July 08, 2018 – We Must Return to God

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings / Lecturas

 

English

“As the LORD spoke to me, the spirit entered me and set me on my feet; […] Whether they heed or resist […] they shall know that a prophet has been among them.”

When the Bible speaks of prophecy, it is not referring to predictions about the future. A Biblical prophet is one who is sent to call the people back to repentance and faith. This call might be confirmed by accompanying predictions about what will happen if the people accept or refuse the call, but ultimately the purpose of a prophet is the preaching not the prediction.

Today, Ezekiel is being sent to preach to the Jews in exile, specifically the first wave of priests and leaders who had already been exiled from Jerusalem by the Babylonians, but in the period before the Babylonians returned and destroyed the city entirely. He is warning these exiles, at the same time as Jeremiah is warning the current residents of the city, that unless they return to God, to relying on him and following his covenant, God will allow the Babylonians to wipe out the Southern Kingdom of Judah, just as the Assyrians had wiped out the Northern Kingdom of Israel two centuries prior.

This is the pattern of all prophetic preaching: First, a crisis develops, which in the Old Testament is usually a military and political crisis. Second, God sends a prophet to warn the people, partly so that the people know that God has not abandoned them in this crisis and partly so that God can offer his people a way out. The prophet warns the people of the coming destruction (about which the people are often in denial) and tells them that this crisis has developed because of their lack of fidelity to God. Finally, the prophet gives people a choice: if they repent, and rely entirely on the Lord for their salvation, God will save them. But if they continue to act as they have been acting, if they maintain the status quo, destruction will surely come upon them. Almost without exception in the Bible, the people choose to ignore the prophet, sometimes by living in denial and continuing in their moral laxity, sometimes by trying to find their own solutions through alliances with Egypt or Assyria or Babylon. When the people ignore the prophet, the destruction always comes, and the people recognize too late that a prophet has been among them.

—-

My friends, we are tempted to believe that prophetic preaching is distant from us, that it is something from the Old Testament world of eastern Mediterranean politics. But God is incredibly consistent, and he continues to send prophets among us. Oftentimes, as your priest, it is my responsibility to provide prophetic preaching, and that is exactly what I am going to do today.

—-

Whether we are ready to admit it to ourselves or not, Western society has abandoned Christianity in favor of technology and comfort and sexual liberation. The churches of Europe are empty and the Churches in America are not far behind. We are in crisis and our house is burning down.

In the course of my relatively short life, I have watched my entire generation leave the faith. Almost every Catholic I knew growing up left the Church in high school or college. My generation is the least religious in the history of American society, and things are looking even worse for the next generation. At St. Charles, of the thirty kids we brought to Confirmation this year and the hundred kids we brought to first communion, I am lucky if I see ten percent on a given Sunday. The only reason we have not collapsed entirely at this point is because our older generations and our immigrant communities have kept the faith, even while their children walk away.

What happened?

Most obviously, society changed the rules on us. The introduction of the pill, the sexual revolution, and no-fault divorce changed everything we believed about sex, love, family, and morality. The Vietnam protests and the fights against institutional racism created multiple anti-institutional generations that look skeptically on any institution that claims authority, let alone moral authority. The rapid development of technology has alienated older generations from younger generations, changing our patters of social interactions and family relationships. And the lies and propaganda of the post-Enlightenment age finally took hold, and now our children are taught that religion and science are always in conflict and that faith is a force of darkness and violence rather than a source of illumination and peace.

But as much as these things are true, they are no excuse. We Christians have the Holy Spirit. No challenge should be too great for the Church of Jesus Christ, because God is our captain and God is always in control. So what happened?

Look here to the Gospel, describing Jesus in his home town. It says, “He was not able to perform any mighty deed there. […] He was amazed at their lack of faith.” In the Bible, every miracle of Jesus is in response to an expression of faith. When there is no faith, Jesus does not act.

