Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 25 August 2019
Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus – Joliet, IL —
Growing up, my mom and her sisters would take my brother and me and all our cousins bowling at the Brunswick zone on Weber road and I-55 every year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I say “every year” because that’s what it felt like, but in reality we might have done it only 3 or 4 times. It’s funny how memories work, isn’t it? A thing can happen a hundred times and it it’ll just fade away like nothing but those things that happened only a couple of times and make an impact that lasts forever.
The lasting impact of these bowling days is that I began my life as a terrible bowler; no natural talent in that regard whatsoever. To my delight, Oswego High School offered bowling as a gym elective which I took for 3 years and my high score is now a 293…but early in my life, things were quite dismal. What I’m sure was simply a polite concern for the young cousin and was without malice, I interpreted and catalogued in my memory as a taunting: “Ryan, do you want the bumpers?”
I remember that question being embarrassing. No, I don’t want to the bumpers! I don’t need the bumpers! I’m not going to accept help, not pander to such an assertion of ineptitude and lowliness! I’ll do it my own way!
And, it turns out, my “own way” was gutterball after gutterball.
The first reading today speaks of God gathering his people of every race and tongue from every tribe and land into one.
“They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and camels, to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the Lord.”
The second reading underscores something implied by the first: God is bringing the people of every tribe and race back to himself in the holy city of Jerusalem principally because he is their Father and they are his children. He does not want them back to himself so he can torture them, oppress them, or bog them down with undue burdens, but simply so that he can love them.
As a Father, God is not afraid of treating us as his sons and daughters, both in loving us intensely and also disciplining us should that be needed. There is one Lord, one Faith, one Church, and one heaven – one beatific vision, one God and Father of all, one fullness of life. This means that there are some things that we as humans are up to that, simply, are contrary to God’s plan.
Nowadays we hear a lot of arguments about how much God loves us, and that he understands our intentions, and we use this as an excuse to remain as we are. I’ve said it before: if your God lets you do whatever you want, your god is probably you.
“Times are changing,” people say. The Church needs to “get with times.” Can’t these old white men see how irrelevant and out touch they are?
Many of the proposes changes are often under the guise of practical solutions to problems of decreasing Church attendance and involvement. “If priests could be married, more
men would sign up.” “Women priests would get more people into the Church.” “Everyone knows that gay marriage is the next thing the Church will change. It would bring so many people back.” If these things are true, then why aren’t the other Christian denominations that allow and encourage these things bursting at the seams?
In the Gospel, we are faced with the question: Who will be saved? Will everyone be saved? Will only some be saved? The 20th century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar asked the question in the title of one of his most well-known books: “Dare We Hope?” Dare we hope that all be saved? Of course we hope!
How many people are in hell? Don’t know, don’t care. The Church is not in the business of damning people. The Church does not canonized the damned the same way it canonizes the saints. But Jesus is pretty clear in the Gospel today that it is possible to end up somewhere else, doing something besides reclining at the table in the kingdom of God.
He seems to suggest pretty emphatically that there is a place of wailing and grinding of teeth. How does one end up there? By straying from the narrow way.
Nobody wakes up in hell surprised to be there. They’re there by their own free choice.
There is no question that the Christian life proposed by the Church is a pretty arduous life. Does God expect perfection? No. He expects fidelity and effort. And he has heaped upon us a myriad of ways in which we might remain securely on the narrow way: the sacraments, the teaching office of the Church, Christian community and friendship, the moral teaching, the philosophy of life, etc. These are for the Church what those bumpers were for me on those bowling excursions.
These are very clear, but very wide, boundaries for my life and journey to the table in the kingdom of God. There is room there for people every race, culture, economic and immigration status, life situation, and past. All that is required of us is say, “I want to live within the narrow way. I do not want to invent my own way, or try to do this by myself, because I don’t know better than the living God, who is the designer and creator of everything. You are God, and I am not, and I want to follow you.”
In a world of relativism, where everything is true (and thus nothing is true); in a world where the “fashionable” thing is to rebel and invent our own way; in a world of no morals, no ethics besides “accept everything”, the true rebellion is fidelity. “In a world of relativism, orthodoxy is the last rebellion left.” (Peter Kreeft)
To remain steadfast in our belief, to cling to what we believe that Jesus has taught us is not weakness and is not stupid, but it is also not easy. It is painful to hear our children or parents or close friends mock us for choosing to remain in love with a Spirit until we are dead.
But let them mock. They mocked Jesus.
For our part, let us remain faithful to what is being offered to us, joyful to accept the help of the bumpers, knowing that, in the end, we will not be the ones are who are embarrassed.