Discipleship and Dialogue

Jesus-who-is-thisWhen the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue.” It is short verse, but one that I have admits tickles my imagination. I wonder what Jesus said? I suspect whatever Jesus had to say it was brimming with passion about the Kingdom of God, the Love of God, and the fulfillment of the promises of God in the covenants made with the ancestors. Maybe there were more specific comments and points – some no doubt controversial. Perhaps Jesus spoke about how God’s desire that all be saved was not limited to just Israel, but was available to all the world, even the hated Roman conquerors. That would have raised a few eyebrows and stated a few whispers. It might have been any one of a number of parables that would have challenged people in the core beliefs. The one we call the Parable of the Good Samaritan would have been shocking; to the Nazareth crowd there was nothing good about a Samaritan. “When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue.” I don’t think the people came that day expected to be riled up.

I mean who goes to the synagogue, the church, or the parish church to be riled up – these are supposed to be safe places. Right? Do we come there to talk about prejudice, racism, poverty, the Affordable Care Act, Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage, climate change and papal encyclicals, the 2016 presidential primaries, restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba or whole host of other topics that might indeed stir the pot. Speaking of which, maybe we should add the legalization of recreational marijuana?

My other guess is that most of us don’t come to church to be riled up about things – we have enough of that in the other days of the week. Our days can be filled with issues that might be too controversial, too painful, or too divisive. Who wants to come to church and have the priest dive into these things on Sunday.

I think it is a natural reaction. I remember a homiletics class in seminary – that’s a class where you learn about and how to give homilies connected to the Gospel reading. And our professor made sure we understood that the whole point of a homily is to shed the light of the Gospel in to the lives of the people of God. Our homilies were filmed and then critiqued. One of my assignments was the Christmas morning mass where the Gospel was from John talking about the light being in the world. The professor’s main critique was that I did not use the opportunity to talk about poverty, hunger, war, and other topics that are revealed in the light of the Gospel. I remembering thinking, “Seriously… on Christmas morning? Dude, there are lots of other opportunities to do that.” I disagreed with him then (and now) on a pastoral basis… but I also wonder if some of that disagreement is rooted my own historical desire as a layman to not have the priest dive into these things on Sunday. As I said, it is a natural reaction.

But here’s the thing about such times and controversial issues: people are already talking about them with friends, family, with co-workers, and in many places. And – they are part of the conversation in everyday life because they are important. Think about it: if we speak of these things, but not at church, does that reduced church to a place where you end up talking about lots of things that don’t seem to matter in daily life. Not that the things discussed in church won’t be good and important things, just that they just might not so much matter in everyday life. Sadly, if true, in those moments we truly will have separation of church and state. And that then has a lot to say about discipleship.

There are huge issues in the news right now that we are talking about and this Gospel passage has a lot to tell us about what it means to be a disciple, here in a challenging, difficult, confusing, and at times painful world which is also and simultaneously a place of beauty and wonder and is beloved of God.

This Sunday, Jesus is preaching in his hometown. Next Sunday he is sending his disciples out. Think about the implications for us. Hopefully you are known in your circles as a Catholic person of faith. And because of that someone is gonna’ ask you: so, what do you Catholics think of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage? What will you say? I pray that you respond in faith, in love, and as someone for whom the Gospel has shone brightly in your life. Trust me… not matter what you say, you will hear the echo of today’s gospel: “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? … Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary…are not his sisters [and brothers] here with us?” And they took offense at him.”

Last week a well-respected Catholic commentator posted his reflections on the Supreme Court decision. The post received 300,000 comments; sadly a huge number of them were vitriolic comments that reached new levels of viciousness. Because of the way social media works, the original reflection and many of the subsequent comments reached out to over 4 million people. Whether I agreed or not with the original reflection, I prayed no one was reading the comments, lest someone conclude the tone and choice of their words portray, “Ah… this is what it really means to be Christian.”

So, what do you Catholics think of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage? Someone is gonna’ ask. I think a good answer came from Bishop Gregory Hartmayer, a Franciscan, and bishop of Savannah, who closed his statements with these words: “This decision has made my task as bishop more complex as I continue to uphold the teachings of my Church on the Sacrament of Matrimony and the equal transcendent dignity of every human person.” I think the same is true in my role as pastor and in all of our roles as faithful, Catholic disciples of Christ. But you know what? Welcome to discipleship.

Bishop Hartmayer wrote : “Each U.S. Supreme Court decision that has ever been rendered has resulted in deep disappointment for some and vindication for others. If we all agreed on the outcomes of divisive cases, there would be no reason for the Court ever to convene. This most recent decision is no different…This decision of the Supreme Court is primarily a declaration of civil rights and not a redefinition of marriage as the Church teaches… The Catholic Church will always maintain that marriage is a vocation of a man and a woman…However, this judgment does not dispense either those who may approve or disapprove of this decision from the obligations of civility toward one another. Nor is it a license for more venomous language or vile behavior against those whose opinions differ from our own…This Court action is a decision that confers a civil entitlement to some people who could not claim it before. It does not resolve the moral debate that preceded it and will most certainly continue in its wake…The moral debate however must also include the way that we treat one another – especially those with whom we may disagree. We are all God’s children and are commanded to love one another. …This decision has offered all of us an opportunity to continue the vitally important dialogue of human encounter especially between those of diametrically differing opinions regarding its outcome.”

The moral debate must include the way we treat one another. If we would call ourselves disciples. If we would carry the name Christian, then we are well advised to remember the two greatest commandments: love God and your neighbor as yourself. The one with whom we might strongly disagree is our brother and sister, and possesses an equal transcendent dignity God-given to every human person. Let your words be in faith, in love, and as someone for whom the Gospel has shone brightly in your life.

May that Gospel shine brightly through you into the world.


1 thought on “Discipleship and Dialogue

  1. Thank you Fr. George. Your homily hit home in a very personal way. I will hold the wise words of both you and Bishop Hartmayer in my mind and heart.

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