In the Same Boat: 14th Sunday OT.
I don’t suppose anyone else is nuts over Warren Miller ski films? Anyway, one of the lines he always worked in somewhere was “always remember you’re a unique individual… just like everybody else.”
Funny, and also wise in its way. That line comes to mind when I think about what makes us individually amazing, and what makes us the same. There are some things I want to tell everybody here, things I keep repeating, sermon after sermon, hoping it’ll get through to you, and hoping despite all evidence to the contrary that someday it might even get through to me.
That you are made in the image and likeness of God.
That your life, your existence, is so incredible and epic that you must never settle for any lesser goal than being a Saint.
That this always, for everyone, means denying yourself, taking up your Cross, and following Jesus.
That if you do so, even in the hardest times, you will still paradoxically understand what He meant when He said “My yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
That life in Christ is life in joy.
Lately I’ve wanted to say all these things especially to my brothers and sisters in Christ who are attracted to your own gender. I’m still getting used to being called a hater, but it’s true that I am a hater… not of people, but of certain things. I hate, I hate, that so many of our friends and family have been told that you are some different class of human because of these attractions. You get this message from many so-called Christians who want to claim superiority over you on such a ridiculous basis. But you also get this message from so-called allies who tell you that this one aspect of who you are is the basis of your entire identity, and that to deny these attractions, or fail to base your life around them, is a denial of who you are.
But ultimately, this kind of division is the work of Satan. He’s the one who sits on your shoulder telling you you’re different. He’d like most of all to convince you that God doesn’t want you. But a close second for him would be to convince you that the Church doesn’t want you. It won’t matter to him whether you’re convinced by Christians or by false allies, as long as you’re convinced that you don’t belong in the Church.
But you do belong. And not in some special room reserved for “people like you,” because in the Church we don’t categorize people that way and separate them. You won’t be stuffed in some special room where you’re spared the call to radical conversion. You don’t belong in a special room where we pretend you aren’t wounded by original sin, and that none of your desires could possibly be disordered. No, I’m afraid you’re in the same boat as all the rest of us. It’s a fishing boat.
That doesn’t mean we’re all the same in our struggles, of course not. I’m grateful that I can claim a particular witness here because God has called me to a form of life that doesn’t involve being married, and doesn’t involve physical intimacy of that kind. So I’ll claim some credibility when I say it’s not the burdensome lonely misery that they want to tell you it is. It’s true that I know some bitter, lonely priests and unmarried people. I also know a lot of bitter, lonely married people. But even if every one of us has a different kind of Cross to bear, we are all called to bear one. It might seem like chastity costs you more than it costs someone else. Does that mean you carry a heavier burden in life? Only God knows that. We’ll never really know what someone else’s Cross feels like to them, which is one very good reason we must never judge each other.
If you’ve followed the news, you know why I’m on this subject right now. Our government defines marriage in a way that contradicts the God-ordained reality of the thing. Listen, now: that is breaking news from last century. We denied the permanence of marriage long ago, and that was a fundamental and essential redefinition of marriage, and ever since then there are lots of people who the government says are married but the Church says are not. The difference has now widened a little further, but don’t believe for a second that this is the beginning of it.
Neither is it the end. Legal marriage was never the ultimate goal, for most of those who have supported it. From here on out, it’s going to be all about a struggle against “heteronormativity,” and if you haven’t heard much about that, well, you will.
But this is where we Christians so easily can come off like we think the world’s ending over this one thing, like it’s the one terrible horrible thing that offends us. That’s the impression many people have of the Church right now, and the impression is untrue and unfair. Just to pick one example: I don’t know a single Christian who, given the choice, would rather end gay marriage than end world hunger. Come on! People think it’s all we talk about because it’s all the media reports us talking about. Take all the words spoken in all the Catholic sermons in all the world, and calculate how many of them have been about this or any other sexual issue, and you’re looking at way less than one percent. But of the entire Christian Gospel message, of all the things we want to be talking about — mercy and redemption, healing in the Blood of Christ — that little bit is all people want to talk about. Now tell me again, who is it that’s obsessed?
Going forward, we need to realize that the authentic Catholic position will continue to be misrepresented. People will keep calling us haters and bigots and so on. We should be ready for it to get more intense, because some people have set all their hopes on this Supreme Court decision, and now that it’s gone their way they may find that it doesn’t actually make the difference they hoped it would. There’s no frustration like getting what you wanted and finding it’s not what you wanted. That rage will need to land somewhere and it’s not simply paranoia to suspect it will be the Church.
