Featured Image: “Reaper with Sickle” (1889) Vincent Van Gogh
The Liturgy of the Word this morning presents us with more readings and parables about agriculture…something most of us know no longer know anything about in our little piece of concrete heaven.
The farther your travel south and west, perhaps on Schlapp or Grove or Reservation road, the less concrete you see and, within five minutes, you’re surrounded by farmland. I have no idea who the farmers are, how the fields get plowed, planted, harvested; one day there’s nothing, and the next day the corn is taller than the cars, and then the next day it’s empty again.
Today, Mark reminds us that Jesus spoke to the crowds about this exact phenomenon:
“This is how it is with the kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and through it all the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”
Of course, as any of the farmers among us will tell you, this parable isn’t exactly the most realistic. Only in heaven would a piece of farm simply need to be seeded, allowing the farmer to simply sleep and rise while the seeds seem to sprout and grow; he knows exactly how they sprout and grow, and sometimes wonders whether the crops grow more by rain or by the sweat of his brow. He’s the father of that farmland, and it’s up to him to make sure it grows.
Many of you, too, are the fathers of little seedlings, or big, grown-up crops, and you know well that there is more to fatherhood than planting, sleeping, and rising. I, too, am a father. I, too, am responsible for the growth and well being being of the children entrusted to me, namely…all of you… and to make sure that you not only thrive in this life and that by your thriving in this life you might live in the fulness of your Christian discipleship, and begin to see beyond the passing things of the world and deep into eternity, deep into all that’s being offered to you. This, too, requires much more than planting, sleeping, and rising.
That being said, I would like to preach on something difficult today.
Many have been asking about the Inaugural Gay Pride parade set to take place this afternoon in the City of Aurora. “Is it a sin if we go?” “How can they allow something like this?!” “What a wonderful opportunity for the community!” “I just don’t understand.”
I know the issue of homosexuality is not an easy one for many people.
Many in this Church have family members who experience same-sex attraction, or who, themselves, identify as gay. Please know that all, and I do mean all, are welcome here.
I know, also, that there are those in the Church, perhaps some here this morning, who feel the Church should be more accepting to men and women who experience same-sex attraction, and there are those in the Church, perhaps some here this morning, who feel the Church has not done enough to fight for the sanctity of marriage and sinfulness of homosexual behavior. Please know that all, and I do mean, are welcome here.
Homosexuality is a highly polemical issue, but, for the Christian, this topic is not ultimately polemical. Remember, the Church’s stance is never found in polemics, but in Christ himself. Too often, our discipleship – our life lived according to the fact of Jesus Christ – is reduced to a kind of social work, as if the greatest good the Church has to offer the world is social justice. Thus, our ministry in the world is reduced to simply “being a good person” and “helping the needy”, to “promoting justice for all” and “standing up for what we believe”, to “conversion of the culture” and “acts of charity”… none of which are inherently bad in themselves. But the danger is that all of our life with Christ becomes “built on the values that Christ brought us. Thus, all our efforts at…operative, charity, cultural, social, and political activity have certainly had as their aim that of mobilizing ourselves and things in accord with the ideals, the starting points which Christ has made known to us. But at the beginning…it was not so.” (L. Giussani, The Work of the Movement)
Do you consider yourself to be a disciple? If so, do you remember the beginning of your journey as a disciple? Do you have some recollection of the moment in your history when you knew the fact of Christ? When you heard his voice, when you made the decision to turn around, to believe in him, and to follow him? Do you have some sense of his reality?
When I finally gave in to the call to become a priest on Christmas Eve in 2010, it wasn’t because I was convinced by words in a book about Jesus, or by the desire to serve the poor or to hear confessions or to baptize or celebrate Mass; it wasn’t values that convinced me, but a person who called me. I fell victim to a certain “enthusiasm for a Presence”, for me, “the persuasive motive was the fact of Christ” and it is knowing him – and only in knowing him – that gives life and meaning and creativity to my ministry and life as a Christian disciple and witness.
