Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
11 August 2019
Cathedral of Saint Raymond Nonnatus – Joliet, IL
Last week, I took a trip to Michigan with my mom and I helped her do something I’ve been pushing her to do for a long time: delete the Facebook app from her phone. I deleted my app many months ago because it had become the mental and emotional equivalent of eating an entire bag of chips or snacking on the M&M’s which Eileen Gutierrez keeps supplied for the staff on my desk. Hours and hours and endless scrolling, first thing in the morning and the last thing at night, is just empty calories for my brain and was sucking the life out of me.
Part of it is because I can only watch so many videos of small kittens before I want to poke my eyes out. The other part, and quite frankly the part that makes me the most crazy, is that those who know the least know it the loudest. And there’s an awful lot on social media these days that, frankly, and this is just my opinion, doesn’t belong there. It’s good to connect with people, it’s good to see pictures and get updates from family members who might be far away or off at school or something, and it’s a great tool for sharing our faith with our friends. But it’s also become the means of sowing confusion, sharing fake or exaggerated news, ruining reputations or venting anger and grievances against people who might not “be your friend” and can’t see what you’re saying and not be able to defend themselves or their position.
Of course, I’d be free just to delete the people I don’t agree with. We see that a lot nowadays. “If you support (this candidate/cause/stance/position), just unfriend me now!” “If you’re seeing this, it’s because you’ve survived the Facebook purge of everybody I don’t like!” Lucky me.
The danger of just deleting people we don’t agree with is twofold. First, it gives us the mindset that people are just profile pictures or clumps of data and therefore merely “deleteable”. Second, and maybe more importantly, if we cut out from our lives everyone we don’t like or with whom we disagree, we create for ourselves ghettos of thought. The only thing allowed here is what I want to hear, what I like to hear, what makes me happy and what I agree with. Well, honey, that’s just not reality. Life is full of people and things we don’t like or agree with; is it any surprise that even the smallest issues, like someone taking too much in line ahead of us or someone driving a little too slow in front us, sends us flying off the handle at each other?
What’s at the core of all this?
Every one of us on planet earth is searching for something – an idea, a position – that will withstand the test of time. That is a fundamental question each of us is asking, perhaps without knowing it; “Will this/that withstand the test of time?” In other words, “is there something out there that is ultimately and finally true?”
Modern culture tries to answer this question the absolutely easiest way possible, by insisting that everything is true; that’s what true for you is true for you, and what’s true for me is true for me. But anybody with a brain can see that just isn’t possible. It is not possible that it’s objectively true that nothing is objectively true. That makes no sense.
It is a naturally human thing to seek some idea, some position, even some person who’s foundation is outside of time and thus endures throughout time, throughout history. This is a good litmus test for us: will this withstand the test of time? Right now, much of our national dialogue in politics, entertainment, news, and religion is purely emotional; “well, this is what I think and what I feel and so therefore it must be true.” As a nation, our collective morality is not based on any enduring model or system, but on emotion. It is a sentimental barbarianism; agree with me, or be defeated. So we have a country with 300 million people looking at each other saying, “agree with me, or be defeated.”
Basing our morality and our deepest held beliefs on emotion alone will never withstand the test of time.
You can see where this is going. Think of all the players in the world’s debates right now about what is moral (that is, what ought we doing) and what it means to be human. In America, we are flooded with voices claiming to be authoritative in the moral debate. There’s the government, which of course is more divided now than ever, there is the family, there is higher education, there are lobbies and social rights groups, there’s the evangelical Christians, the mainline protestant Christians, united atheists, and of course the Catholic Church, who speaks in the world primarily through the lived witness of her members and in the public sphere through the conference of bishops.
Now, because of the sexual abuse crisis and the inevitable fallout from so much coverup and all of that nonsense that we’ve been over and over by this point, the Church is somewhat lacking in the moral authority department, at least insofar as people recognizing the Church as having a valid voice in the moral debate. A couple of months ago, Cardinal Cupich was giving a press conference at the Illinois State Capitol on the legislature’s frankly ridiculous abortion bill and was interrupted by a reporter who asked, “Why should we listen to you bishops at all anymore?”
To be honest, that’s a fair question.
