Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
10 February 2019
Cathedral of St. Raymond and Sacred Heart
Around Thanksgiving, I was sitting in my room in the rectory when I heard a loud crash on Raynor Avenue. It sounded very close, and I was worried that someone had crashed into the Cathedral’s sign at the corner of Douglas and Raynor.
I went to the window and looked out and saw that a large Chevy Tahoe had run right into the light pole in the grassy parkway at the intersection. It was bizarre, to say the least; it was a perfectly clear, dry, even kind of warm, night. How does a person just run into a light pole that’s literally in the middle of the road?
So I put on my good neighbor socks and went downstairs and called the Joliet police non-emergency line, and then went outside to see if they guy in the car was alright. There was already another neighbor out there (turns out the guy who lives kiddy-corner to the rectory is a very nice guy, by the way) and the guy in the Tahoe seemed alright although perhaps feeling a little embarrassed.
Then all of a sudden, there was another loud crash. And then another, and another. Well, the dark light pole on the dark street at night caused everyone who drove down Raynor to hit pieces of the lightpole until there were light pole parts strewn from the intersection all the way to the front of Cathedral.
One guy’s mistake caused a ripple effect and every time someone hit the debris, the problem got worse.
As I stood there on the curb, I thought to myself, “This will make a great homily.”
Every day at Mass, we pray that we might become “one body, one spirit in Christ.” Jesus is our head, and we are all his members. Paul teaches us that when one member suffers, the whole body suffers with it. When we break our leg, the whole body feels it.
When one member sins, the whole body breaks.
As we continue learning of the extent and sheer magnitude of the sexual abuse crisis and coverup, as we hear the news of the Illinois Attorney General’s report, and we see CBS 2 accost Bishop Conlon at his own house, and we hear the stories from all over the world of negligent bishops or even bishops who themselves were abusers, we hear the rumblings of the news that in the coming days the Vatican will remove Archbishop McCarrick from the priesthood altogether, the New York Times ran the story this week of priests abusing nuns, and in two weeks the Vatican will convene the historic summit on the Protection of Young People and Vulnerable Adults, calling to Rome the head of every bishops’ conference in the world….there is cause to be alarmed.
The people who challenged me in the seminary, wondering why I might want to give my life to such an institution look at me now and, in as many words, say, “See, I told you so.”
Members of your families and friends, the ones who’ve left or who’ve been turned away, look at your fidelity and, in as many words, say, “See, I told you so.”
But the truth remains that I have not given my life to an institution, nor have you. We have given ourselves to the Body of Christ, the living Church, who’s very head and guide in the living and risen Jesus.
The other day in prayer, a very provoking image came to me. Sometimes people think that priests marry God; we don’t. The Church is the bride of Christ, and as one who shares in the one priesthood of Christ, the Church is also the bride of Ryan.
I had the image of kneeling next to my wife as sickness ravaged her body, as she vomited into the toilet, and I whispered, “it’s okay, it’s okay. Let it all out. You won’t feel better until you do.”
I pray that this can become our stance in the midst of this. It’s okay, it’s okay, Mother Church! Let it all out! We will be faithful! We will be here!
What has been the cause of these scandals, the coverups, the lies? I think in many ways the core of this is the same thing that is at the core of so many sins, mine and yours, of the things that we struggle with all the time.
We must be purified, all of us!
If we are not willing to be purified, then we are not willing to be disciples. I’m not sure how else to say that.
If we are not willing to let go of sin, to let Jesus heal and purify us, then we are not willing to be disciples. And if there are members among us who are not willing to be disciples, but who want to use the Church to their own advantage and gain, who want to recreate Jesus or the Church in their own image or according to their own design, then we must say, firmly but with charity, repent and be purified or leave us alone.
Hurt people hurt people. The car crash of one creates debris and flat tires and headaches for another.
In the first reading today, we hear the call of the prophet Isaiah. He encounters the LORD of hosts who comes to his house, shaking the door posts and filling his house with smoke. In fear and trembling, he protests: “Woe is me, I am doomed! I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” To his surprise, an angel comes from the LORD and places upon his lips a glowing, burning ember from the incense at the altar of God in heaven, and the angel says, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin is purged.”
Then in the gospel, we hear Luke’s account of the call of Simon and his brother from their fishing boats to be his disciples. Jesus asks something incredible of them, asking them to “put out into the deep” for a massive catch of fish. Simon protests, “we’ve been at this forever and we haven’t caught anything!” But there is something in the command of Jesus, and Peter does it. Before his very eyes, the promise of God is fulfilled and immediately Peter falls to his knees and cries out, “get away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man!” Peter rises, returns to the shore, leaves behind his boats and nets, and follows Jesus.
Jesus has not come to us to make us really good at what we’re already doing. He hasn’t come to make us great orators or fishermen or bankers or lawyers or whatever. He has come to make us new, to lead us toward a new kind of life; a life that will make gladness appear on our faces because there is joy in our hearts, because we have been reunited with the Father. .
Everything in Christianity is about union with God. I am sorry to say, but there are people all around us who serve the Church, some who lead the Church as bishops and priests, who do not care about God or perhaps do not even believe in him.
Jesus came to lead us to a dynamic relationship with himself, to lead us away from sin and death and into a truly new kind of life. But before that can happen, we must say goodbye to the things in us and about us that keep us from him and that cause harm to others.
Get out of your Tahoe, get into the road, and pick up the pieces you’ve caused everyone else to run into.
If we are not willing to be purified, to be made new, then we are not willing to be disciples. If we are not willing to give up the comforts of sin and take up the cross as Jesus commanded, then we are not willing to be disciples. If we are not willing to be humbled enough to fall at the feet of Jesus and beg him for forgiveness and new life, if we are not willing to leave behind the wounds and hurts and regrets of the world and follow Jesus wherever he asks us to go, then we are not willing to share the new life he promises us.
This is strong language perhaps, but I’m not sure how else to say it.
The priests pray together in the rectory every morning, and every morning we pray for you and for your intentions, your conversion, and your holiness. Please, please do the same for us! Please help us to become holier and better, more faithful and more fervent. If we offend you, tell us and don’t let it fester. If we can improve, help us see that. We didn’t give our lives to a dead and rotten institution, we gave our lives to you.
May the Eucharist today be asource of strength and affirmation in you, that one day you too may say with Paul,
For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.