Sunday, April 28, 2013
Our Christian Identity: Fr. Andersen
A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, OR
April 28th, 2013
Dominica V Paschae
“I…saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Apoc. 21:2)
Earlier this week, Pope Francis celebrated Mass and preached on the Feast of St. George, an early Christian martyr. Looking to the example of the martyrs, he recalled ‘the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.’ And this joy begins with a persecution, with great sadness, and ends with joy. And so,” Pope Francis continued, “the Church goes forward…‘amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of the Lord.’ And thus is the life of the Church. If we want to travel a little along the road of worldliness, negotiating with the world…we will never have the consolation of the Lord. And if we seek only consolation, it will be a superficial consolation, not that of the Lord: a human consolation. The Church's journey always takes place between the Cross and the Resurrection, amid the persecutions and the consolations of the Lord. And this is the path: those who go down this road are not mistaken. (Pope Francis. Homily of April 23rd, 2013).
This message of persecution and consolation continues throughout the reading of the Acts of the Apostles. Today again, we hear in our first reading: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21). Now isn’t this a bit hard to swallow? How can persecution bring consolation? What is the consolation that it brings? Well, it should bring peace and security. There is peace and security in the arms of our holy Mother the Church. Let me explain.
In our second reading today, St. John writes: “I…saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Apoc. 21:2). The Church is glorious. Glorious things of thee are spoken, O City of Sion, O Holy Mother Church. We cannot sing the praises of the Church enough. We refer to the Church in the feminine because she is the Bride of Christ. As Catholics, we refer to the Church as our mother because we are the children. Pope Francis preaches that she “became more and more of a Mother. A Mother who gives us the faith, a Mother who gives us an identity.” The Bride becomes a mother when each of us is born again from the holy font of Baptism into new life in Christ. God is our Father. The Church is our mother. If the world persecutes us, we can understand how a mother is a source of consolation. Mothers know how to console their children. We run to our mothers for comfort when we are hurt. They console us.
And so our holy Mother the Church is our consolation amidst the persecutions of the world. Without our holy Mother the Church, we are lost because the Church is truly the family of God. We are made for family and it is important that we receive the blessings of our parents and that we receive an inheritance from our parents. I am not talking here about money, but about blessing. Our inheritance, as children, is passed on through the family.
If we sever ourselves from the family, how can we expect to receive our inheritance? So it is with the Church. If we sever ourselves from the Church how can we expect to receive our inheritance which is heaven? If we sever our relations with our family––the Church––our names will be blotted out from the last will and testament of our Lord which is the Book of Life. At the Last Judgement, our names must be written in the Book of Life. Therefore there is no inheritance, no salvation for those whose names are not written down or those whose names have been struck from the book.
Pope Francis spoke also about this last Tuesday. He said: “Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because…it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church.” The Church has always taught this: Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, which means––outside the Church there is no salvation. This is such an audacious claim that it should make us squirm a little bit. That we might react in such a way means that this teaching is greater than us. It is beyond us. It requires faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to understand this teaching. When we are members of the family, in good standing with the family, we can understand this teaching. In other words, when we are in a state of sanctifying grace, our minds are clear and our souls are filled with the Holy Spirit who gives the gift of knowledge, of understanding, and of wisdom. These are divine gifts. These divine gifts bear the sweet fruit of faith, which like any fruit must first be planted, cultivated, pruned, and finally, the fruit of faith ripens in the bright light and warmth of the Son of God.
There is consolation in eating ripe and sweet fruit. God provides the soil, the sun, the rain, and the knowledge to bring forth such ripe and sweet fruit. The fruit is faith. But faith cannot survive without grace. Grace is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will not dwell in a soul which has been poisoned by grave sin. We can understand this if we consider that good fruit will not come from soil that has been poisoned and destroyed by toxic waste. Sin is toxic waste. Good and sweet fruit will not grow and ripen from toxic soil.
There is a seminar coming up in a few weeks called the Healing of Families Seminar. This is being held at St. Joseph’s in Salem and at the Kaiser Civic Center on May 17th and 18th, Friday evening and Saturday of Pentecost weekend. A Ugandan priest named Fr. Joseph is coming from Florida to lead this seminar. We are talking about the family here today. The Church is a family in the ideal sense. But some of us cannot identify with what a healthy family looks like. Sometimes we struggle with sin because of our family. Sometimes sins are passed down from our family. Sometimes these sins span many generations. These generational sins are like toxic waste in the soil that persists in our family garden. These sins can become bigger than us. We might find that we just cannot break the chains all by ourselves. We need God’s help. The soil of the family must go through a purification process. How can we understand the glorious beauty of the Church as a family if our own family experience is poisoned?
We all know what a healthy family is supposed to look like. In a healthy family, we find a source of consolation. Maybe we have given up hope that our family could ever be a source of consolation for us. But faith, hope, and charity inspire us not to despair. You can turn things around for your family. Now, this seminar is not magic. But it uses the Church’s teachings to help us see how God wishes to bless us and not to curse us. The enemy of our souls, the devil, or satan, wishes to curse us and our families and to separate us from them and the Church. He seeks to destroy hope, to destroy faith, to destroy charity. He sows seeds of doubt, rebellion, unforgiveness, rupture, separation, and despair. This happens in families. The devil will promise us consolation with worldly things, but he is a liar and he never delivers what he promises. He leaves us cursed instead, alone, thinking we have nowhere to turn.
But we can always turn back, re-converting our hearts and minds, our lives and wills to the Lord and His Church. We must seek the consolation of God above human consolation. But we find the Lord’s consolation in human ways. We must learn to discern the difference. If we are to endure suffering, let it be for the right reasons. Let it be a source of joy for the Lord and for the building of His kingdom on earth. The sweet joy of evangelization begins with persecution, with great sadness and ends in joy. That is the paradox. But it is the paradox that informs our faith in the Cross of Christ that we are called to carry. Let it be a cross of joy for each of us. Let us renounce all false crosses, all false promises, all that is false and ugly; and cling to all that is true and good and holy and beautiful. That will be the only true consolation that we find in this life and it will only be found where our Lord Jesus Christ is, and where the Holy Spirit dwells: within the Bride of Christ, our Holy Mother the Church, and in all souls that are in a state of sanctifying grace filled with the Holy Spirit bearing the sweet fruit of faith.