But when we remove the person of Jesus Christ from our discussions of issues like homosexuality, we speak to one another from political stances, and we lose the joy that’s brought by the presence of God, and thus “gladness does not appear on our faces” and our efforts to lead people toward and into the wonderful promises of discipleship lose their authenticity and credibility.
We are supposed to be a resurrected people, but if no joy, no life appears on our faces, then our witness fails, like bad seeds planted in good soil.
Standing in front of me, at all times, is a fellow human, a fellow son or daughter of God, and in those moments that occur in real time the one option which, for the Christian disciple, is always, without exception, without negotiation, the one option that is always off the table, always unavailable, is abandonment; discrimination; judgment; pushing away. That might be the way of the world, that might be what we want to do from a merely human, political standpoint, but we are Christians now.
We belong to something, someone whose perspective is wider, whose point of view is broader, and whose heart is bigger than ours will ever be without Him. There are those on one side of the argument who say that “freedom” is the most important; freedom of religion, freedom from sin, freedom from being exposed to the sin of others, freedom from the glorification of sin; and there is some truth here. We cannot condone sin, but what about the sinner?
There are those on another side of the argument who say that “freedom” is the most important; freedom to be oneself, freedom to express oneself as he or she desires, freedom for others to live the life they want, freedom to love and marry anyone they wish; and there is some truth here. We cannot condone sin, but what about the sinner?
Then, there is the Church’s way, the way of Christ, which says that “freedom” is most important. “Freedom,” in the most Christian sense, “is the ability to be ourselves according to reality.” Many get lost in arguments about what the law should or shouldn’t say, whether God made gay people that way or whether it’s the result of nurture and psychology; the Church asks a different question: in the midst of this struggle, how can life be lived well?
Some say that this is not an issue for the Church, but only for the sciences. Insofar as an issue concerns the human person, especially a deep, tender area of the human person like sexuality, it is an issue for the Church because it is an issue for someone made in God’s image.
To all of our gay brothers and sisters, let me say this:
You are loved. You are alive, and what you feel is real. I am sorry if you have felt alienated by my actions or the actions of this community. You, too, are beloved. You, too, are called to discipleship. What you are experiencing, and the way the Church will help you live it, is, and I am convinced of this, a catalyst for holiness. The pain, the loneliness, the shame, the confusion will not last forever.
Each one of us, priest, deacon, monk, nun, married, single, old, young, tall, short, smart, not-so-smart, straight, gay, Cubs, Sox, Pepsi, Coke… all of us are called to be holy and free, to be more interested in the will of God for us than in short moments of temporal pleasure. Sin is sin, and we believe what we believe about sexuality and, specifically, about the marital act not because the Church is a mean old hag who wants to limit our joy, but because we believe that God has made us, every part of us, to aid in the coming forth, the blossoming, of his kingdom.
Everyone is called to holy chastity, to refraining from certain acts with people who are not their spouse, and from those acts which do not bring forth life. This, like so many areas of pain and consternation that plague the lives of us all, will be transformed by the power of the Spirit of God into something beyond our wildest imagining, but it requires more than planting, sleeping, and rising.
Friends, we must be vigilant of each other, modes of support for each other, brothers and sisters for each other, as Christ has been to us.
Something great is being promised to us, something beautiful shall sprout up in our fields, and we have indeed been given the grace to live this way.
I’m not asking that you be convinced of everything I say when you leave here today, but only that you might give what I say a chance: that the happiness, the fulfillment, the community, the affirmation, the beauty, the recognition, the companionship, the peace for which we all are seeking can really be found in the living and risen Jesus who is among us, and who we have come here to receive from this altar.
And all the trees of the field shall know
that I, the LORD,
bring low the high tree,
lift high the lowly tree,
wither up the green tree,
and make the withered tree bloom.
As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do.