And so, my friends, what happened to bring about this crisis in the Church is that we lost faith. Right when we began to face our greatest challenge since the French Revolution, right at that critical juncture when we needed God’s guidance the most, we began to focus on ourselves rather than on Jesus Christ. We stopped believing that Jesus could do anything for us.

Instead of Jesus, what have we focused on for the last fifty years? We have focused and fought about incense and music and the use of Latin and women’s ordination and optional celibacy and abortion and same-sex marriage. We have used Jesus for our own ends, making him into our image as a merciless authoritarian or a free-love hippy, without trying to let Jesus speak for himself. We have been advocating to go back to the Church of the nineteen-fifties or the Church of the nineteen-seventies, while the Church of the two-thousand tens goes up in flames.

[Spanish: Instead of Jesus, what have we focused on? What have we decided to worship instead of him? We have decided to worship our families, choosing soccer or parties or vacations over going to Mass. We have chosen to worship material goods, thinking that new clothes, a new car, a new phone, or a new stereo is going to make us happy. We have decided to worship our feelings, choosing different churches because they have better music or happier people, not because they do a better job following Jesus. All of these things have taken us away from Jesus. All of these things have created a crisis in the Church.]

And when we do realize that there is a crisis and that we have failed to act in a timely manner, what solutions do we propose? We go back to talking about programs and church life, as though an incremental improvement in music or hospitality or liturgy will make the flood of secularism go away or that a refreshed, two hour faith formation program can somehow give our children every tool they will need for a very hostile world.

Forgive me, but the house is burning down; we are long past a new coat of paint. The status quo has failed us, and no matter how many band-aids we stick on it, it will continue to fail us. What we need are not new or improved programs, because these will always continue to be our efforts to save ourselves. These will always remain so many alliances with Assyria and Egypt and Babylon, and they will not prevent the coming destruction.

No, what we need is the prophetic solution. We need to repent and return entirely to God, to his mercy, to his covenant, to his will. We need to make Jesus Christ the absolute center of our lives and of our Church, without any exceptions, without any compromise.

—-

And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I want you to recommit your lives to Jesus. Right here, right now, in this Church, I want you to make the decision to follow Jesus, no matter what, no matter where he leads you, no matter what the cost. I want you to make a commitment, right now, to put Jesus at the very center of your lives, and to let nothing push him out of that privileged position ever again.

Jesus can no longer be an hour on Sunday, let alone an hour that can be skipped when we are tired or busy or on vacation. Jesus can no longer be someone we only go to when we need a little bit more money or when someone we know gets sick. Jesus must be the first and exclusive priority in our lives. He must be the reason we wake up in the morning and the animating force of our entire day. He must be the one thing we will never give up, no matter how persecuted, strange, or shunned we may feel.

Jesus Christ is God made flesh, the one who destroyed death on the Cross, who saves us from sin and shows us the true meaning of love. It seems so obvious that he should be the first priority in our lives, but we still somehow allow work, family, and leisure to take his place.

Well please, for the sake of your souls, for the sake of the Church, and for the sake of the world, never, ever let this happen again. Enthrone Jesus in your hearts and worship him always. Choose Jesus every day, with every action, with every breath. Even if you are struggling with sin or forgiveness or whatever, make the choice to follow the Lord of light rather than succumb to the darkness.

Our Church is dying because we have failed to place Jesus in the center so that he can work miracles through our faith. Society has abandoned religion because we complacently accepted ourselves as a community of sinners rather than zealously striving to be a community of saints. This ends today. Today, Jesus becomes our exclusive focus. Today, we follow the call of Ezekiel and all of the prophets to repent and throw ourselves entirely on the mercy of God.

 

Español

“En aquellos días, el espíritu entró en mí, [y] hizo que me pusiera en pie […] Y ellos, te escuchen o no, sabrán que hay un profeta en medio de ellos.”

