Sunday, July 5, 2015

We Are Obliged to Speak the Truth: Fr. Eric Andersen

Homily for Sunday, June 5th, 2015
Fr. Eric M. Andersen
St. Stephen’s Catholic Church
July 5th, 2015

Dominica XIV Per Annum, Anno B

  Our Blessed Lord went into His own country, i.e., Nazareth. He had grown up there. It was the hometown of St. Joseph who brought Mary up from Jerusalem to be his bride and settle down in Nazareth. After the Holy Family returned from Egypt, Jesus spent his mid-childhood up through his young adult life there, working side by side with St. Joseph. We look in upon the continuation of the Gospel today in the midst of Jesus’ public ministry. He returns to his own country, and His disciples follow Him. He teaches with wisdom and the people are offended by Him. Why are they offended? Let’s look back in time to see the origin of this scandal. 
  We know very little about the childhood of Jesus from the Gospels. We know that the Holy Family spent some time in Egypt and then returned to Nazareth by way of Jerusalem. We also know that at the age of 12, the Lord stayed behind in Jerusalem and conversed with the doctors of the Law in the Temple. At this young age, He manifested exceptional wisdom. Did the word of this get out? Did the people of Nazareth know about this child’s wisdom? We cannot say. But here we encounter Him as an adult manifesting His wisdom again. The people at the synagogue in His own hometown remark: “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!” 

 Wisdom and mighty works! Certainly, they should expect fine works wrought by His hands. After all, they remark that He is the carpenter. In Latin, the word used is faber. We might recognize this word in the English word ‘fabricator.’ He fabricated, or made things. So Jesus was recognized by his hometown citizens as a maker of things. Pseudo-Jerome comments: “Jesus is called the son of a workman, of that one, however, whose work was the morning and the sun…” (Catena Aurea). The allusion here is that the people are right in that He is a maker of things, but they do not realize the full impact in that through Him all things were made. Their eyes are covered with a veil and it has not yet been given them to see the fullness of that truth. They are, therefore, offended by Him. 
 Pseudo-Jerome comments: “Oftentimes…the origin of a man brings him contempt” (Catena). Any priest knows this. It is difficult for a priest to preach to his own family and to his childhood friends: they know him too well. Another early commentator by the name of Theophylact writes: “Or again, if the prophet has noble relations, his countrymen hate them and on that account do not honor the prophet” (Catena). Even if his relatives are not noble; in his own hometown, it is likely that someone will know his relatives, whether they like them or not–– and, on that account, they may dismiss what he has to say. But what the people often do not consider is that the words spoken by the priest, or the prophet (and in this case, the Lord Himself) are not His own words. He is speaking the words of the Father who has sent Him to speak to a hardhearted and rebellious people, as the prophet Ezekiel was sent to do. 
We might place ourselves in this same predicament! Can we not identify with the prophet Ezekiel who wrote: ‘And the spirit entered into me after he spoke to me, and he set me upon my feet: and I heard him speaking to me. And saying, Son of man, I send you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious people, that have revolted against me, they and their fathers, have transgressed my covenant even to this day” (Ez 2:2-3). How many times have we sat with friends or relatives who no longer practice their faith and get into unexpected debates over things we take for granted? We enter the conversation thinking that we are on the same page, and then we hear a comment like, “Do you really still believe all that stuff?” or “I gave up believing all that years ago.” This can be heartbreaking, and yet in that very situation, we are called to be like Ezekiel, but even more so, because through the sacraments, we are conformed to Christ. 
  We too have been given the Holy Spirit, but in a greater way than Ezekiel and the prophets who only received that charism to accomplish the work of God as prophets. We receive the Holy Spirit through the sacramental life to dwell in our souls. That is what we call sanctifying grace. And when we are in a state of sanctifying grace, the Holy Spirit elevates our intellects to an understanding of divine wisdom. Sanctifying Grace prompts us to conform our wills to the will of the Almighty Father. We are given an infusion of the virtue of Faith to help us to belief all that God has revealed. We do not summon up that faith on our own. It is infused into us, and through sanctifying grace, we are able to assent to things that are beyond our natural capacity and our natural understanding. When we are filled with faith, we encounter rebellious people. We might think it is a coincidence, but we are sent to them, or perhaps they are sent to us so that we might exercise our vocation to speak the truth of divine wisdom. When we are baptized, we are anointed on the crown of our head and we enter into a participation with Christ in his threefold office of Priest, Prophet, and King. Today we speak particularly about that office of prophet. We participate in that prophetic office by speaking the objective truth of the Catholic faith in love. This is the truth that is not our subjective truth, but objective Truth who is Jesus Christ Himself. We speak His words of divine wisdom but we leave the mighty works to Him.

  During those times when we sit with relatives or friends who disagree with our Catholic faith, we can recall those words spoken to the prophet Ezekiel: “I am sending you to…a rebellious people, that have revolted against me (and)…have transgressed my covenant.” The pitfall, or danger here is that we might get distracted by pride. In this situation, we must remember that we are no better than them. It is not to our credit that we have the gift of faith and they do not. It is a gift from God. But because we have the gift of faith, we are obliged to speak the objective truth of that faith to those who are hard of heart. We might dread such a thing because our relatives may refuse to listen to us. After all, they know our origin. They know our relatives. But that is not the point. Even if they do not listen to us, we still must speak the truth in love. That is a manifestation of the Lord’s wisdom. They may reject that divine wisdom. We have no control over that. We are not to be judged by God based upon whether or not people heeded our words. We will be asked whether we spoke the truth of the faith without hesitation or embarrassment. 

  Perhaps our Catholic faith in its integrity will provoke others to take offense at us. That can be a real cross. It is a sorrow to be rejected by others, but in that sorrow, we are truly one with Jesus Christ because it is He whom they reject. We must remember that when others reject our Catholic Faith, they are not rejecting us, they are rejecting Him who sent us. We share in His rejection and we enter into the wounds of His Sacred Heart, pierced and rejected by the indifference of men towards His unfathomable love for them. Let us not worry about performing any mighty deeds, but in docility, we allow God to be Almighty. He will perform mighty deeds where He sees fit to do so. Let us merely persevere as we are sent to lovingly speak the truth of divine wisdom even to those who will reject us.  

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