Thursday, September 21, 2006

Faith, Works, The Gay Agenda, and the Pope

Homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Isaiah 50:5-9a
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35

This is posted a bit late, I realize, but I had some internet issues which prevented me from posting it in a more timely fashion.

For the past several centuries, Catholics and Protestants have been debating and arguing about Faith and Works. Protestants have been saying that only by faith in Christ alone are we saved, and that our works contribute nothing whatsoever to our eternal destiny. They have accused us Catholics of having a "works-based" theology - that we believe that if we do enough good works we can "earn our way to heaven".

And we Catholics, on the other hand, have responded by saying "no, not at all." Yes, we do believe that it is faith in Christ that saves us, and that without Christ's saving work none of us can be saved. But we hold that our faith must have works to be real faith. Our faith, as St. James says, must be shown in our works. So-called faith in Christ that is not visible in our words, our deeds, our decisions and priorities, is no faith at all. Or, as St. James puts it, faith without works is dead.

It seems to me ironic in this day that this debate is still going on. Ironic because we are approaching a point in our society when both our faith and our works will be forbidden - when we will be prevented from either speaking about or acting on our faith in Christ and His Church. A time may come very soon when our faith will be permitted us only in the privacy of our own homes and churches.

I say this because of the trend of recent events: Last week a woman in England was charged with the equivalent of a hate crime because she distributed a flyer that defended the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman, and dared to buttress her position with quotations from scripture. Earlier this year a bishop in Canada was threatened with prosecution and hauled before the Canadian human rights tribunal because he preached in defense of the Christian definition of marriage, and spoke against the so-called right to gay marriage.

If you think such things could not happen here, recall that a few months ago the Archdiocese of Boston was forced by the State of Massachusetts to stop doing adoptions, because the Archdiocese, in conformity with Catholic teaching, would not place children with gay couples. If that's not being prevented from exercising faith by good works, I don't know what is. Earlier this year, a conference of legal scholars debated the conflict between the right to free religious expression versus the "right" to gay marriage. They questioned whether, as such a right became established in law, churches could be compelled to recognize such marriages. They concluded that the right to freedom of religion and this so-called new right were "irreconcilable". What that means, in ordinary language, is that when push comes to shove between the rights of churches and this new "right", the churches will be the losers.

Last week, the Pope visited his native land of Germany, and he gave a lecture to university professors. Now, normally, most of us would think of an academic lecture as something rather dry and probably not very interesting, but this lecture has the whole in a storm of controversy. The pope quoted a 15th century Byzantine emperor who pointed out that in Islam, it is considered OK to convert people by force at the point of a sword, and that such a practice is evil. (By the way, this muslim practice of forcible conversions is not merely some historic aberration. Recall that just three weeks ago two American journalists were kidnapped and forced to convert at gunpoint.) The pope said that violence in the name of God is "unreasonable", that it is contrary to the nature of God and the nature of the human soul.

For pointing out these truths, for saying that violence in the name of religion is not pleasing to God, the Pope has been widely condemned as preaching "hate" for Islam. The Muslim world has erupted in violent protest against the pope, demanding retractions, demanding that the pope "keep in his place", calling for violence against Christians and making threats against the pope's life. Leaders of muslim nations have even joined in, whipping their people into greater fury. Churches have been burned and Christians have been attacked.

I tell you all of these things so that you can see that they are all different aspects of the same phenomenon. All of these things, from the attempt to silence a bishop in Canada to the threats against the pope, boil down to one thing: they are the powers of this world telling the Church, telling believers, to SHUT UP!!! "Shut Up!" they are saying. "We don't want to hear about this Christ! We don't want to hear about good and evil! We don't want to hear about right and wrong! Shut Up and keep your religion to yourselves!" The powers of this world do not want to be reminded of things besides lust, power, greed and domination.

This should not surprise us. For the powers of this world tried to tell Our Lord to Shut Up. They told Him to shut up and stop preaching the Good News, shut up about the Kingdom of God, shut up about righteousness. And they went so far to shut Him up as to put Him to death. They nailed him to a cross and bled Him to death to silence Him. In our Gospel today Jesus foresees his passion and death, and in our reading from Isaiah the prophet foretells of the sufferings of the Christ to come.

But we know how the story ends. We know that the powers of this world were unable to silence Christ. He rose again, and ushered in the Kingdom which will have no end. His word, His teaching, has rung out through the ages and have changed the world. Countless millions have heard and followed His call, even to the point of shedding their own blood in His name. And from the blood of those martyrs the Church has received the abundance of graces, and has grown stronger.

So we need not fear. We need not fear to speak and act on our faith. We need not fear the powers of this world which will try to silence us. They have tried before and failed. We can stand up and speak the truth to power, we can act boldly and with confidence. A couple of weeks ago I said in my homily that to follow Christ was to "live different" - to live in contradiction to the values and priorities of this world. If we follow Christ faithfully, we will live differently, and the world will see it. Many will follow us , but some will reject and oppose us, just as they rejected and opposed the Son of Man. But we can "live different", and say NO! I will not be silent! I will not submit!. In Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we have been empowered, we have been given the authority, to stand before the powers of this world.

My brothers and sisters, we must be prepared: We may be called, in imitation of Our Lord, to "give our backs to those who beat us”." We need not fear even should we be asked imitate Our Lord in suffering for his sake. We need not fear; on the contrary, we can have hope; we can speak and act with confidence and joy. We can have confidence, joy, and hope because we know how the story ends. We know that if we follow Christ, taking up our crosses with Him, we will come with Him to resurrection and glory. We know that in Christ, the one who loses his life for His sake and the sake of the gospel will save it, and in saving our lives participate in saving the whole world.