Cuando la Biblia habla de profecía, no se refiere a predicciones sobre el futuro. Un profeta bíblico es uno que es enviado a llamar a la gente de regreso al arrepentimiento y a la fe. Esta llamada puede ser confirmada por las predicciones sobre lo que ocurrirá si la gente acepta o rechaza la llamada, pero en última instancia el propósito de un profeta es la predicación no la predicción.

Hoy, Ezequiel está siendo enviado a predicar a los judíos en el exilio, específicamente a la primera ola de sacerdotes y líderes que ya habían sido exiliados de Jerusalén por los babilonios, pero en el período antes de que los babilonios regresaran y destruyeran completamente la ciudad. Él está advirtiendo a estos exiliados, al mismo tiempo que Jeremías está advirtiendo a los actuales residentes de la ciudad, que a menos que regresen a Dios, a depender de él y seguir su pacto, Dios permitirá a los babilonios aniquilar el Reino de Judá, al igual que los asirios habían aniquilado el Reino de Israel dos siglos antes.

Este es el patrón de toda predicación profética: primero, se desarrolla una crisis, que en el Antiguo Testamento es generalmente una crisis militar y política. Segundo, Dios envía un profeta para advertir a la gente, en parte para que la gente sepa que Dios no los ha abandonado en esta crisis y en parte para que Dios pueda ofrecer a su pueblo una salida. El Profeta advierte a la gente de la destrucción que viene (sobre la cual la gente está a menudo en negación) y les dice que esta crisis se ha desarrollado debido a su falta de fidelidad a Dios. Finalmente, el Profeta da a la gente una opción: si se arrepienten, y se basan enteramente en el Señor para su salvación, Dios los salvará. Pero si continúan actuando como lo han estado haciendo, si mantienen el status quo, la destrucción seguramente vendrá sobre ellos. Casi sin excepción en la Biblia, la gente elige ignorar al profeta, a veces viviendo en la negación y continuando en su laxitud moral, a veces tratando de encontrar sus propias soluciones a través de alianzas con Egipto o Asiria o Babilonia. Cuando la gente ignora al Profeta, la destrucción siempre llega, y la gente reconoce demasiado tarde que un profeta ha estado entre ellos.

—-

Amigos míos, estamos tentados a creer que la predicación profética está lejos de nosotros, que es algo del mundo del Antiguo Testamento de la política mediterránea oriental. Pero Dios es increíblemente consistente, y él continúa enviando profetas entre nosotros. A menudo, como su sacerdote, es mi responsabilidad de proporcionar la predicación profética, y eso es exactamente lo que voy a hacer hoy.

—-

Si estamos dispuestos a admitirlo a nosotros mismos o no, la sociedad occidental ha abandonado el cristianismo en favor de la tecnología y la comodidad y la liberación sexual. Las iglesias de Europa están vacías y las iglesias en los Estados Unidos no están muy rezagadas. Estamos en crisis y nuestra casa se está incendiando.

En el transcurso de mi relativamente corta vida, he visto a toda mi generación dejar la fe. Casi todos los católicos que conocí mientras creció dejaron la iglesia en la escuela secundaria o en la universidad. Mi generación es la menos religiosa en la historia de la sociedad americana, y las cosas se están pareciendo aún peores para la próxima generación. En San Carlos, de los treinta niños que trajimos a la confirmación este año y los cien niños que trajimos a la primera comunión, tengo suerte si veo diez por ciento en un domingo. La única razón por la que no nos hemos derrumbado por completo en este punto es porque nuestras generaciones mayores y nuestras comunidades inmigrantes han guardado la fe, incluso mientras sus hijos se alejan.

¿Qué ha pasado?

Obviamente, la sociedad nos cambió las reglas. La introducción del control de la natalidad, la revolución sexual y el divorcio sin culpa cambiaron todo lo que creíamos sobre el sexo, el amor, la familia y la moralidad. Las protestas de Vietnam y las luchas contra el racismo institucional crearon múltiples generaciones anti-institucionales que miran con escepticismo a cualquier institución que reclame autoridad, por no hablar de autoridad moral. El rápido desarrollo de la tecnología ha alienado a las generaciones mayores de las generaciones más jóvenes, cambiando nuestros patrones de interacciones sociales y relaciones familiares. Y las mentiras y la propaganda de la era post-ilustración finalmente se apoderaron, y ahora se enseña a nuestros hijos que la religión y la ciencia están siempre en conflicto y que la fe es una fuerza de oscuridad y violencia en lugar de una fuente de iluminación y paz.

