Homily From the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Potholes...evil, evil potholes
Potholes…evil, evil potholes

It may not feel like it outside, but we are slowly making our way to fall.  And as most people who live in St. Louis or have lived in St. Louis know, each season brings something new.  The summer brings excruciating heat and humidity, along with Cardinal baseball.  Fall brings some chills, but also playoff baseball.  Winter comes along and brings ice, snow, and frigid temperatures.  And then as a result, spring brings potholes and construction!  Potholes are rough, because although it might not seem like much when you drive through one on your way to church, they can mess up the alignment of the wheels on your car.  To be honest, I’m not a car person, and I never realized how important getting wheels aligned was!  Uneven alignment causes tires to wear down quicker, and all of us know how expensive tires are these days.  It can also cause issues with the steering, the brake shaft, the suspension, and can even reduce your fuel efficiency.  All that because of a few potholes and the alignment issues that follow!

Alignment is important for us as Catholics as well, although the alignment that I’m speaking about is our alignment to Christ.  We might take it a little for granted, or think that we’re close enough, but like the alignment of wheels on a car, our alignment with Christ can have a number of important implications.  Our alignment with Christ drives our daily actions – if we are aligned with Christ, our actions will be Christlike as well.  But if we’re not, or even if we’re a little off, so will our actions be.

You might have heard recently of an interview that Pope Francis gave to an Italian Jesuit magazine.  It was all over the news, and was met with a lot of controversy and mixed reviews.  the New York Times reported:

Six months into his papacy, Pope Francis sent shock waves through the Roman Catholic church on Thursday with the publication of his remarks that the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, and that he had chosen not to talk about those issues despite recriminations from critics.

 Meanwhile, LifeSiteNews.com, a popular Catholic pro-life website reported:

In comments rocking the Catholic world today, Pope Francis’ has recommended that the Church pull back from her perceived emphasis on “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.

 The problem was, Pope Francis didn’t say any of that!  He never said that the Church should pull back from speaking about these topics or any of our public social justice stances.  What he did propose was how we should engage with other people about these issues.  We can’t simply turn into moralists, yelling at our culture until it listens.  What we need to be first and foremost are disciples of Christ, motivated by the love of Jesus and the love of those in our culture that have been caught up in the web of lies of the culture of death.

"The Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus" by Hendrick ter Brugghen
“The Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus”
by Hendrick ter Brugghen

That’s the message of the Gospel today as well.  I think there are two big things that we can learn from the Gospel: when we aren’t in alignment with Christ, we can be blind to others in need, and we truly are our brother’s keeper.  The greatest sin of the rich man in the Gospel wasn’t that he didn’t give Lazarus anything, it was that he didn’t love Lazarus.  He didn’t give him the dignity that he deserved as a human being.  Pope Francis said, “The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, and radiant.  It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.”  In other words, we have to first be aligned to Christ, and then our action follows.

This should apply to every issue that we as Catholics embrance in the public sphere, including life, marriage, and religious freedom.  But it’s just as true about the issue of immigration.  Sure, it may not be as publicized or outspoken within the Church, and maybe it’s not as morally clear-cut as some other teachings that we hold to.  But it’s an extremely important issue in our times.  The primary concern at the heart of this issue, that we as Catholics are called to embrace is not a political or economic one, but ultimately motivated by love and compassion for those in need, and in this case, immigrants.  The Church believes that our present situation is not just for anyone.  Laws are being bypassed, the human dignity of immigrants is being compromised, and families are being torn apart.  I saw this first-hand in my time at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Ferguson, Missouri, one of our diocese’s primarily Hispanic parishes.  Families would be afraid to register with the parish, send their children to youth group, or participate in some of the parish activities out of fear of being torn apart as a family.  I found myself face-to-face with human suffering in a place I didn’t expect to find it.

This is not to say that our Church condones unlawful entry in to the country, or circumventing the immigration laws, or even an amnesty solution, but to provide a period of opportunity for undocumented immigrants to follow a legal path to citizenship and preserve their family unity.  It’s true to say that this is a complicated issue, and there’s no possible way I could completely explain away every concern that we might have (not in 12 minutes!), but I would put forth this: If we really believe in Christ’s undeserved and unearned love for us, and if we believe in his call to share that love with others, and if we really value the dignity of all human life an the family as the image and presence of God in our midst, and if we truly seek to be in alignment with Christ – then shouldn’t we do something about it?  I saw a Japanese proverb recently that I think is important here: “Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare.”

Today we come to this Mass to receive the Lord in Word and Sacrament.  We come to have our hearts aligned with the Heart of Christ.  May his love for us bring our hearts closer to his, and may we be inspired to bring that love to those in our world and in our nation who need it most.

Saints of the Roman Canon: Pope St. Sixtus II

Pope St. Sixtus II
Pope St. Sixtus II

The next saint as we work through our list in the Roman Canon is St. Sixtus.  Now there’s some uncertainty who this is because there’s a bunch of them (There are, thankfully, only five.  I guess everybody thought “Sixtus the Sixth” would sound weird.)!

One opinion is that the name in the Eucharistic Prayer refers to Pope St. Sixtus I, who was the 7th pope of the Church, and ruled from 115 to 124 under the persecution of the Emperor Hadrian.  He is credited with adding the “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the Mass, along with a few other liturgical practices.

However, most of the commentaries say that the name refers to Pope St. Sixtus II, who ruled from 257 to 258 under Emperor Valerian.  He’s a little out of chronological order (the next saint, Cornelius, is a few years before), but his importance to Rome and his example give him pride of place here.

He was known as a great pastoral pope, having repaired a rift in the Church between the understanding of baptism in the Churches of Carthage and Rome.  Pope Sixtus believed, as we do today, that baptism is a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Baptism bestows on our hearts a seal that can never be removed, no matter how severe our sins, and we can’t be “rebaptized”.  The Church in Carthage said the opposite, but Sixtus worked with them to repair the argument and restore unity to the Church.

When Pope Sixtus II took over as Bishop of Rome in 257, Christianity was still illegal throughout the Roman Empire, but it was somewhat tolerated, and the penalty was exile rather than death.  But the following year, the Emperor Valerian ordered the execution of Christian leaders and worshipping Christians.  Sixtus was among the first to be executed in this new wave of persecutions, along with 6 of his deacons.  The pope was hiding from the persecution in the catacombs, and one day, while celebrating Mass there in secret, a group of soldiers broke into the place where he and his deacons were to arrest and execute them on the spot.  Sixtus bravely volunteered himself to be beheaded first, saving the worshipping lay faithful and inspiring courage in his fellow martyrs.

The martyrs were secretly buried in the catacombs in Rome, and Sixtus was laid to rest among the tombs of many other popes from the 1st and 2nd centuries.  In the mid-1800’s, an engraved plaque detailing his martyrdom was discovered in the abandoned catacombs.  Centuries before, the remains of St. Sixtus II had been moved to the church of San Sisto Vecchio, named in his honor.  The relics remain in the rebuilt church today.

St. Sixtus is just one example among many of the courage and selflessness of the early martyrs as they faced persecution.  But stay tuned, because there are many more courageous martyrs to come!