Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 26B
Welcome back to Holy Spirit Church! It’s been a few months, but I hope it was worth the wait. I don’t remember too much of what it was like before, and as you can see, there’s still work to be done before it’s all finished, but what do you think of it so far? We look forward to eventually having all of our pews, kneelers, and a new tabernacle, and on October 11, the dedication of our new altar by Bishop Swain. Until then, we’ll be using a temporary altar, so that the bishop will be the first one to bless and celebrate Mass on the new altar.
For the whole Diocese of Sioux Falls, as a successor to the Apostles, Bishop Paul Swain serves to unite all of us into one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. And the readings today are all about unity, even amid diversity, that the elders at the time of Moses were all united by one prophetic spirit that spoke through all of them. Today, we are still united by that same spirit, and our parish is even named for the Holy Spirit, the soul of the Church and the constant companion of every believer. The Gospel speaks about many who perform miracles in the name of Jesus, even though they are not part of his circle of disciples, but Jesus reminds us, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” We are united as Christians to all who bear the name of Christ, even those outside the Catholic Church, many of whom live lives of great faith and love and holiness. I’m sure all of us here have been helped at one time or another by the faith of other Christians. And personally, a large part of my answering the call to the priesthood I attribute to the influence of a non-Catholic friend who really challenged me in my own faith and in my relationship with God during my teenage years. Today, we pray in a special way for the unity of all Christians, and for the healing of our divisions that can keep so many others from coming to know Christ.
Our second reading from the Letter of James reminds us that we are all united in the call to care for those less fortunate. This has been a constant theme of Pope Francis, that the Church and all her members need to be united in love and in concern, to reach out to the poor and to those on the periphery, the outcasts and the neglected of society. There can be political aspects of this, and policy changes that need to be made, and it is important that before we commit ourselves to any party platform or ideology or labels of liberal or conservative that tend to polarize us and set up rivalries, we need, above all else, to commit ourselves to the truth and to the process of discerning and cooperating in what would really make for the true good of society as a whole and for the good of the families and individuals that make up society.
But Pope Francis does not often speak specifically to Congress, and St. James certainly wasn’t. They are speaking instead to you and to me. We shouldn’t just wait around for the government or other organizations to do for us what we are being called to do as a Christian people and as individual Christians to reach out and to care for those who need our love and support. And we will find that we never love or serve anyone without receiving gifts and blessings in return, so the truth is, we need the poor and the underprivileged as much as or more than they need us.
But there is a tension. How do we really help others to grow and to feel connected and to become contributing members of society, and avoid enabling unhealthy lifestyles or unhealthy patterns of dependence? It’s obvious that just giving money to anyone who asks might not really help them, depending on how they use the money. The psalm and response today speak of love for the Law of God, and Pope Francis has mentioned a healthy tension that exists between law and love, between being called and calling others on to a high standard, and meeting others with mercy and understanding when they have fallen short of that standard.
Law and love are compatible, but it is not an easy balance. We need to keep in mind that the Law of God and the teachings of the Church, even the difficult moral teachings concerning abortion, contraception, the death penalty, euthanasia, marriage and divorce, all of these teachings reflect the truth about who we are as human beings and as God’s children, and the Law is a high standard to guide us into an abundant life. But God and the Church also know that our growth is gradual and we often fall short and are in great need of God’s never-failing mercy. The road to true freedom and life does not come from denying the standards and having a policy of anything goes, but of living in this tension between law and love, patiently working towards growth and always being committed to the truth of who we are and the high calling we have received in Christ Jesus. May God unite us in our commitment to him and in our vocation to serve one another in genuine love.