Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"Do not conform yourselves to this age." Romans 12:2
Just recently in trying to find the evening news, I heard a well-known television commentator say, "Well, the Catholic Church is at it again." The remark caught my attention, because I could not imagine any commentator making such a lead statement about any other religious group and getting away with it. The report had to do with a bishop who had written a letter of protest regarding immigration policy that the news commentator did not agree with. What struck me was the brazen talk of the "pompous" cleric who should tend to the affairs of Church first and leave the affairs of public policy alone. The gloves were off, and the real question at hand was can anyone in the Church, official or not, speak on a sensitive moral issue with the same freedom of expression as anyone else by constitutional right. The commentator was reflecting the spirit of age, and the age has little tolerance for the Church when it tries to speak the truth.
In this Year of St. Paul we find ourselves reflecting with more examination on the second reading of the Sunday Mass frequently taken from the writings of St. Paul. Today's reading is from the Letter to the Romans. St. Paul admonishes us, "Do not conform yourselves to this age" (Romans 12:2). I think that St. Paul is referring to something more important than just avoiding peer pressure. He is saying that if a Christian is living the Christian faith in truth, then he or she will be ill at ease with the world. Conformity to this age contradicts Christ. The Christian does not conform to the present age when he embraces the truth, and the truth is often something the present age does not want to hear. Yet, the truth sets the Christian apart from everyone else. Our Lord will say, "If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first" (John 15:18). St. Paul was very much aware of this dimension to the Christian life. He realized that if a Christian truly lived his or her vocation, then there would be a price to pay.
Towards the end of his life St. Paul found himself in prison. His hardships were many as he saw the suffering that awaited him. In this spirit St. Paul spoke to Timothy about the "age" and warned about what was to come. This is what St. Paul wrote: "For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.... I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand" (II Timothy 4:3-4, 6). St. Paul realized he was "in the world but not of the world." He had to accept the consequences of what he was preaching and realize that he "...had kept the faith." Because he had cherished the truth of the faith he professed, he had hope. "From now on," he would write, "the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance" (II Timothy 4:7-8). The truth he preached gave him hope.
To speak the truth "in season and out of season", in other words whether it is fashionable or not, is the vocation of every Christian. There is a definite future dimension to this vocation. When someone speaks the truth, not conforming to the present age, then that person is witnessing to the timeless nature of truth. Truth is not subject to fashion or usefulness or any opinion poll. The truth often makes us uncomfortable precisely because it is not what is popularly believed. The truth can be unsettling because it conforms to nothing but reality. The truth thrusts us into a future hope.
In fact, the present age is every age that challenges the Christian who wants to live, according to his conscience, the truth he professes. Christians have made choices throughout history-whether it is a St. Thomas More who was executed because he would not deny the primacy of the pope or a Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who could not run for office or even vote in an election because he was a Catholic. He signed the Declaration of Independence because he thought this act would give him a freedom that he, as a Catholic, had been denied (Archbishop Chaput, Render unto Caesar).
The truth is worth the suffering it brings. That is difficult to fathom, but the truth calls us to give of ourselves, no matter what the cost, because we have hope. Pope Benedict XVI says it well in his recent encyclical "On Christian Hope" ("Spe Salvi"). "In truly great trials, where I must make a definitive decision to place the truth before my own welfare, career and possessions, I need the certitude of that true, great hope.... The capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity" (#39).