Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
6 September 2020
Cathedral of Saint Raymond and Sacred Heart Parish
“You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel.”
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
“Owe nothing to anyone, brothers and sisters, except to love one another.”
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”
The Gospel this weekend, taken together with all the readings, provides an unmistakable message to all Christians: that we belong to each other. To propose the idea that something renders false this basic fact of the Christian worldview – to suggest there is something, anything, that removes our mutual obligation to owe nothing to anyone except love – begins to undo the entire mission of Jesus. The mission of Jesus is the mission of the Father, who from the very beginning has been sending prophets and patriarchs to unite into himself every land, tribe, people, and nation. So, to live in such a way, or to think in such a way, or to foster such an attitude that even remotely suggests we can dismiss persons or that certain people are less my sister or brother, is to unravel the entirety of God’s salvific work from the very beginning until now.
One of the major names for the Christian community in Matthew’s Gospel is “those gathered in Jesus’ name.”
The readings today showcase the idea that “peace and unity are assumed by Jesus to be the natural state of things in the community gathered in memory him and in his Name. When the peace is disturbed the one intolerable attitude is indifference, since those who bear the name of Christ must seek reconciliation among themselves at all costs, so that the full peace that is divine characteristic may be restored to the community.” (Merikakis, Vol. 2, 629)
What do we mean when we speak of peace and unity among us? In at least his letters to the Philippians, the Colossians, the Ephesians, and both letters to the Corinthians Paul writes about living in agreement with each other, “putting up with one another”, aiming always for “restoration” and unity in the Christian communities. What does this mean?
The Gospel today poses difficult questions for us – not just here in this church but for us even, perhaps especially, as we go out of this place and back into a very divided world. It goes without saying that the next two months will be arduous and difficult for every person who holds a genuine interest in the present and future state of the American Republic and the “American Experiment” of a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
But I ask again, I ask again the question that we all must make it our task to raise over and over in these tense months: what does it mean for us to live together, to be as one? If we are serious about our Christian identity, then we are called to be Christians first before anything else we might be. In a world being taken over by Identity Politics, what is our role as women and men whose first and primary identity is “Son of God”, “Daughter of God”, member of a Chosen Race, a Holy Nation, and People whom God has made his own.
You, Son of Man, I have made a watchman for the House of Israel; You, beloved of God, I have made a watchman over the House of Joliet.
Over what are we keeping watch? The peace and unity which are assumed by Jesus to be the natural state of those who are gathered in his name.
What does it mean to be at peace and to be in union? What does Paul mean when he says, “agree with one another”?
If each one of us were to sit here and make a list of everything we thought or believe, our every opinion on every issue, there would erupt in this place endless chatter and fighting about nearly every issue under the sun. There would be disagreements on major political issues and candidates, social questions and issues of morality; Cubs vs. Sox; Chili’s vs. Applebee’s; and many more.
Jesus, and Paul, and the whole of the Gospel message don’t possibly mean to propose that being in union with each other means that we agree in the strictest sense of that word. And to have our end-goal in our ministry or dealings with other people be to get everyone to think like us, to act like us, to be like us, is not only hopeless but also unwelcome, un-American, un-Christian.
We must make the commitment to each other today and through this whole dreadful election process that we will remain of one mind and one heart in Jesus, mindful of having been set as a watchman and a guardian over this communion.
What is the enemy of our peace as a people? What is the major obstacle to our being of one mind and one heart in Christ, and thus truly united as his people?
“Our enemy is the lack of knowledge of Christ. What kind of knowledge are we talking about? Since for us knowledge is usually reduced to factual knowledge…” we must begin to rethink the very notion of what it means to know Christ. We are asked to know him in the biblical sense: “knowledge as familiarity, as synergy, as self-identification, as something present to the heart.” (Julian Carron, Rimini Introduction, 5)
Many of us have had this knowledge of Christ at one time or another, perhaps on a retreat, or a particularly beautiful Mass, encounter with the poor, or some other experience. For too many of us, this knowledge which had been felt, even very strongly, “didn’t continue after the encounter.” (Carron) Christ feels distant to many of us, and “there is an embarrassment that is due to Christ being distant, like a non-presence, a being not crucial for the heart.” He may very well be very close, present, and indeed so crucial in our activity – going to church, being with the community, visiting the sick and imprisoned, fighting for those on the peripheries, even in some cases our political involvement, Christ feels present somewhat.
But what about in the depths of our hearts? In that precious moment after the lights are out and you’re drifting into sleep thinking about the affairs of your life, what about then? What about when you’re speaking with someone with whom you have profound disagreements about the most pressing questions of life?
“When I speak about the heart, I’m talking about how someone looks at her children, at one’s wife or husband, or a someone on the street, how one looks at the people in the community, or one’s colleagues at work. Above all, the heart is how you get up in the morning.” In the deepest cares and affairs of your life, when all the activity has ceased, is Jesus a living presence or is he distant? (Carron)
On October 3rd, Pope Francis will sign his 2nd Encyclical on human fraternity and social friendship; the document is called, “Fratelli Tutti” – “Brothers and sisters, all.”
We cannot be gathered in his name, even just two or three of us, if he is not present to our hearts. “Christ’s distance from the heart sheds light on another kind of distance: a fundamental difficulty…when we relate to each other, in our gaze upon each other, because only Christ, our brother Christ, can truly us make us” brothers and sisters, and friends. “How many times have we spoken about it and have we experienced it our lives: the distance of our heart from Christ becomes distance between each other, so that we often feel like strangers to each other.” (Carron)
Our own distance from Christ becomes distance between each other! But the one thing there cannot be between members of the Christian community is distance!
When distance arises, what are we to do?
The Gospel today is clear: TALK TO EACH OTHER! Like adults, like civilized people, like brothers and sisters, bonded together by Jesus. We’ve got to talk to each other, not convert or nag or convince or be passive aggressive – but talk! What are the prerequisites we’ve established in our hearts and minds that other people must meet before we deem them worthy to be a part of our lives, before we give ourselves permission to be human with them?
Distance from Christ becomes distance from each other. If only, if only, if only there was some way we could regularly eradicate absolutely any and all distance between us and Christ.
Ah yes! The Eucharist! Let us make the pledge to each other that from this week, all the way through the tumult of these next months and election strife, we will come to this place and eradicate the distance between ourselves and Jesus.
First, as I must always do, I encourage you to go to confession in these months and clean that soul up that it might worthily and joyfully receive the Lord.
Then, come here and eat the living bread, the bread of angels, and the food of all who truly hunger; receive Jesus himself into your body as well as your soul, and thereby erase any distance that remains between you and Jesus.
Closeness with Christ becomes closeness with each other! Let us be truly those gathered in his name, let us give ourselves the chance to experience truly what it means to say that unity and peace is the natural state of our being together.