Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 12A
St. Francis de Sales, in his Introduction to the Devout Life, speaks very forcefully about this universal call to holiness. It’s not enough for Catholics living in the world to be nice people, good people, according to the standards that the culture around us presents. We need to be God’s holy people, to live differently from the world around us, and work to transform the world and culture by really living and proclaiming the Gospel. If the culture around us has made itself too busy for God, too busy for Mass on Sundays or holy days of obligation, that is no excuse for us. Is God or is God not more important than sports and travel and vacations and time at the lake?
When we stand before God at the end of our lives, I doubt that He’s going to ask us whether we followed faithfully what was popular and generally accepted. Instead, He’s going to ask, and show us, whether we were faithful to what was actually right and just, whether we followed Jesus and the Church He founded, even when it was difficult or unpopular to do so. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” We won’t just have to answer to one another at the end of our lives. We won’t be judged according to the misguided standards of our own day. As Catholic Christians, we are held to the standards of the Gospel in every age.
We need to respect and to reverence God above and beyond any human being. To have regard for what God is asking of us rather than what the culture around us might have come to expect. Besides missing Mass on Sundays, living together before marriage has become very common today. Contraception within marriage has become common even among Catholics. But what is right and wrong, what is holy and unholy, is not based on majority opinion or common practice. The prophet Jeremiah from our first reading continued to proclaim the truth, even when no one in Jerusalem wanted to listen to him, even when they wanted to commit violence against him to silence him. Jesus would even die upon the Cross for the Truth that He embodied and proclaimed. How much are we willing to suffer, to remain faithful to the truth that God has revealed, rather than accommodating the misguided standards of the world?
As I come to the end of my second year of the priesthood, by the grace of God, I still believe with all my heart and soul that holiness and heroic virtue are possible for every last one of us, even in the most difficult circumstances. Holiness is not only possible but very much worth the effort. It’s worth every sacrifice. Sometimes I wonder, though, how many other priests and bishops still believe that God can really transform us and set us free. The temptation is always there—for all of us—to have more regard for what is popular, to water down the Gospel, to leave out or gloss over the more difficult teachings for the sake of always being positive and affirming, but at the end of my life, I won’t sit before a panel of former parishioners, who will be asked whether I made them feel welcome and appreciated. Instead, I will have to stand before God Himself and answer for every part of His Gospel that I was too afraid to proclaim.
Please continue to pray for me as I continue in the priestly ministry, as I begin the next chapter of my walk with God. I promise to continue praying for all of you, that God might grant us the trust and courage to live out fully the Gospel that is revealed for our salvation, and to proclaim everywhere in the world today the surpassing riches of Christ our Lord.