Pero por mucho que estas cosas sean ciertas, no son excusas. Los cristianos tenemos el Espíritu Santo. Ningún desafío debe ser demasiado grande para la iglesia de Jesucristo, porque Dios es nuestro capitán y Dios siempre está en control. ¿Qué ha pasado?

Mire aquí al Evangelio, describiendo a Jesús en su ciudad natal. Dice, ” Y no pudo hacer allí ningún milagro. […] Y estaba extrañado de la incredulidad de aquella gente.” En la Biblia, cada milagro de Jesús es en respuesta a una expresión de fe. Cuando no hay fe, Jesús no actúa.

Y así, mis amigos, lo que pasó para provocar esta crisis en la iglesia es que perdimos la fe. Justo cuando empezamos a enfrentar nuestro mayor desafío desde la revolución francesa, justo en esa coyuntura crítica cuando necesitábamos la guía de Dios más, empezamos a enfocarnos en nosotros mismos y no en Jesucristo. Dejamos de creer que Jesús podía hacer cualquier cosa por nosotros.

En lugar de Jesús, ¿en qué nos hemos centrado? ¿Qué hemos decidido adorar en lugar de él? Hemos decidido adorar a nuestras familias, eligiendo fútbol o fiestas o vacaciones sobre ir a Misa. Hemos optado por adorar los bienes materiales, pensando que la ropa nueva, un coche, un teléfono, o un estéreo nuevo nos van a hacer felices. Hemos decidido adorar nuestros sentimientos, eligiendo diferentes iglesias porque tienen mejor música o gente más feliz, no porque hagan un mejor trabajo siguiendo a Jesús. Todas estas cosas nos han quitado de Jesús. Todas estas cosas han creado una crisis en la iglesia.

Y cuando nos damos cuenta de que hay una crisis y que no hemos actuado de manera oportuna, ¿qué soluciones proponemos? Volvemos a hablar de los programas y la vida de la iglesia, como si una mejora gradual de la música o la hospitalidad o la liturgia hará que la inundación del secularismo desaparece o que un programa de formación de fe refrescado, de dos horas, de alguna manera puede dar a nuestros hijos todas las herramientas que será necesario para un mundo muy hostil.

Perdóname, pero la casa se está quemando; hemos pasado una nueva capa de pintura. El status quo nos ha fallado, y no importa cuántos grupos de ayuda nos peguen, seguirá fallando. Lo que necesitamos no son programas nuevos o mejorados, porque estos siempre seguirán siendo nuestros esfuerzos para salvarnos a nosotros mismos. Estos siempre seguirán siendo tantas alianzas con Asiria y Egipto y Babilonia, y no impedirán la destrucción que viene.

No, lo que necesitamos es la solución profética. Necesitamos arrepentirnos y regresar enteramente a Dios, a su misericordia, a su pacto, a su voluntad. Necesitamos hacer de Jesucristo el centro absoluto de nuestras vidas y de nuestra iglesia, sin excepciones, sin ningún compromiso.

—-

Y así, mis hermanos y hermanas en Cristo, quiero que cada de ustedes renueva su vida a Jesús. Justo aquí, en este momento, en esta iglesia, quiero que usted decida seguir a Jesús, pase lo que pase, no importa a dónde los guíe, sin importar el costo. Quiero que te comprometa, ahora mismo, a poner a Jesús en el centro de su vida, y a no dejar que nada lo empuje de esa posición privilegiada nunca más.

