Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 6, 2020
Saint Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Ezekiel 33:7-9
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

Some of us are old enough to remember a time when television would stop broadcasting at about one or two in the morning. The day would conclude with a brief 5-minute reflection on life offered by a local member of the clergy followed by the national anthem and then a test pattern or color bar would be displayed until the early morning awaiting the start of the new day.  This was also a time before we had cycles of 24-hour news. There would be an evening newscast around the dinner hour, a second newscast at ten o’clock at night, and that would be about it.

Now, the news is something we no longer stop to watch and listen to, it is something that is constant; in fact, with our cellular telephones and cameras and recorders, news has become something we make and about which we editorialize. It seems that too many people have a video blog, not to mention a Facebook account; we have moved from people who “have something to say” to become people who “have to say something.” What passes for communication today is the direct delivery of partial information with inadequately formed opinion to a set of individuals we do not really know or care about. This rings especially true as we approach the presidential election.

In our first reading, Ezekiel does not have to say something, but he does have something to say to his people about whom he cares and loves. The Israelites have just returned from exile to the Promised Land.  Ezekiel the prophet, faithful to God’s call, is trying to rebuild the shattered nation and renew the spirit and hope of his people. He describes himself as a watchman. Such figures were familiar to his audience; watchmen were stationed in the hills to warn the people of approaching danger. Ezekiel’s work is to warn his people not to forget who God is, what He has done, and what He continues to do, so they do not fall into wickedness and sin.

Ezekiel’s work was a bit difficult since people who have spent years away from home as exiles tend to forget their traditions and develop new ones. They often adopt the religious beliefs and practices of their conquerors. They become like everybody else. The Israelites did this — they forgot the God of their ancestors with His saving deeds and great generosity. But before we are too quick to blame, we ought to recognize that we too often forget God. Perhaps many of us have forgotten to teach about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and what Christ continues to teach throughout the previous 2,000 years of the ministry of the Church. And in our refusal not to forget, we begin to act like everyone else in our society and world. We forget the things we are called to do as people of faith and what Christ has taught us through Sacred Scripture and tradition in the fullness of the truth. We forget that we have been taught something to say and so we fail, and we are reduced to having to say something.

In the today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us something we must do to be part of the community of faith. We must be attentive to our fellow pilgrims, caring about them, helping each other to recognize and seek forgiveness of our sins. This is a responsibility that takes kindness, patience, and imagination. It means that we really must care about people in other aspects of their lives than simply their political opinions or the area of their life about which we have judged them to be in error. Advice is best offered quietly and respectfully among family and friends as members of one Body, the Church.

We have obligations to hear the truth, to know the truth, to tell the truth, to love the truth, to do the truth, and to win others for the truth. We are called not only to win arguments but to win souls. It is not only insufficient but wrong to drop the truth on people like a cinder block on their heads. We are stewards of the truth, not owners of the truth. The truth is not an idea, the truth ultimately is the person of Jesus Christ. Stewardship of the truth is not part of a cancel culture. It is not part of a culture war. It is not a rush to social media.

We give not only reasons for the truth, but we have a responsibility to reveal the attractiveness of the truth, to make the truth winsome, to win people over to the truth (when we say that something is “winsome” we mean that something is beautiful in moral quality). We reveal the truth to be winsome through persuasion. Persuasio is Latin for “through attractiveness or allure” — the attractiveness or allure of the truth that is revealed through our love and respect for our neighbor anchored in love for God Himself. This underscores the critical importance of civil conversation and the art of rhetoric in political discourse today. If “persuasion” of the winsomeness of the truth is lacking today, we must renew our responsibility through prayer and action as Ezekiel did, by first paying attention not only to the truth but also to our fellow human beings in need of healing.

Think of the important issues that are part of our civil and political life as a nation. How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that human life is sacred and should be protected from conception until natural death? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that the integrity of marriage involves exclusively the commitment between one man and woman to permanence, fidelity, and openness to the conception, birth, and education of children for the common good of our society? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that our gender is a matter of our embodied sexuality and not a matter of the fluidity of political ideology? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that justice requires the right order of the rule of law as protected through the public service of a well-formed police force? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that our laws and their just enforcement require the consciousness that each human being of every race and ethnicity are equal in their creation in the image and likeness of God? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that charity begins at home but does not end there? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that we have both a social and individual obligation to the poor and sick within our society? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that gainful employment is essential for human flourishing? How do we manifest the winsomeness of the truth that a just immigration policy upholds secure borders and respect for family life? It is detrimental to us spiritually if all we do is display the ugliness of sin and the lies of falsity. We are called to manifest fully the winsomeness of the truth in exercising fraternal correction.

Maybe we prefer to ignore difficulties and disagreements with others because we know that we are not perfect, we feel it is not our business, or we just do not care. Yet, this is not what Christ asks of us in today’s Gospel. We prayed today in the Psalm response, “if today you hear His voice harden, not your hearts.” Before we can say this to others, we must pray this for others but only after praying it for ourselves.

If we truly are a community of faith and charity, we have no choice but to help each other understand and change destructive and sinful behavior — our own and others. The care of the Church to serve as a watchman is not just a call given to the Apostles and their successors, the bishops; it is also entrusted to every Catholic. As a call given to us it involves the delicate art of fraternal correction. Jesus counsels an incremental approach to fraternal correction because you do not fraternally correct strangers or non-believers, the tax collectors, or Gentiles of today. Fraternal correction always involves the knowledge of friendship and not simply the familiarity of celebrity. The way that we are friends with and treat one another clearly reveals how we love God in response to His love for us. That way, when we are asked to persuade others of the truth, we will have something to say and not just have to say something.”

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