Sunday, January 29, 2012

How To Offend a Catholic

Offending Catholics is very easy.  All you have to do is preach the truth on a topic that the secular world considers “hot button issues” and half of them are probably offended.  Catholics like to be left alone, and they like to take the easy path when it comes to "practicing their faith":  come to Mass, put their dollar bill in the collection, listen to a homily that makes them feel good, and then go home because they have fulfilled their Sunday obligation.  But don’t you dare challenge them or ask them to go above and beyond that hour on Sunday!  This is the story of a homily that I delivered three times today about a fundamental truth that managed to offend some of my people (some even walked out of church), and in full disclosure, as a priest/homilist I wanted to offend them.  Here goes:

“The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority…” (Mark 1:22)

When I was in the seminary, I had professors who would command a room when they taught.  As someone aspiring to be a priest and a teacher of the faith, I would be in awe at how they taught with such passion and authority.  This is no doubt a gift.  We all had teachers and professors who overwhelmed us with their knowledge and, of course, we had some teachers that underwhelmed us with the way they imparted knowledge.  To their students they sounded like the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons.  The latter is where we find the Jewish people in today’s gospel.  For too long they had been underwhelmed by the scribes who were very knowledgeable but did not get their message across because they did not teach “with authority.”  Enter Jesus who probably commanded that room simply by his presence.  He teaches them with divine authority and expels unclean spirits with the same authority.

Believe it or not, Jesus passes on this same authority to each and every one of us through the Holy Spirit.  We have been baptized and confirmed in this Spirit to teach and spread our faith, this Good News, with the same authority that Jesus had.  We must be bold like our Lord and proclaim our beliefs with conviction. But unfortunately we have been so timid in using this authority that the Lord has passed on to us, that our Catholic faith is being threatened and we aren’t standing up as a people to protest.

On Friday, the Archbishop sent each of his priests a letter that he wanted to be read this Sunday from all pulpits.  I want to share this letter with you now.

(At this point in the homily, I read the Archbishop’s letter on the HHS mandate that all health insurers, including Catholic ones, had one year to comply with a mandate and start offering contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs as part of our health plans even if it violated our beliefs.  If you have not read the letter, you can read it here:  As I read the letter I could tell the people, for the most part, were bored out of their minds.  So when I finished, I continued with one simple question:)

How many of you were aware of the mandate that the Archbishop mentions in the letter? (At all three Masses, only about a dozen or so people raised their hands and I preached to well over 1500 people today.)  You see that’s the problem!  As Catholics, we don’t take the time to notice that our faith quite literally is under attack.  Even the Pope who lives thousands of miles away has noticed this from afar.  On January 19th, when speaking to bishops from our country he said:  “it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness...”  The Pope is in Rome and he sees what is happening to our country:  our religious liberties are being trampled upon, as Catholics we are being pushed around:  and we’re letting people do this to us.  Catholics make up a quarter of this nation’s population.  Don’t you think that if we rose up as one Church, with one voice, we can defeat this mandate?  Of course we can.  But no.  This is not what Catholics do.  Most Catholics live the shadows and don’t raise their voices when they confront someone who may disagree with our beliefs because quite simply, we don’t want to offend someone.  Well my friends, I’m here to tell you today, that that kind of Catholicism just won’t cut it anymore, so I have two words for you:  OFFEND SOMEBODY!  If we cannot uphold the faith of our Church and the truth passed on to us by our Lord then we don’t deserve to be called Christians.  Everywhere I look in the media, I hear about Evangelicals doing this and the Evangelical vote swaying elections and the Evangelical movement making noise.  Why aren’t Catholics making noise?  Why aren’t we allowing our voices to be heard?  Why are we so ashamed of this beautiful, rich, and living faith that we claim to profess every Sunday at Mass? 

Let’s put it in very simple terms:  our Catholic faith and what we do for others as a Catholic people is under attack.  If this mandate were to be enacted, we would not be able to provide insurance to our teachers in our Catholic schools, our doctors and nurses in our Catholic hospitals would go uninsured as well along with all the employees of Catholic Charities.  Catholic hospitals comprise of 1/5 of all the hospital in the U.S., and the biggest charitable organization in this country is Catholic Charities.  The only, tiny exception that the government gave us to prevent us from having to comply with this mandate is if we only hired Catholic workers and only ministered to Catholic people.  My friends, not even Jesus Christ would be able to comply with this because he ministered to all.  When someone hungry shows up to a Catholic Charities soup kitchen, we don’t ask for a Catholic ID.  We give them food.  No questions asked.

So as you can see, how we serve the people around us, not just Catholics, is being threatened.   We must use the authority that Jesus gave us through baptism and confirmation to let our voices be heard.  Let me put it another way that may be simpler to understand:  WE HAVE TO STOP BEING SUCH WIMPS WHEN IT COMES TO OUR FAITH!!!!!!!  It’s time for a new generation of Catholics to rise up and turn the tide in this country towards a culture of life.  I’m tired of 1-hour a week Catholics.  I’m tired of feeling like the only person shouting the truth from the mountaintop without anyone behind me.  We have reached a critical crossroads when it comes to Catholicism in America, and we must rise up!  Doing what you are currently doing now is not good enough.  Our Lord deserves better.  Our holy Church deserves better.  And if I offended anybody during the preaching of this homily….GOOD!  At least it struck a nerve.  At least I made you think.  Jesus did not spend his public life preaching wondering who he was pleasing and who he was offending.  He preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God with divine authority, and he ended up on a cross.  It’s time for a new breed of Catholics.  The Holy Father also emphasized this to the U.S. bishops:  “Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed…with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”  There you have it.  If you don’t like the way I presented it, here it is straight from the mouth of the Successor of Saint Peter.  We need to pray for unity among us.  We need to pray for this assault on our religious liberty to subside.  We need to pray for a conversion of hearts in our nation so that all people of all faiths and creeds may be respected.  But more importantly, we need to pray that we as a Catholic people may finally grow a backbone and become a force to be reckoned with in America!