And that brings me to going-forward point number one, which is not to indulge a martyr complex. The Church has more enemies now than she’s had for awhile, and she is really and truly hated by many times more people than was the case a generation ago. Is there a persecution coming? Maybe, who knows? But let’s keep perspective. There are a lot of places where being Christian can get you killed. Kind of ironically, they tend to be exactly the same places that being gay can get you killed. No one wants to hear us whine about what martyrs we are.
But at the same time, we should have open eyes about the way things are. It is already the case that if you believe what the Church teaches, there are certain jobs that are not open to you. Remember that Mozilla CEO? And good luck getting tenure at a university if you are discovered to believe what’s in the Catechism about marriage, even in most universities that call themselves Catholic. Already, a university student who mounts an argument for a traditional definition of marriage can expect a pretty fair degree of being socially outcast. She might as well have worn a Klan outfit to class. There are times and places where a priest can expect to be literally spat on, and that’s new. We can expect much more of this in the future.
Which is why getting a martyr complex is so dangerous. Christ told us to expect persecution, and not being allowed to be CEO of Mozilla is a bummer, but it’s a long way from getting fed to lions in the Coliseum, or beheaded on a beach in Libya, or, for that matter, crucified between two thieves. Getting a false martyr complex, or being perceived by others to do so, will be devastating to our witness.
What we need is the attitude of Ezekiel, when God gave him his mission to witness in Israel. It’s the hardest mission of all, the mission to your own people. He asks Ezekiel to witness “whether they listen or not.” And as you read the story of Ezekiel and the other Prophets, you discover the answer, most of the time, is “not.” But like Mother Theresa said, God calls us to be faithful, not successful. The point is driven home when Jesus, Jesus Himself, is not “successful” in his own home country. The problem is, they think they have Him figured out. They think they know Who He is. That false familiarity makes them unable to hear the Gospel, makes them react with dismissive contempt.
We have exactly that difficulty in the United States in 2015. When we try to preach the Gospel, people don’t perk up and say, “hey now, what’s this?” They roll their eyes and think “Oh, this again.” They think they have Him figured out. They think they know Who He is. And that makes it very hard for them to hear the Gospel… especially that part of the Gospel that says the fullest expression of physical intimacy is only for a man and a woman who are married and open to life, and that the many other kinds of human relationships, however loving and profound and intimate and committed and beautiful they may be, should not be expressed in that way. You won’t find many people who are curious about that, or interested in hearing more so they might consider it more carefully. Dismissive contempt is the order of the day.
We just have to be as faithful as we can, and as loving as we can, and trust God to bring fruit from our witness in His own way and in His own time, and very much prepared for the possibility that, like Ezekiel, we won’t see it this side of the Kingdom. We should take first responsibility for our failure to convince our neighbors of the beauty and truth of our creed, often by our failure to live ourselves in a way that remotely resembles it. We should be open to correction and criticism, even from those who declare themselves our enemies. Do they call you a hypocrite? Who among us can say we never have been? When someone calls me a hypocrite, I really can only cast down my eyes and say with true sorrow and repentance, “it’s true.” And that doesn’t make it okay. Being all humble and honest about it doesn’t make it okay.
But Jesus can make it okay, in the sense that He can redeem us and set us free, even though not one of us deserves it. And that, Christians, is the boat we’re in. All of us, every one.
I want to end with the same point I started with, just because it’s the most important one, the most important by a thousand thousand times. It’s that every one of you belongs here, and everyone you know belongs here, in the Body of Christ, in the Church, and that discipleship is a call to radical self-denial, a call to conversion, a call to love and communion, and a call to joy… for everyone.
If you are someone who is physically attracted to a person or persons of your own gender, please don’t listen to anyone inside the Church or out who would tell you you don’t belong here. Or that you’re some kind of special sub-group within humanity walled off from everyone else. Most of the passion and motivation behind the struggle for recognition of gay marriage is really about the struggle to be recognized as a full and equal part of the human family. Isn’t that true? The Catholic Church can not and never will redefine marriage or change her mind about chastity. What she has taught about love and intimacy for 2000 years, and will continue to teach until Jesus returns, bears almost no resemblance to the current mainstream. But as for being a full and equal part of the human family… that we can offer, and more than anyone else. Because there is no solidarity like taking your place in Peter’s boat, there is no camaraderie like among forgiven sinners, and there’s no community like the Communion of Saints… where everyone is a unique and amazing and irreplaceable person. Just like everyone else.