13th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
It's standard Catholic fare these days on the internet and on TV for some Catholic personality or media-priest to declare that the Church must be more like Christ and drop her moral objections to [fill in the blank]. Without fail, that blank is filled with whatever trendy goofiness the elite secular culture is peddling this week, and it is always has something to do with sex. I wish I could tell you that this sort of thing is new in the Church, but it isn't. Since the day after the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church more than 2,000 years ago, there have been those in the Church who cannot or will not tolerate the discipline our faith requires of us. These days they are especially keen on distorting perfectly good Christian practices like mercy, love, forgiveness, etc. to undermine the Way, the Truth, and the Life that Christ died to give us. Perhaps the most pernicious distortion making the rounds right now is the idea that since none of us is perfectly morally good, we should just dump Christ's teachings on being worthy of him and ignore our responsibility to call one another to holiness. The Church has no business admonishing sinners we're told. Just allow Catholics their moral ignorance; it's the “pastoral thing to do.”
Jesus begs to differ. He says to his apostles no fewer than three times that it is possible for us to be unworthy of him. We are unworthy if (1) we love our parents more than we love him; (2) if we love our children more than we love him; and (3) if we fail to take up our cross and follow him. Why do these three specific failures make us unworthy of Christ? Jesus says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, if I find “my life” in my family and friends and in my self-centered interests, I will lose that life. BUT if I lose “my life” for the sake of Christ, in his name and for his mission, I will find it again. . .but radically altered. My family, friends, and interests don't simply vanish when I turn my life over to Christ; they return to me newly oriented, re-shaped at the root and pointed faithfully toward Christ. Now, I am able to love them all more perfectly through Christ, and see them all in his light. Our take-away here should be obvious: it is possible to be worthy of Christ and it is possible to be unworthy of him. But not both at the same time.
If I want to be unworthy of Christ, then all I have to do is love something or someone else more than I love him. If I love my car, my politics, my career, my sexuality, my bank account, my best friend, or anyone or anything else more than I love Christ, then I am unworthy of him. However, if I want to be made worthy of Christ, I give away my car, my politics, my career, my sexuality, my bank account, my best friend, and anyone or anything else that might diminish my love of Christ. When all these people and things return to me through Christ they will be radically re-oriented, fundamentally transformed in his likeness and given a new mission, a mission that is consistent with the ministry of the Body of Christ, the Church. I can choose to be worthy or unworthy. What I cannot do is choose to be worthy, claim to be worthy, demand that the Church recognize me as worthy and surrender nothing of what I love more than Christ. I may find a priest or bishop or Catholic media personality willing to pump me up and tell my sad story, but without the Cross, without my sacrifice, my surrender, I am telling and living a lie. Jesus can't say it anymore plainly than he does: “. . .whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
Pope Francis has suggested that we see the Church as a “field hospital” where wounded patients come for emergency treatment. This is a brilliant image! Those sick with sin and wounded by the world can find immediate spiritual treatment in the sacramental care of the Church. Staying with that image. . .what would we say of someone who comes to the hospital and demands to be admitted as a patient; demands that the doctors not call their wounds wounds; refuses treatment of any kind; and then demands the doctors cease treating all the other patients with similar wounds? Furthermore, what would we say about a doctor who facilitates the admission of this person and bows to their demands? A doctor who looks at an obviously broken arm, says its not broken, does nothing to fix the arm, and then demands that the other doctors stop fixing all of the other obviously broken arms b/c they aren't really broken? I think you would say with me that we've entered some sort of Catholic Twilight Zone! If the Church is a “field hospital,” she is also a “medicinal community” where sickness and wounds are constantly treated as such. If no one is sick or wounded, then there is no necessary treatment. If there is no treatment to be given, then why are we here?
We are here b/c we know that to be worthy of Christ, to be made worthy of Christ we must first surrender everything and everyone we love, submerging ourselves fully in the Love Who loves us first. That means drowning our actual sins, our disordered passions, our vices and allowing them to fall away in favor of being New Creations. We cannot be who God made us to be if we cling to the old self, demanding that the Truth change to fit our personal preferences. Christ changes us; we do not and cannot change Christ. If you will to be worthy of him, then “you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”
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