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McTeigue: What happens when we lack proper priorities?

pick up your mat

Ave Maria’s Father Robert McTeigue, S.J., preached a wonderful homily at Mass this past Sunday. If you’ve been following the synod this week, you will likely want to send this homily to every synod father – yes, it is that good and it touches on the most difficult issues:

Do you want to hear a story? When I was a newly-ordained priest, I was invited to go abroad to attend a conference of Catholic ecumenists. I was told that there I would learn how to enter into dialogue with the world’s religions. The two-week trip to southern Italy appealed to me as well.

At the conference, I learned that there wasn’t going to be much dialogue. In fact, I was told that now it was time for the Church to “learn how to sit in silence at the feet of the world’s religions.” I stood up and pointed out that as a freshly-minted priest in his mid-30s, I was by far the newest and youngest priest in the group. If this venture were to have a future, it may well have to take me along with it. Here is the challenge I posed to them. I said, “Fathers, let us grant, for now, that I will take up your mandate to ‘learn how to sit in silence at the feet of the world’s religions’. But is there any one thing that you want me to say to them before I fall silent? As I go out the door to receive my tutelage from the world’s religions, will any of you jump up and say, ‘Hey! Bob McTeigue! Whatever you do, don’t forget to tell them…’ What would that one thing be, Fathers? What would that one thing be that you insist that I tell the world’s religions before I fall silent before them?” They couldn’t think of anything. I didn’t pay much attention to the proceedings of the conference after that, but I did enjoy having Nutella for breakfast every morning with freshly-baked Italian bread made by real Italians. That was the high point of the conference for me.

I think of that story as I try to bring together our selection from the epistle of Saint Paul and our passage from Matthew’s gospel. Today’s readings have a great deal to teach us about proper priorities and what happens when you lack them. Here’s a hint of what I have in mind: When you don’t have proper priorities, you end up telling newly-ordained priests to sit in silence at the feet of the world’s religions.

Click below to read the rest of the homily.

Father McTeigue is currently finishing a collection of homilies and essays on preaching entitled, I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel. He recently began writing a weekly column. He earnestly seeks your prayers that his life and work be to God’s greater glory – and he invites your comments.

Consider these words Saint Paul writes to his beloved Corinthians: “…the witness to the Christ has been made so firm in you that you lack no grace…”. Isn’t that amazing? Let’s hear those words again: ““…the witness to the Christ has been made so firm in you that you lack no grace…”. Any preacher of the gospel worthy of the name would aspire to have that be true of his preaching and of those to whom he preached. That is a high standard worthy of the highest aspirations and the mightiest efforts. Sadly, it is also a standard that I suspect that it is rarely aspired to and even more rarely achieved. The story we heard from the gospel this morning will help us to see why I say that.

The friends of the paralyzed man brought the paralytic to Jesus. That is the fundamental work of Christian discipleship — to bring people to Jesus. But I wonder what Matthew would have recorded if a certain type of 21st-century Catholic from America had been there.

Picture it. The paralyzed man says to his friends, “Please take me to Jesus. He can heal me of my handicap.” And they reply: “Oh, no! You’re not handicapped — you’re handi-capable! You don’t need Jesus to heal you.”

The poor man pleads. “Please! I want Jesus to heal me of my disability!” And they insist: “No, no, no! You’re not disabled! You’re just differently-abled! You don’t need Jesus to heal you. And besides, we are a welcoming, diverse, vibrant, inclusive community! We accept you just the way you are! There’s no need to bring you to Jesus!”

The poor man… The delusional disciples of our day would keep him from meeting Jesus the healer who would see that broken man’s need and set him free. How different from the words of Saint Paul: “…the witness to the Christ has been made so firm in you that you lack no grace…”. To lack no grace. That is the standard Saint Paul set. But if we cannot admit our need for grace, we will not receive the grace we need.

Even when we can ask for the grace we need, we often set our sights too low. Jesus, Who always has the right priority, saw the man’s many needs, the first being the need for the forgiveness of sin.

Can you imagine the delusional 21st-century disciples correcting Jesus?   “Oh, no, Jesus! We don’t talk about sin anymore! That’s not attractive. That’s not magnetic. If you wish to draw all women and men to yourself, you will have to find a new language, a new vocabulary. Keep the doctrine if you like, Jesus, but really — isn’t it time to change the discipline?” And again, the man’s greatest needs— his need for healing of his broken body and wounded soul — are deliberately obscured by the enthusiasms of these 21st-century disciples.

So much for generalities. Let’s get specific. We all know Catholics who consistently experience same-sex attraction. We all know Catholics who are divorced. We all know Catholics who are divorced and remarried. We all know Catholics who contracept. We all know Catholics who use pornography. What is our obligation to such Catholics? After all, these are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Shall we try to become, as some have suggested, a more “welcoming” Church? Or shall we try to live up to the standard of Saint Paul, so it might be said of these Catholics finding themselves in difficulties: “…the witness to the Christ has been made so firm in you that you lack no grace…”.