But when we are looking for something or someone who is able to withstand the test of time, we have to look at what has withstood the test of time until now. Out of all of those voices I just mentioned, the one who has withstood the tests of time more than any of of the rest is the Church. The Church has withstood being underground and then persecuted in the Roman empire; it’s withstood the invasion of Islam into Europe and northern Africa in the 7th century; it’s withstood the reformations in Germany, Northern Europe, and England; it’s withstood the test of communism, fascism, and national socialism. It has even withstood the absolute stupidity of some of its bishops, priests, deacons, and lay faithful who, despite their best efforts of stealing money, abusing children, corrupting pious minds, altering or watering down theology to better fit the ways of the times, etc, were not able to destroy the Church.
Why? Why has the Church withstood the test of time? We have to look at what has sustained her. What has sustained the Church in her sojourn through the ages? Her faith.
“Perhaps never before have we come here with such an awareness that our own strength cannot make lasting the beautiful things that happen to us in life. And maybe never before, as today, have we been so aware of how deeply we need someone who withstands the test of time, who responds to our boundless need for duration.” (Carron, 2019 Fraternity Exercises)
Let me read again from the second reading:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place
that he was to receive as an inheritance;
he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country,
dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise;
for he was looking forward to the city with foundations,
whose architect and maker is God.
By faith he received power to generate,
even though he was past the normal age
—and Sarah herself was sterile—
for he thought that the one who had made the promise was
So it was that there came forth from one man,
himself as good as dead,
descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky
and as countless as the sands on the seashore.
All these died in faith.
They did not receive what had been promised
but saw it and greeted it from afar
and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth,
for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.
If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come,
they would have had opportunity to return.
But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.
Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God,
for he has prepared a city for them.
They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar, and acknowledged that they were strangers, sojourners on the earth. St. Therese famously said that, for the Christian, the “world is thy ship and not thy homeland.” So any effort to plant ourselves here, to transfer our identities from children of the Father and children of the Church to a child of this cause or that candidate or this idea, which will not withstand the test of time; OR to believe that somehow we are responsible for creating out of nothing the things that will withstand the test of time..any effort to do this is a futile effort that will lead us searching and yearning for more because we are a people who are hardwired, literally built for, the thing, the Person, who will ultimately endure.
We go to great lengths to make the kingdom of earth a perfect place, a happy place, a totally just place. There’s nothing inherently wrong in that, since I think we can say that God wants justice on the earth. But is justice on the earth all we want? Are we expending all this time, money, and energy merely for earthly perfection and happiness?
Why are we working like this, as if the future depends only on us? When, in the Gospel today, Jesus comes right out and says, “The Father is please to give you the kingdom.” We out here working and sweating and fretting and being led right away from the peace and joy of God’s face and presence, while the Father is like, “dudes and dames, chill: I’m literally just going to give you what you’re looking for, if you will let me.”
But how? How do we receive this thing for which we long, the thing which will withstand the test of time? “Gird your loins and light your lamps” and get ready for the master to come to you. Challenge yourself to ask the questions about the Faith that you don’t know; don’t assume that you won’t like the answer and then never ask the question and go on complaining about something the Church teaches; investigate! Understanding things in the light of the faith directs our hearts to worship of God and love of neighbor.
Read the readings before you come to Mass, pray with them, and know what intention you will offer the Mass for before you get here. And, if you can, get here more than 2 minutes ahead of time.
Delete Facebook from your phone. Delete ESPN from your phone. What’s the app you spend the most time on, and is it feeding you with anything besides empty calories? Delete it! You are more powerful than that stupid machine in your hand. So take the control back.
Do one thing to feed your needs as a human person every week: go to a park, watch the sunset, play in the dirt, go to a museum, go to a concert, eat out a restaurant who’s food you can’t pronounce, have the kids design a bucket where everybody’s phones will go during dinner time.
The sentimental barbarianism has to end, because a way of life as a people, especially as a people who are traveling together toward a kingdom that is not of this world, a way of life as a people that is based on the whims and whirls of our emotion never lead us anywhere except where we began: chaos, strangeness, and disorder. Let us instead seek the One who will withstand the test of the time, the One who teaches us through his Church what it means to long for, to journey, to struggle toward what is true and then let’s ask for the grace to adhere to what endures forever.
Jesus, through his Church, gives us a method for the challenging the world and verifying his promise to us. Remain in and deepen your relationship with him and “you will realize that you are living in a way that has no compare,” because you are a living a life that withstands the test of time.