Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pope Francis: The Man, The Myth, The Label - Homily for the 26th Sunday in OT

First, I would like to thank everyone who helped our missionary last week. He said this is one of the best parishes he has ever visited. I was like, duh: #CatholicHappyLand  So, thank you for being so generous to him.

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If anyone thought that the Catholic Church was not relevant—well, they got a wake-up call this week! On all the media outlets: wall-to-wall coverage of Pope Francis’ visit—all listening and holding on to every word of the Holy Father.

Anytime a Pope visits a country, it is a time of special blessing and grace. There’s renewal for many cold hearts, a deeper challenge for the already-faithful, and for those who are seeking, there is an invitation to find the Meaning of Life here: right here in the Catholic Church.

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of celebrating the wedding of two of our parishioners. At the rehearsal, I had a chance to speak with several of the guests—who came from many religious or non-religious backgrounds. No matter what their state, the conversation focused on one thing: The Pope.

They were asking questions—good questions—about what the Church teaches; they were commenting about how the Pope was inspirational; about how it was giving them pause. I could tell that they were hearing a quiet whisper in their hearts and minds to come home to the faith.

And perhaps you are one of those people. Perhaps there has been that “something” in your life that is bringing you here. And if that’s you, I want to welcome you in a particular way today. You are right where you are supposed to be!

(I’d like to point out that, during the past two weeks, our RCIA class—that’s the class for those who are looking to learn more about and possibly join the Catholic Church—our RCIA class has ballooned from 16 to 25 people. So, yes, this is a time of special blessing and graces upon this land. Let us give thanks to God!)

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At the same time, I know that the Pope’s words have been a little confusing for the more seasoned Catholics out there. For example: is he advocating socialism? Has he gone all-in on global warming? Does he think that a country should not protect its boarders? And so on.

They key to understanding the Pope, I believe, is his “theology” of encounter. At the root of this theology is the fact that Jesus comes to us not as an idea or a philosophical system, but as a person—and he does so because we are persons. We are not ideas, nor categories or camps. Sure, we might call ourselves Republican or Democrat, black or white, gay or straight, and so on—but, behind the label, behind the “idea,” is a person with a heart, with a life story, with an eternal destiny, with feelings, and so on. The theology of encounter is a way of living wherein we are able to put aside categories and come heart-to-heart to our brothers and sisters, children of the same God our Father. And, because we are children of the same Father, we look for what is good in the other. We look for the person’s heart.

I think this is why the Pope proposed four Americans—people, not simply ideas—for Congress to consider; and not simply that we would embrace every aspect of their lives’ ideologies, but to see that these flawed human beings—flawed sinners, not saints—had hearts and dreams, just like you and me. The theology of encounter challenges us. It challenges us by asking: what is the first criterion by which we encounter a person? Is it by socio-political standing or is it by the fact that they are our brothers and sisters? If our first encounter is a label, we aren’t meeting the person!

When Pope Francis proposed Dorothy Day for our consideration, I could have said and was tempted to say (arrogantly, mind you), “Oh, Pope, you have given us a [here comes the label:]—you have given us a socialist as an example to ponder!”

But consider the person: Dorothy Day loved the Jesus who dwelled in each person. Was she flawed in this? Yes. But so am I. Where she was zealous, I can be cold. How I wish that I could see Jesus in every person with such a zeal that I might be categorized as over-zealous in my wanting of charity for every person!

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Jesus tells us that if our right hand causes us to sin, cut it off. This is odd because it is not the hand that causes us to sin—for it doesn’t have a mind or a heart. It is our heart and mind that cause us—that move our members—to sin. In much the same way, it is not socio-economic and political systems that necessarily cause us to sin—no more than a hand—rather, it is the heart and the mind of the persons behind them.

Jesus is calling for us to cut out from our hearts anything that leads to sin—literally, to say “to hell” with it. The fact that this country is rife with gender wars and racial wars and political wars and so on is because, in our attempt to make sense of the rapidly-changing landscape of our world, we (in our concupiscent frailty) seek to label and categorize—at the expense of the human heart. This is why there is so much labeling and hate and so on. We focus on issues and label people as problems instead of focusing on people and working together on problems.

The Pope’s words are beckoning us to pause for a moment. To strip away the emotionalism and ideology and to ask: who are the people in this hot-button “issue”? Have I allowed for a heart-to-heart encounter with a person here? Can I look beyond the socio-economic and political name-calling and see a person?

The very fact that the Pope is being labeled as a liberal proves my point. How quick our culture is to see socio-economic and political leanings before its sees a man who deeply loves us! He is facing heat from both sides of the political aisle—and perhaps that’s because he’s walking the narrow way.

And, brothers and sisters, let us not be na├»ve: don’t think for a moment that the media isn’t trying to drive an even greater wedge in an already fractured Catholic Church. Don’t fall for the labels, because it only furthers division! We are brothers and sisters of the same Father!

Therefore, if your socio-economic or political leaning—if the hot-button issue that you are holding on to—blinds you and causes you to sin, to label and to not see people, then cut it off! Better for you to go to heaven being called a Catholic—a Catholic!—than being a socio-economic and political ideologue in hell! For what makes hell “hell” is that we are eternally in our own ideas and ultimately isolated from people. In heaven, however, we are a communion of saints, rejoicing in love, encountering love, seeing people and hearts and goodness…

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Let us rejoice in the great graces of this moment in our nation’s history and in our Catholic Church.  Let us encounter the man, this Pope, and his great love for us. And let us ask for the grace that we can be quick to put aside labels and quick, instead, to see the noble dignity of the person! 


  1. Best ten-word homily I ever heard. Spoken like William Shatner. "Leave the negative humor in hell where it belongs. Amen."