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Charity Is Not Optional

No matter how bad things get in the Church, the world, our family, or with our neighbor, inspired Scripture commands us to correct them with love, humility, and meekness.

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2021

Brothers and sisters:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice.
And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

-Eph 4:30-5:2


The epistle lesson appointed for this Sunday, which you read here, is not a personal selection of the preacher or homilist; it was chosen by the Church. The Church in all her historical rites has always designated the passages chosen for her liturgy, especially on Sundays and high feast days and solemn fast days. When we consider the readings of the Holy Mass we are doing more than studying Sacred Scripture—we are receiving a living message determined by holy Church for the day or event we are celebrating. This is one of the many things that distinguish the worship of the Catholic Church from that of other Christian communities.

Whatever the state of things in the world—socially, politically, economically, culturally—the Catholic worshipper has the consolation and confidence that the inspired teaching presented on a given day is not dependent on the tone of the times, or the news, or the latest fashions of thought or behavior.

Whether you assist at the Divine Sacrifice in the new Roman rite of the Mass or the ancient Roman rite, or the Anglican use or the uses of Milan or Toledo or Lyons, or the Byzantine rite or Maronite or Chaldean or Syrian or Armenian or Coptic rites, or Ge’ez or Malabar or Malankara rites, that is, in any of the rites of the Catholic Church, the readings are those appointed in the liturgical books by apostolic authority.

On occasion, a priest homilist finds that this fact comes into conflict with the passions and expectations of those to whom his word is delivered. The latest news or hot issue or scandal was not taken into account when the readings were determined by St. Ambrose, or St. Gregory, or St. Pius V, or St. Paul VI. Rather, Church authority is directed by the mysteries of faith, which find their expression in the teaching and history and praise found in the readings.

Imagine you are really angry at the pope or the bishops or a priest. Imagine that there are in fact really bad behaviors, unjust decisions, and disedifying example on the part of clerics. Now imagine you come to Mass or you sit down to read a homily in this angry state in the context of the evil actions you abhor.

Then imagine that the assigned Scripture reading tells you to forgive your enemies, not to render evil for evil but rather a blessing, to turn the other cheek, not to judge or condemn, or any other teaching of Our Lord that enjoins humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness. Imagine your reaction as the priest’s homily drives home the point of these divinely inspired and obligatory teachings of the God-Man, of the Way and the Truth, of the Savior.

Imagine then that you say to yourself or to others: “There he goes, another priest telling the faithful to be passive and weak and inactive in the face of evil. He’s just protecting his pals, the priestly caste that is living and teaching badly. It’s time for action, not for this stuff. Enough is enough!”

These reactions would mean that you are subject to a great spiritual illusion and are in great spiritual danger. Imagine, finally, that you should watch out, lest you harm yourself and others spiritually and in a deep way.

Where did any orthodox Catholic get the notion that confronting evils, injustices, heresies, scandals, and outrages means to suspect or set aside orthodox teaching about charity and prudence and justice? Since when have humility and meekness been the enemies of courage and confidence? Since when has the vindication of injustice and the correction of wrongs required the least uncharitable judgment? If one’s reactions assume these things, then perhaps we are in the near occasion of sins against charity, justice, and prudence, perhaps we are being drawn to rash judgment and calumny and detraction.

No one is in greater danger of sinful hatred than one who has been truly wronged. If you have been treated unjustly, then anger must be carefully reined in by prudence and charity in order to do its job of striving to put things right. Frustration, passionate wrath, irritation—these are not good dispositions for right thoughts, words, or actions. Rightly ordered anger is charitable; it doesn’t waste energy on hissy fits but cuts to the chase because it loves justice, not because it hates the unjust man.

But, but, but…Yes, I know the evils are great in the Church as in the world, but it is the devil’s tack to increase evils in our inner world, in our imagination, memory, emotions, understanding, and will because of our resentment of the evils in the outer world. This must be avoided altogether. Otherwise, we will not be consoled by the progress of the Faith, but rather just enjoy attacking and defaming those who are wrong or evil, becoming suspicious, mouthy, and defamatory ourselves. We’ve all seen this in the Church and in political society. Yes, enough is enough!

The apostle’s teaching on charity in today’s lesson from the epistle to the Ephesians, the theme of which is the unity of the Church in Christ, is Catholic dogma, and its reverent and humble acceptance is an obligation. Are you annoyed or disgusted at the sight of the meekness and humility and forgiving face of Christ crucified? Does the thought of his utter self-abasement and willingness to be mistreated revolt you when you see the Sacred Host? Of course not. So when he tells you that he wants you to share these qualities with him, accept his teaching as joyfully as you adore the Blessed Sacrament and look upon the wounds of Jesus on the holy cross. And rejoice that there are priests and bishops to teach you these things!

What things?

All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice.
And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love…

 

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