(This is posted out of order, and is a homily from February 2010)
6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C – February 13/14, 2010
Dignity – NoVA/Washington
One of the things that I try to keep in mind when preparing a homily is to find the right balance between the “general” and the “particular” aspects of what I might say. By that, I mean making sure that my words are so rooted in the scriptural passages before us that the homily could almost be delivered to any community, while at the same time being very attentive to saying something – or at least trying to say something – that is relevant to the unique qualities and experiences of this particular, unique community. Obviously there are some things that those of us who preach can and do say in one setting that wouldn’t be said if we were preaching before a small community of retired nuns, or before a grammar school with young children.
Sometimes, however, a scripture passage or even just a particular line from a passage jumps out so boldly and so clearly, that this balance is upset, because that passage or that line seems to be almost uncannily applicable to the community being addressed, it would be difficult to preach the same message elsewhere.
I don’t know if it jumped out at you as it did me when I first read it, but there was a line in that Gospel passage we just listened to from Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” that hit me like a ton of bricks. In case you missed it, let me read it again: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.”
Relatively speaking, there’s no doubt that you and I live in a gay-friendly part of the world. Most of us are able to live openly and freely, with generally little fear about being known as part of the LGBT community. It’s quite probable that our neighbors and co-workers know this truth about who we are, and that this knowledge has very little consequence. There are bars and restaurants and other establishments that cater to a gay clientele, but even in those places that aren’t “gay” per se, gay men and women are accepted just like everyone else. In the more public sphere, progress continues to be made to advance the civil rights of gay people, as is evidenced by the impending legal recognition of same-sex marriage in DC, as well as the military’s movement to allowing lesbians and gay men to serve openly.
Yet, despite living where we do, there are still regular reminders from both society and Church that we are not fully accepted. Just this past week, Virginia’s governor chose not to include “sexual orientation” in the Executive Order about discrimination in the state’s workforce that new governors traditionally issue shortly after their inauguration, suggesting at least philosophically (if not legally) that it’s OK to discriminate against someone simply because he or she is gay. Several days before that, the highest ranking churchman in the U.S. issued a statement that was highly critical of the work and mission of a Catholic organization that has done so much good for over three decades in building bridges between the institution of the Church and gay Catholics. Two Fridays ago – Cardinal Francis George, who is not only the archbishop of Chicago, but is also currently the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – issued a statement that read, in part:
“No one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice. Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination. Accordingly, I wish to make it clear that, like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of Church teaching, New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.”
While perhaps not hateful, such statements by religious leaders clearly do have the effect of saying to the wider Church community and society at large – “those people may claim to be Catholic, but they really aren’t; “they’re not….” – to use the bishop’s word – “‘authentic’ like us.” It is this kind of speech that is a perfect example of what Franciscan Father Richard Rohr calls “dualistic thinking.” This kind of thinking – this way of seeing and experiencing and living in the world – is constantly judging and labeling and categorizing. It is always thinking of terms of who’s in and who’s out; who’s superior and who’s inferior; who’s included and who’s excluded. Last September I was fortunate enough to participate in a small retreat with Fr. Rohr – a retreat sponsored by New Ways Ministry. One of Fr. Rohr’s common themes in his writing and his preaching about faith and spirituality is to encourage a non-dualistic way of seeing the world, of learning to see that – as one of the titles of his books states – “Everything Belongs.”
I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s hard to hear such statements like Cardinal’s George’s coming from the leaders of our Church and not get just a bit angry. It hurts to know that some Church leaders think we are “less than fully Catholic” – simply because we seek to know and accept the authentic selves that God has created us to be; and in that seeking and knowing, we may have something to say that could disturb their static worldview and challenge them to see us and the world with new eyes.
This week we begin the season of Lent, the Church’s extended 40-day “Annual Retreat” as we prepare to celebrate the deepest truth of our faith – a truth that says life and love conquer hatred and death. Perhaps what we need to do is keep mind not only the words of Jesus from this passage of Luke that promises blessing and God’s presence for those are now hungry, poor, weeping and excluded, but also keep in mind the words that the editors of our Lectionary didn’t include – the next two lines from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain: “But I say to you…love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”