Our goal must be — must, must, must be — to proclaim Christ so that all may receive the grace of Christ. Yes, chastity before marriage is difficult. Yes, chastity within marriage is difficult. In His mercy, God does not deny the grace necessary to fulfill His commandment of love. Unless we want to say that God is stingy with His grace and denies it to homosexual Catholics or divorced Catholics or lonely Catholics, then we must proclaim that those who ask for the grace of God to live His law of love will certainly receive it! Unless we want to say that God’s grace is ineffective in helping Catholics live chastity before marriage and within marriage, then we must proclaim that those who ask for the grace of God to live His law of love will receive His saving and effective help!

But for reasons I can’t quite understand, some disciples seemed resolute in their project to square the circle, that is, formally maintaining Catholic sexual morality while letting people off the hook of having to try, with the help of grace, to live it.

Well, that’s not quite right. I actually do have a hunch about why some disciples appear to want to bow to the will of the world rather than bow to the truth inscribed by God in nature and in Sacred Revelation. You see, some have observed that most institutions would rather die than admit that anyone ever made a mistake. If, in the Year of Our Lord, 2014, every member of the Church spoke with one voice regarding the universal call to chastity found within the human body, the empirical sciences, the moral law and the Revealed Word of God — then someone would surely ask, “So…where have you guys been since 1968?” And that seems to be a conversation that some people do not want to have. Why not?

That leads us to a second observation. You see, most people have not matured past the age of 15 and so are still driven by the desire to be invited to sit at the “Cool Kids’ Table” at the high school cafeteria. In other words, most people want to be liked. Disciples who declare that promiscuity is not inevitable, that chastity is not impossible, that grace is always available, and that neither Nature nor God will be mocked — such disciples will not be liked. Indeed, if we would be such disciples, the kind of disciple that Saint Paul was when he formed the Corinthians, then we must steel ourselves for the human and supernatural resistance we will surely face. Saint Ignatius Loyola warned us with these words: “Nothing worthy of God can be done without earth being set in uproar and hell’s legions roused.”

This is our task. This is our calling — to be the kind of disciples who will draw the scorn of the world and the ire of Hell. Yes, it will be frightfully difficult to proclaim with both clarity and charity the fullness of Christ to an unbelieving world. It may be even more difficult, and likely more painful, to proclaim with both clarity and charity the fullness of Christ to partially-believing Catholics.

This is not a new problem. Pope Saint Pius X wrote these words of anguish: “…the partisans of error are to be sought not only among the Church’s open enemies; they lie hid, a thing to be deeply deplored and feared, in her very bosom and heart, and are the more mischievous, the less conspicuously they appear.”

In other words, Pius X was warning us to be alert for opposition from unexpected places. And long before him, Saint Ambrose wrote these words of warning: “There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole cycle of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, infect the real and simple faith taught by our Lord and handed down by Apostolic tradition.” You see — Saint Ambrose was alerting us to the danger of so-called “Cafeteria Catholics.” Cafeteria Catholicism isn’t just selective — it’s deceptive, it’s toxic and it’s contagious.

Does the Church offer a remedy? The remedy is offered by Pope Leo XIII who wrote: “The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium.”

And that, my friends, will surely get you excluded from sitting at the Cool Kids’ Table — but what choice do we have? We have been commanded by Our Blessed Lord to make disciples of all nations. We must in truth and in love bring people to Christ —because He alone has the remedy for their broken bodies and for their wounded immortal souls.

At the same time, we must ensure — always with charity — that no one is cheated of the fullness of Christ. We must protest whenever disciples — regardless of their intentions — begin to add water to the wine of Christ. Christ revealed Himself to be, “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” How dare we offer to the people He died for anything less?

So, now what? What do we do now so that we may imitate Saint Paul in proclaiming the fullness of Christ? I will ask you to pray today and for every day this week for three graces, for three special blessings. I ask you to pray for knowledge, for love, and for discernment.

I ask you to pray and work for knowledge — knowledge of Christ the Truth as He is revealed to the Church and as He is inscribed in Nature. We will not be able to love and serve Him if we do not know Him, so let’s begin by mighty efforts of praying and working for knowledge.

Second, pray for love — love of Christ as His Light blazes forth from the sacraments, and as His Light flickers within sinners — even a sinner like me. Loving Christ will move you to love those whom Christ loves and to love them as He loves them — always faithful and truthful to the end.

Third, pray for discernment — learn to discern allies from false friends, saving truths from comforting falsehoods, and worldly fame from godly glory.

If we do that, if we live and pray for knowledge, love and discernment, then we will have set our hearts upon the standard of Saint Paul, in the hopes that we may join him in saying to those entrusted to our care here and now: “…the witness to the Christ has been made so firm in you that you lack no grace…”.

And then, lives will be saved, and souls will be saved, and, best of all — God will be glorified.

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