.

Now, I call your attention to our 1st reading. We know precious little about the 8th-century B.C. prophet Amos. (I can tell you that he wasn’t half of a comedy team, and he didn’t bake cookies.) The only biographical detail we have, in fact, is that one line today: “I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores”—which seems to mean some kind of fig tree (7:14); Amos was a farmer. He’s not a priest or a professional prophet but someone whom the Lord has called suddenly “from following the flock” (7:15) to go and prophesy to a quite unreceptive audience of priests and nobles in Israel.

That calling of an ordinary Jew, a farmer, to make the Lord’s message known is suggestive of another Catholic teaching: we are all prophets by virtue of our Baptism and our configuration to Jesus Christ. We are all called to announce the Gospel, as Jesus sent the apostles out to do. In the 1st place, as I was reminded at the funeral last Tuesday of a marvelous Catholic woman, we are prophets in our own families by the examples we give of faith, prayer, and Christian living; in our own parishes by our involvement in activities and ministries like teaching catechism or feeding the hungry or visiting the sick.

In the 2d place, the Church has made it abundantly clear that we are supposed to be prophets in the public square. It isn’t priests and bishops, however, who are supposed to bring the practice of Christian principles into the marketplace and the political arena. The laity are supposed to do that. That’s precisely where so many of our captains of industry, our financial gurus, and our political leaders make an unaccountable separation between their private, devotional lives and their public, amoral or even corrupt lives. There’s a lack of integrity, of wholeness, of personal consistency in such men and women. The headlines remind us of it every day, and so do a lot of voting records if would look at them.

But we citizens of both heaven and earth have every right to expect wholeness and integrity in our economic, social, political, cultural leaders; and every right—indeed, the duty—to be actively involved ourselves in public life, bringing practical Christian principles to bear on public policy for the common good.

Really, the only way that kindness and truth shall meet, justice and peace kiss, truth spring from the earth, is if convinced, committed Christians and other people of faith make it happen by their own involvement, their own active concern for the common good of our community, our state, our nation, all of humanity.

As Pope Benedict writes, “Practicing charity in truth helps people understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful, but essential for building a good society and for true, integral development.”[2]

Pope Benedict XVI with the members of the Salesian General Chapter 26, meeting in Rome in April 2008 in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican. Next to the Pope is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, SDB, the papal secretary of state.

[1] As quoted by Cindy Wooden for CNS, July 7, 2009.
[2] Ibid.

No comments: