Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Starting Point for the Conversation about ... - Homily for the 6th Sunday in OT

Imagine it for a moment.

Imagine that you are standing with Jesus… and a leper comes towards you. In modern terms, let's say he is a man infected with... the Ebola virus. What would you do?

Let's be honest. There's no way on your life would you touch such a man. Not without the hazmat suit—if even that.

Imagine, then, the moment when you see Jesus begin to reach out his hand to touch the scabby, wounded, oozing head of the leper. What would you do then?

I don’t know about you, but I would yell out: “No! Jesus! Don’t touch him! You’ll be infected!”

And maybe that’s part of the point. Maybe it’s not just that Jesus wants to heal the man (He does, of course). But maybe it’s that Jesus also wants the man to know how much he is loved—that he is loved so much that Jesus will even risk any kind of suffering for him-- and even if that means being marginalized too.

This is called compassion. Literally, to suffer with someone. And to enter into compassion is where healing begins!

Compassion for the Children of God

There is a story (and maybe it is true) about Mother Theresa. She was being interviewed by reporters about the poor of Calcutta. And one of the reporters asked Mother Theresa about what she thought of homosexuals. She looked at the reporters and said that she would not answer the question until the reporter called them “children of God.” So, the reporter started his question again, “Mother Teresa, what do you think about the homo—umm… what do you think about the children of God?”

And that’s a whole new question, isn’t it? To think in terms of children of God…

As a father, I began to think of my spiritual children. And I thought about what it would be like to be a mom or a dad with a son or daughter who was gay and to be hearing this topic brought up in a homily. I thought about one of my relatives and friends. I would say to them—I would say to those moms and dads: my friends, your children are children of God and there is utmost affection in my heart for you and for them!

I then asked myself, “What would I think if I was told by the Church that I was unable to marry?” …. I chuckled to myself at this because, well, I was already told that. Priests are celibate. Of course, that was my choice. But! that means that I, of all people, should understand the cross that the Church is asking the children of God to carry. The teaching is difficult and I of all people should be compassionate enough to help them carry the Cross.

And it isn’t just because of the teaching that the Cross is weighty. It’s also because the culture isn’t hopeful about celibacy. As a priest, I can tell you that people are always asking me why I can’t get married, and why would I have ever chosen to give up a wife and kids. They focus on what I gave up, focusing on the cross, but they fail to see the resurrection. So the culture sees celibacy like a death sentence. (But that is as silly as seeing marriage as like a guarantee for bliss!) Both have crosses—but don’t we believe that the Cross brings resurrection?

I imagined what it would be like if a person who was once part of the gay community decided to embrace the Church’s teaching and practice celibacy. In many of those communities, they would be seen as traitors. Ostracized. Shouldn’t we the Church, of all people, be the ones who are welcoming? Compassionate? Willing to suffer with them? Welcoming them home?

I no longer say “Love the sinner and hate the sin,” because there are many men and women who are faithfully carrying crosses larger than mine and are becoming more of a saint than I ever will.

I hear the words of Paul, echoed by our Holy Father for this Lent, when he says, “if one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26)

So, I suffer with them. I pray to be more compassionate. Because it is in compassion where healing begins!

Compassion for the Children

I will admit, I long for a civilized conversation about marriage that can put aside the name-calling on both sides. I say this, not only because I want a more reasonable and loving conversation, but also so that, when the loving conversation happens, we may hear the voice of another people who need our compassion. Who else needs our compassion?

Our kids.

As the Supreme Court Justices have accepted to hear a case on same-sex unions, many children whose families are headed by same-sex couples are coming forward. And the children are asking us to imagine something:

Imagine if we didn’t have a mom. Imagine if we didn’t have a dad.

I can imagine that without difficulty because I come from a divorced family. When No Fault Divorce was institutionalized in 1969, no one took the courts to task about the effect this would have on children, about how we were placing the desires of adults above the natural rights of children—the rights children have to have both a mom and a dad. Since the desires of adults won the day, children were left to be split in two like the child in Solomon’s court.

So, when my parents divorced, I lost a dad. He disappeared for several years. I cannot begin to tell you the pain in my heart in those years when my father was missing. After all, I was made to know him and to be known by him. There is still a hole in my heart. He never saw me play the piano.

Children whose families are headed by same-sex couples are making the same appeal to the Supreme Court and to us: kids are missing a parent. They may have two dads, but it doesn’t fill the hole in the heart where mom is supposed to be. Contrary to the radical feminism of our day, a woman cannot replace a dad; nor can a man replace a mom.

The hearts of our children are being hurt by our culture. Where is the compassion for them?

After all, “If one member suffers, all suffer together.”

A Prayer for Lent

So, we turn to Lent.

Often, our message is all about what we need to do in Lent. I just simply wish to point out that as one member suffers, all suffer together—which means that Jesus suffers with you. As your hand is nailed to the Cross, so too is His. Indeed, our hand is pressed into His and He holds on to us. He suffers with us. He is compassionate. And it is there that healing begins!

Let us pray, therefore, for this healing!

Lord, look with compassion on your Church. Enter into her suffering as you did with the man with leprosy. Look with affection upon us and bring us healing during this Lent. You know our wounds. Place your healing hand into the places in our lives that need your healing touch. And as we have been healed, make us compassionate towards those who are suffering, that we may help them as you helped us. For it is in compassion that healing begins!

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