I wrote today’s homily from my office which is now mostly empty. A new priest will be in this same office in just over a week, just as there was Father Goldian and Father Nemeth before me.
Just like our parishes, each one of us priests has a different personality and a different set of strengths and weaknesses. It is as Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthins: “there are different kinds of spiritual gifts … different forms of service … different workings.”
And yet, Paul writes that we are one body in the Lord.
Thus, there is a tension: between having many different gifts and yet still being united and faithful in one body. But how does this work? Don’t differences bring division?
+++ Paul’s analogy is very helpful here. Imagine an athlete: let’s say the basketball player LeBron James. He has spent his life practicing basketball, shooting countless freethrows, endlessly practicing footwork, lifting weights each day so that each limb of his body is perfectly in tune with his heart and mind such that he executes with precision his every move on the basketball court. His limbs are tried and tested, each gifted with a certain purpose. And when his body does what he wants it to do, his team usually wins a championship.
The problem comes when a part of his body cramps up—which is what happened in the NBA Finals this week. When he was benched, LeBron was frustrated because as much as he wanted his leg to move, the leg wouldn’t move. (And I’m told that this happens a lot in old age).
Unity of the body, therefore, requires that each member of the body, while ordained to do different things, do the things that the mind and heart—or the spirit—of the body desires them to do. A cramped leg doing its own thing does not help with unity.
Paul applies this to the Church: while each of us have different gifts and workings, it is only when we are united to the Holy Spirit and doing what He wills that we are united as one body. When we are off doing our own thing, we bring harm to the body and keep it from achieving greatness. We would be a leg cramp.
+++ During the past five decades, the Catholic Church has suffered from a spiritually cramped leg, particularly in precisely what it means to be united to the one body of Christ and yet to be a member with diverse gifts.
This spiritual cramp is most clearly seen in how people treat what is old—not old people, but teachings and traditions that are perceived as old. There are many who speak with disdain about the “old ways” and the “old church” and we find them grumbling against anyone who likes these “more traditional” and “old fashioned” things.
Such members, in their zeal for the new and the progressive—thinking that new must be better—
actually do harm the unity and diversity of the Church. This is because unity is not limited to simply holding hands with the people of the church in our generation, but unity also means being united to the people of the Church of all generations—to our ancestors who built up our faith and to the Holy Spirit who gave such “old fashioned” and “traditional” gifts to our ancestors in the first place.
St. Francis of
Vincent de Paul, St. Therese of Lisieux, and
even Mother Theresa—they were all raised by these “old traditions” of the
Church. The men that stormed Normandy
on D-day—mostly Catholic—were raised by these “old traditions.” So, when people
talk begrudgingly about a “pre-Vatican II” church, they are dividing themselves
from the vast majority of saints.
Indeed, there is not a pre-Vatican II church, nor is there a post-Vatican II church. There is only one holy Catholic Church united by the Holy Spirit whose many diverse gifts span throughout all generations.
+++ When I discovered these “old” traditions and teachings—like veiling statues during Lent, Latin and chant, having a Mary statue that looks like a queen, traditional marriage and so on—When I discovered such “old” things, it was like discovering my great-grandfather’s memory box in the attic. How could I treat my great-grandfather’s memory box like junk? Certainly, here were treasures! And if I didn’t understand them, then that wasn’t an occasion for me to throw the box away, but to ask questions. And when I asked questions, I discovered not only what these treasures meant, but I also discovered more about who I am—because who I am is tied up with who came before me. Suddenly, my experience of life was not bound simply to the church since 1970, but I was now experiencing a greater diversity: a church of all the ages!
Understanding the treasures given in the past helps me to live a treasured life now. So, these old fashioned teachings and traditions were not only treasures ever ancient, but treasures ever new.
+++ This is important for our future. Look at our world: is it any coincidence that our world has become so messed up in the precise moment that so many of our church members turned aside traditional teachings and worship? Perhaps our future depends on whether or not we recover the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given our Church.
Of course, when it comes to old fashioned and traditional teachings, we are told to be “Be less judgmental, less discriminating.” And for a while, the Church tried this approach. So have I. But as I have tried this approach, I have come to a certainty: the reality is is that the issue isn’t only about how we say something, but that we are saying anything at all.
The world would have us be quiet. But as we see in Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would have us speak up. He is the ancient one and his teachings may sound “old,” but his voice is new and what he brings is newness and renewal.
We can’t be afraid of the old. We must not be afraid.
+++ I started this homily by talking about the priests that have come before me and the priests that come after me. While we are different in our gifts, I hope that we priests at this parish have been united in passing along the perennial teachings and traditions of the Church; for I too am a member of this body.
It is precisely these treasures—ever ancient and ever new— which are the gifts that are given to me at my ordination. As a member of the body, my duty to the body is to teach and protect these treasures. Indeed, the gift of ordination is a gift meant to help protect the very unity and diversity of the Church— it is the gift that protects the unity of the Church: a unity that spans the centuries and to the end of the world, a diversity that is rich in treasures every ancient and ever new. If I did not do this, I myself be suffering from the spiritual leg cramp—and I would bring division to the body.
I ask you, therefore, to pray for us priests. And to pray that all the Church may be conformed, not to the spirit of this corrupt generation, but to the Holy Spirit who is God, the source of our treasured diversity and our holy unity.