Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ss Peter and Paul Catholic Church
3 October 2021
When I started college seminary, we took a class in basic philosophy. One of the very first lessons in basic philosophy is being able to make the distinction between “either/or” statements and “both/and” statements. The idea was to cultivate the skill of nuanced thinking. Being able to recognize and hold in tension several different ideas, points of view, or true statements – not in a relativistic way (you have your truth and I have my truth and we’re all fine), but in a way that helps us to see the true good being proposed in every situation.
I always thought that learning something as simple as “either/or” and “both/and” was kind of elementary, and in a way it is. But I have to admit that I am so surprised at how often disagreements between people about basic things and about the deep things of life come from the inability to think about things in a nuanced and rational way. The greatest obstacle against unity between people is the inability to consider another someone else might have something true to say, and the second greatest obstacle to unity is lie that if I welcome a different side of the story or listen to someone with whom I disagree that I am somehow sacrificing something of my dignity or strength, or that to hold true things in tension with each other is in some way abandoning the truth.
There are of course some either/or, non-negotiables. It really is either Cubs or Sox, and we all know it’s Cubs. It really is either Coke or Pepsi, and we all know it’s Coke. It really is either Chili’s or Applebees, and we all know it’s Chili’s. It’s either Chick fil A or Raising Canes, and to be perfectly honest I believe the jury is still out there.
To be open another side of things is not a defeat, or an abandonment of values…sometimes it’s just part of “thinking.”
This week all the priests of the Diocese of Joliet were together with Bishop Hicks for the first time since he was installed in Joliet last year for our bi-annual convocation. The theme this year was “Cultivating Unity” in our presbyterate. The same divisions we find in the culture – left, right, up, down, this, that – are found not only in our parishes but also in between the priests. As part of the exercises this week, priests from different age groups were asked to give witness talks about their understanding of priestly life and ministry in an effort to shed some light on what motivates them and their thinking.
One of the talks centered on the idea of orthodoxy versus heterodoxy. Remember that orthodoxy means “right praise” in Greek, but has come to be more known as the category to which those who believe in the doctrine and Tradition of the Church, especially in the areas of morality, the liturgy, and legitimate authority. (Heterodoxy is just the word to describe the opposite).
Anyway, this priest said that the problem in our presbyterate is not orthodoxy vs heterodoxy, but that the problem is instead that orthodoxy needs to be “accepted and transcended” in favor of orthopraxy – right practice.
This priest was right, in a sense. Priests who stand in the person of Christ are called to be who he is and do what he does: think of the beautiful line from Isaiah and read by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, healing to the broken hearted, freedom to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim a year of favor by our God.” (Luke 4:18-19)
If you’re following the situation at Benet or St Francis High School, or any other instance in which the teaching of the Church comes into the spotlight, you will recognize a familiar refrain: Jesus is welcoming, Jesus is accepting, Jesus ate with sinners, Jesus spoke with prostitutes, Jesus would say this, Jesus would say that.” And, usually, these people are right. Jesus would do those things, and as Christians we are likewise called to do them.
That’s what this priest means by orthopraxy.
At the end of the week, a younger priest got up and gave the more recently ordained priests’ vision of ministry. I think very wisely, he said this:
What will be the way? It will be a combination of the things that in yesterday’s talk seemed to be divided. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are never opposed, because as Fr. Hennessy from Mundelein taught us, “Good theology is always pastoral.” Why? Because in addition to being the Way and the Life, Jesus Christ is the Truth, and we firmly believe that it is the Truth – and living a life radically attached to what is true – that will set us free.
There can’t be a division between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, because the One who was out there being welcoming and merciful and just and kind was also, is also, the Truth. How did Jesus end those statements, those encounters with people who the Pharisees and others wanted to banish from their midst? How did he respond to the Pharisees, and so-called righteous ones?
“Go, and sin no more.”
“Faith has saved you.”
He flipped over tables, he outsmarted the righteous, and he always, always, called people away from sin and toward the Truth.
The Church is always teaching us an ideal, toward which each one of us must set our heading. We are taught an ideal, and are given the grace to move toward it but that ideal has to be something that we want, and the grace is something that we have to want to receive. The ideal is that one day we might live God’s life; the grace is found in prayer, in the sacraments, in the Christian community, and in the intervention of God in our lives.
This weekend, we hear difficult readings about the very painful topic of divorce and, by extension, about the dignity of marriage. My own parents have been divorced since I was 13. I would venture to guess that a higher number of people in this church today than you’d think have been impacted by divorce in some way. One of the most difficult things about divorce is that it affects every person in the family differently, and for those of us who are children of divorce it is likely that the deeper, psychological and spiritual, effects of divorce will begin to manifest themselves in the moment but won’t be understood until much later into adulthood.
We know what Jesus taught, and what the Church affirms, about divorce. It isn’t good. God made us male and female, he made everything about men and women to be complementary. He gave us the ability to be rational, so that we would not be like the other animals on then planet who are instinctual and form impersonal relationships meant mainly for the sake of survival and reproduction.
No, humans have the ability to discern and choose, and enter into real partnerships and friendships with each other. God is a trinity, he is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.
God is a community.
God is three persons, intimately bound together into one divine Godhead. The marital union is a mirror of God: a lover, a beloved, and the new life which is the fruit of their love. Marriage is holy because it is a mirror of God!
We read this morning from the Letter to the Hebrews, which tells us that Jesus was “for a little while” made “lower than the angels.” Jesus has walked among us and understands for himself the difficulties of human relationships. Nobody’s marriage is easy, and nobody’s family is perfect no matter how it looks from the outside.
But what about those who have had a divorce? What about those who are divorced and remarried? What about those who are children of a divorce? What does the Church say about that?
If you are in any of those categories mentioned above, you are welcome here and there is a place for you in the Church and despite everything God is still overflowing with love for you.
If you are in a troubled marriage, there are resources for you. If you need help finding them, please come talk to one of the priests and we will help you. A troubled marriage is not destined for failure.
If you are divorced and remarried without an annulment, I understand that that process can be very painful and difficult. But please consider your spiritual health and taking steps to regularize your situation. Same thing if you are living with someone in a spousal way to whom you are not married. Let the priests and pastoral staff here help you navigate the process to regularize your situation so that you can be free in your relationships and enjoy restored confidence in your relationship with God.
If you are a child of divorce, please hear me when I say that God is your Father and he is not going anywhere. That feeling you get when you make a new friend or form a new relationship, the fear of abandonment or the temptation to cling to others in relationships does not need to last forever.
The teaching of the Church and the desire to encounter each other in mercy and be seen in our pain are not opposed…they are two sides of the same coin. Through the Church, God proposes to each of us a beautiful ideal of human sexuality and relationships. He does not abandon us on our lifelong apprenticeship as we come to know this plan and begin to live it.
It does not need to be “either perfect marriage or God’s wrath.”
Most of the time it’s “both human reality AND God’s healing power.”
All you lowly, come and eat from this table and begin to taste the healing and freedom that come only from God.