Sunday, July 5, 2015

Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 5, 2015
Ezek 2: 2-5
Iona College, N.R.[1]

“Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, rebels who have rebelled against me” (Ezek 2: 3).

Ezekiel by Michelangelo
(Sistine Chapel)
The Lord chose Ezekiel to prophesy to Israel—specifically to the people of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah—by denouncing their idolatry in the last years of the kingdom.  He was called and began his mission in 593 B.C. when Judah was already under the rule of the Babylonian Empire and King Nebuchadnezzar, just a few years before the king and his army utterly destroyed Jerusalem after a rebellion and took the king, the nobles, the priests, and the entire middle class population into exile (those whom he hadn’t executed immediately for provoking the rebellion).  That context adds some irony to the Lord’s complaint about his people’s rebelling against him.

When the Lord called Ezekiel to prophesy, he didn’t guarantee him a receptive audience.  Rather, the Lord promised, “Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you” (2:4).  Nevertheless, Ezekiel is to speak to them in the Lord’s name.

Reading that passage, I couldn’t help thinking of our role as Catholics today.  You probably have heard that when you were baptized and again when you were confirmed, you took on Christ’s role—his persona, if you will—as priest, prophet, and king.  So what does it mean to be a Christ-like prophet?

When the Puritans settled New England in the 17th and 18th centuries, some of their preachers explicitly evoked the image of Israel traversing the desert to reach the Promised Land.  These English settlers, they said, had taken on “an errand in the wilderness” or the desert of the New World to make it a new Promised Land for a new chosen people, i.e., for themselves, the Lord’s true believers.

John Winthrop
(artist unknown)
Those Puritans—John Winthrop, William Bradford, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, et al.—would probably not be pleased with what they’d observe today in Western society, Western culture:  in Europe, Canada, the U.S., even their beloved Massachusetts.  The latest poll figures from the Public Religion Research Institute report that only 35% of Americans think the U.S. is still a Christian nation, 45% think it used to be, and 14% don’t think it ever was[2]—that “shining city on a hill” providing an example of righteousness for all of humanity.  (Ronald Reagan used that image, but he stole if from the Puritans, who took it from Jesus).

On the contrary, our culture and society are becoming increasingly hostile to religious faith and practice.  You know that.  You see that.  20 years ago John Paul the Great was already referring to a culture of death.  We’ve lived thru a sexual revolution, and we’re experiencing its social consequences.  We haven’t turned to Baal and Astarte like the people of Judah.  We worship money, sex, power, and comfort.  None of those idols are new, of course; people have worshiped them forever.  What’s different is that at one time people knew in their hearts that they were false gods, that such behavior was sinful.  Today they’re believed to be positive goods, as in the movie Wall Street:  “Greed is good!”  Premarital sex is good.  A life of glamor and comfort without responsibility is good.  Some would make abortion a sacrament.  The gay movement today isn’t about seeking toleration or even acceptance but about demanding approval of that “lifestyle.”

All over the world—not just in the West—war, violence, and the degradation of human beings thru drugs, slavery, trafficking, and other forms of oppression only seem to be getting worse.  In all of this, we have to be prophets like Ezekiel (and Jesus).

We have to continue to speak for chastity—Pope Francis, by the way, did that explicitly when he addressed a huge youth rally in Turin 2 weeks ago.  We mean chastity before marriage, chastity within marriage.  We mean marriage with a twofold natural purpose of mutual love and support and of openness to the transmission of new life and the raising of children.

By chastity we mean a respect for the natural processes of human procreation, as opposed to turning people into laboratory products thru IVF, embryo selection, etc.  We mean a refusal to commodify women (and children) thru sexual exploitation in pornography, prostitution, and workplace harassment.  We mean helping youngsters and women make good lives for themselves, reducing their vulnerability to exploitation, by giving them an understanding of their fundamental dignity and rights and educating them or training them so that they can support themselves.

We have to be prophets like Ezekiel (and Jesus) in our defense of human life and human dignity.  What John Paul called “the culture of death” isn’t a specifically Western phenomenon.  We see a love for death in the hatred that produces genocide, in the nihilism of jihad, in the “disappearances” of people labeled as political enemies, in drug violence and gang violence.

Murambi museum of the Rwandan genocide
As Christians we continue to prophesy that every human being is precious, that all human life merits protection—from conception to natural death. 
We continue to reject abortion as the law of the land, our land or any other; to oppose what is euphemistically called “death with dignity” but means killing the inconvenient, the useless, and the hopeless; to call for—at the least—less recourse to capital punishment, which can’t be justified as a means of vengeance, of “bringing closure” to a family’s trauma, of evening the balance of justice, but justified only—if then—as society’s self-defense against further deadly violence (cf. the recent escape incident upstate, which was, shall we say, a near-miss on another murder).  We continue to seek paths of peace in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, however difficult, seemingly impossible, those paths are; we saw the Holy Father doing that recently with the Palestinian Authority.  We continue to aid refugees—the U.N. now estimates there are nearly 60 million of them who’ve fled war, famine, natural disasters, or economic disasters.  We continue to support education and Third World development—these too are part of the culture of life.  In Laudato si’, the Holy Father places a strong emphasis on everyone’s fundamental right to clean water; that’s a development issue, and it’s a life issue.  We insist that everyone be treated with respect:  immigrants and refugees, minorities, gays, men and women, seniors and children, the physically and mentally handicapped, the homeless, political opponents, even stupid drivers on our streets and cashiers who don’t seem to know what they’re doing.

Pope Francis’s encyclical imitates Ezekiel’s prophesying:  it takes on issues that upset both so-called conservatives and so-called liberals.  We hope that we, the new Israel, will pay him heed and not be “hard of face and obstinate of heart,” e.g., when he challenges our throwaway culture, our rampant consumerism, and our indifference toward developing nations.  His letter is addressed to all of us, not just to politicians, diplomats, economists, and captains of industry.  In this area, too, we can be prophets like Ezekiel, by taking to heart what Francis proposes and making it part of our lives.

Pray, dear sisters and brothers, that the Spirit of the Lord may enter you and me and lay hold of us as it did Ezekiel, and set us on our feet (cf. 2:2) to live out our calling to be, priests, kings, and prophets in the image of Jesus.

            [1] Used with adaptations also for the Ursulines at Willow Dr.

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