Sunday Sermon for January 15, 2017, the Second Sunday in Ordinary time, Year A
Readings: Is 49:3’ 5-6; 1Cor 1:1-3; Jn 129-34
As we reenter the Ordinary Time after the anticipation of Advent and the joy of Christmas, the Church gives us a set of readings that calls us back to the most basic element of our faith. With all of the problems in the Church and in the world it is easy to allow our focus to be shifted from the basics. With all of the dissent over moral teachings, it is easy to get caught up in arguments regarding what the Church teaches regarding morality. With the widespread exodus from the Church it is easy to become downhearted and lose hope because people we love are going the wrong direction.
All of this really comes down to a much more basic point: Jesus Christ. People are confused because they do not know Who Jesus really is. We live in a day and age where people are trying to make God in their own image and likeness rather than to accept that they are made in His. Rather than trying to conform themselves to God, they have performed the mental gymnastics that allow them to make God conform to themselves.
If God is able to change, or worse, be manipulated, then there are no absolutes. If Jesus is just my buddy, a warm, fuzzy, feel-good guy who is my little pal, then He will tell us only what we want to hear and He will agree with anything we come up with. This is the result of years of teaching which twists points of truth until they are no longer true.
Think, for instance, of the travesty of the 1970’s and 80’s where people were told to “follow your conscience” when it came to questions about contraception. While there is a point of truth in that the conscience is the subjective norm for moral decision making, most people neither know what conscience is nor do they have a well formed conscience. For this reason, “follow your conscience” simply means that if you want to do it and you don’t feel bad about it, then it is okay.
Sadly, it is not merely the residual effects of this kind of thinking that are causing us problems today, but now we have seen the resurrection of the whole idea and its application to marriage, mortal sin, and the reception of Holy Communion. The results are nothing short of disastrous.
Worse yet, one of the consequences of this “kind and merciful” approach is that people will inevitably leave the Faith. Why? Because if the teachings of the Church can change like the shifting sands, then clearly the Church does not really stand for anything. So, all of these problems are interconnected. They all come down to one basic question: Who is God?
While not stating the point explicitly, this reality of the kind of thinking presented above is to suggest that I am God. If I can make the rules, I can decide what is right and wrong, I can determine what is true and false, then I must be God. There is nothing objective, so while I can still believe in the existence of God outside of me, practically speaking, He has no direct influence in my life because I am the ultimate arbiter of truth for myself.
This is why it is necessary that we come back to the most basic of the elements of our Faith. In the first reading Isaiah prophesies about the Messiah that He would bring Israel back to the Lord, but that He would also be a light to the nations to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. St. John the Baptist points Him out in the Gospel as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. Further, He testifies at the end of today’s reading that Jesus is the Son of God.
So far, even those who have walked away from the Church might still agree with what was just said. After all, they continue to say that they believe in Jesus. The question is, however, which Jesus do they believe in: the real Jesus or the one they have made in their own minds? This is where we have to look at what St. Paul states in his Letter to the Hebrews when he says: “Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever.” He is God and He cannot change. Since He is also the truth, then the truth cannot change. He is the Rock and the foundation of our Faith.
In the second reading St. Paul reminds us of our own baptism, our own sanctification, and our call to holiness. Holiness is to be like God, not to make God like unto us. Only when we know the real Jesus can we know the truth and remain firm in our faith.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.