Jesús ya no puede ser una hora el domingo, y mucho menos una hora que se puede saltar cuando estamos cansados u ocupados o de vacaciones. Jesús ya no puede ser alguien a quien sólo acudimos cuando necesitamos un poco más de dinero o cuando alguien que conocemos se enferma. Jesús debe ser la primera y exclusiva prioridad en nuestras vidas. Él debe ser la razón por la que nos despertamos por la mañana y la fuerza de animación de todo nuestro día. Él debe ser lo único que nunca nos rendiremos, no importa cuán perseguidos, extraños o rechazados podamos sentir.

Jesucristo es Dios hecho carne, aquel que destruyó la muerte en la Cruz, que nos salva del pecado y nos muestra el verdadero significado del amor. Parece tan obvio que él debe ser la primera prioridad en nuestras vidas, pero todavía de alguna manera permitimos que el trabajo, la familia y el ocio tomen su lugar.

Bueno, por favor, por el bien de tus alma, por el bien de la iglesia, y por el bien del mundo, jamás deje que esto suceda de nuevo. Entroniza a Jesús en tu corazón y adora lo siempre. Escoge a Jesús cada día, con cada acción, con cada respiración. Incluso si tu estas luchando con el pecado o el perdón o lo que sea, toma la decisión de seguir al Señor de la luz en lugar de sucumbir a la oscuridad.

Nuestra iglesia está muriendo porque no hemos puesto a Jesús en el centro para que él pueda hacer milagros a través de nuestra fe. La sociedad ha abandonado la religión porque nos aceptamos complacientemente como una comunidad de pecadores en lugar de esforzarnos celosamente por ser una comunidad de santos. Esto termina hoy. Hoy, Jesús se convierte en nuestro enfoque exclusivo. Hoy, seguimos el llamado de Ezequiel y de todos los profetas a arrepentirnos y a lanzarnos por completo a la misericordia de Dios.

 

End Notes

Featured image found here: https://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/c/collante/vision.html

5 thoughts on “July 08, 2018 – We Must Return to God

  1. Powerful appeal but I have to take issue with the word “return”. At least in terms of the Church in America – it was never ‘there’ to start with. Pre-Vatican II days had their own problems, many quite serious. For instance, I don’t think the Church is necessarily wrong about women’s ordination, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Church has been (and is) seriously flawed in its articulation of a theology of women. St. Thomas was brilliant but it has been disasterous to have so many generations of priests with their understand of women formed by Aquinas. I still don’t think there is a real appreciation of how harmful this has been. Additionally, the Church is the 50s and 60s was segregated in the South. Homosexuals were shunned like freaks. Domestic abuse and even incest were “family matters”. I don’t need to go on because you probably know all this, even though you were not around pre-Vatican II. Your prophetic call to turn ourselves wholehearted over to Jesus is spot on because Jesus ALONE can fix his Church. And He will if, as you say, we unreservedly give ourselves to him. (PS – St. JPII’s Theology of the Body was a first step toward the new theology of women that Pope Francis has called for. I trust the Holy Spirit to lead this effort; without it, I don’t see much changing for the better.) “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain” . Thank you for sharing your homilies and reflections.

    • Dee – very good points. I only used this word because that is the word the prophets often used. I think the analogy between Israel and the Church holds up well: Israel was never completely faithful to God, just as the Church (in its members) has never been completely faithful to God. And yet the call to “return” still seems to be the dominant image.

      Speaking for myself as a preacher, I was thinking of “return” as more personal than institutional. My assumption was that every person in the church had, at some point, made some kind of commitment to Jesus, and I was calling them to remember that commitment and to strengthen it. I assume this was also true for the prophets: they were not calling Israel back to some golden age that never existed, but were calling Israel back to the early commitment that it had made and quickly abandoned through negligence.

  2. Thank you for this homily today, Father! I’m so glad we were there to hear it.
    Later in the day some fellow parishioners and I were discussing how important this message is, areas where we ourselves have personal weaknesses – especially with some of the infighting you mentioned – it’s good for us to self-reflect and try to improve!

Join the Discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s