1 Oct 2012
Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 30, 2012
September 30, 2012
By Father J. Daniel Atkins, Holy Family Catholic Church, New Albany, Indiana
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
On Inauguration Day January 20, 1961 when newly sworn-in President John F. Kennedy spoke those words the world was recovering from a world war and a series of global conflicts. A new and even more insidious battle was being waged: the Cold War. Nations around the world were choosing sides between the super-powers – America and the United Soviet Socialist Republic. President Kennedy assured the world that Americans would not turn away any country who wanted to join her in the battle against the demons of destructive science, racial discrimination, and economic oppression. We would accept the help of any nation.
Today in the gospel we hear Jesus say to a suspicious Apostle John, “Do not stop anyone who is using my name to fight against demons. Support him for he is on our side; he is an ally regardless of whether he is in our company or not. Anyone who gives you a cup of cold water for my sake belongs to me and will not go unrewarded.” Today’s Gospel underscores the need for allies in a battle far more dangerous than either of the great world wars or the war against terrorism. Jesus is telling John and us that we need all the allies we can muster in the battle between heaven and hell for the hearts of human beings. Jesus tells us that our choices in this life are serious. It would be better to lose one’s hand or foot or eye rather than go into Gehenna, the unquenchable fire.
Dr. Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, once spoke about this spiritual war. He asked, “Who is the enemy?” He goes through a list of possible enemies, including terrorists, the media, the liberal establishment, abortionists and “cafeteria Catholics.” No, he says, they are not our enemies; they are victims of the real enemy. The Muslim terrorist, the anti-Catholic bigot, the Planned Parenthood director – they are children of the one Father, our sisters and brothers and they all have an eternal destiny. Each one has an incalculable value. Dr. Kreeft says we should we want their salvation and pray for their conversion. We should treat them as potential allies even though they are presently in serious error.
I wonder how we receive Jesus’ words, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Is there room in our hearts, in our social discourse for allies who come from other faiths, a different political party, another country? Could it be that the greatest thing working against our country today is a spirit of rivalry and faction-ism? Could it be that what saps our national spiritual energy is a pervasive suspicion of those who are outside of our camp?
Last week in the gospel we heard the apostles bickering over who was the greatest. Satan knew that he would get nowhere trying to lead Jesus away from his goal of complete obedience to the Father, so he turned his claws on Jesus’ little community, trying to tear it apart with jealousy and suspicion.
After centuries of calling Protestants heretics and Jews perfidious and Muslims “the infidels”, the bishops at Vatican Council II encouraged Catholics to look in a new way on people of all religions, to revere the ray of truth that shines in their sacred texts. In the “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” they proclaimed to the world that whoever is not against us is for us. In our own day our American bishops have issued a pastoral letter (Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship - LINK) on working together for the common good and the cause of justice for all. I quote from that letter:
“Unfortunately, politics in our country often can be a contest of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites, and media hype. The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable. The Catholic call to faithful citizenship affirms the importance of political participation and insists that public service is a worthy vocation. As Catholics, we should be guided more by our moral convictions than by our attachment to a political party or interest group. When necessary, our participation should help transform the party to which we belong; we should not let the party transform us in such a way that we neglect or deny fundamental moral truths. We are called to bring together our principles and our political choices, our values and our votes, to help build a better world.”
I would like to suggest that in the weeks leading up to the election we contemplate this short saying of St. Augustine: “In the essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” May we recognize the Spirit of God working in those outside our camp.