Browsing Homilies

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 66:10-14c | Ps 66 | Gal 6:14-18 | Lk 10:1-12, 17-20

There is a great mural in a Catholic church in Victoria, Australia, depicting purgatory; and it’s great because it brings together two things that appear to be opposites: deep suffering and invincible peace. The souls depicted in purgatory all stand upright together in the cleansing fire, palms joined in prayer, with faces raised to the God who will one day come for them. The mural depicting hell, on the other side, is marked by chaos, disorder, and agonizing suffering.

Okay, hang with me – I’m going to jump for a moment.

In the Gospel this weekend, we hear of Our Lord giving the command to enter a house and state, “Peace to this house.” That word, “peace,” can, of course, be used in many different ways. The dictionary lists several synonyms: completeness, soundness, wholeness, quiet, tranquility, contentment, calm, stillness, silence, and serenity.

I came across another understanding of peace, and it’s quite poetic. It’s that “peace,” personified, is the child of “truth.”

If truth reigns in a human heart, if it seeks truth, loves truth, clings to truth and lives truth – there will be peace. If there is no truth, but only falsehood and lies, there will be no peace. Without truth there cannot be peace.

Another child of peace is joy. This is why the peaceful heart is the greatest ambassador for truth; it is its most attractive and powerful witness. Joy based on truth is irresistible to all, except for perhaps the most hardened of hearts.

And another offspring of peace is harmony. So closely are the two related, that we sometimes use the words interchangeably. When a heart is at peace it will bring harmony to all its relationships, affairs, and dealings with others.

Peace, joy, and harmony – it all begins with truth.

Okay, back to our mural:

So why are the souls in purgatory able to bear their intense sufferings in such peace and joy while the souls in hell cannot? Precisely because in purgatory there is truth, and in hell there is only falsehood. In purgatory, they humbly accept the truth that their sufferings are deserved and necessary. They, in fact, desire to be made perfect before entering paradise, understanding well that nothing imperfect can enter heaven; while those in hell suffer in pride, rejecting the justice which keeps them bound. Disclaimer, the Church never declares that anyone is in hell. Even Pope St. John Paul II prayed daily that no one was in hell; he who lived through the horrors of World War II.

Even here on earth, a lie will always bring with it some unhappiness and some sort of disharmony or conflict. And so, we can say that just as heaven begins on earth in a peaceful heart, so too, hell begins on earth in a heart full of lies. We need to ask ourselves, just what are we preparing ourselves for?

Peace to this house.”

Somehow this greeting of the disciples sums up the Church’s entire message to all her children down through the ages; her first and last words to us, containing everything that is good, desirable, and ordered. Jesus had promised at the Last Supper (Jn 14:27) that he would leave his peace to the Church as a legacy: “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,” and his first words after his resurrection as he appeared to the disciples were: “Peace be with you.” In fact, he says it twice.

The peace of the risen Christ, springing from a sincere embrace of the truth, brings joy and harmony to the heart and to human existence. When a bishop begins Mass, he greets the assembly with the words: “Peace be with you,” whereas a priest says, “The Lord be with you.” But there’s little to no difference. It might even be appropriate to say: “The Truth be with you.”

I have no doubt that the Church, our world, this nation, and our homes know lesser degrees of peace, because we have strayed further and further from the Truth.

After the Eucharistic prayer when the risen Lord becomes present on the altar and the words are spoken: “The peace of the Lord be with you always,” may we be especially attentive to what we are being offered, and let our response, “and with your spirit,” carry with it all the intensity for the Lord's gift of peace for which we long. Then, the Sign of Peace which follows will truly be what it is meant to be – not a display of human affection, a pleasant or polite greeting, or a noisy ‘how are you going today?’ but a profound sign that you may experience the peace of the risen Lord which comes from faith in him; he who is the way, the truth, and the life.

When it comes to world religions, no other founder or leader dared put the focus on himself – and would even admit what he didn’t know or fully understand. Confucius said, “I am not the way.” The Buddha said, “Seek for truth.” Mohammed said, “I don’t know the purpose of life.” But Jesus, he does put the focus on himself when he posed the question to his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” We know Peter’s response, declaring him to be the Christ, gave us our rock-solid foundation. So, either Jesus is who he says he is, “the way, the truth, and the life,” or he is the world’s greatest mad man that ever lived. It’s one or the other.

If he is who he says he is, then as believers, that has implications for our lives. He left us the Church as his living voice until he returns. I know there are many difficult things the Church teaches and invites us to, and that the experience of our lives can be at odds with what the Church professes to be true. These are sensitive issues which likely pertain directly to us, or someone we love. I know I could draw a line down the center aisle of this church, start rattling off teachings you agree with or don’t agree with, and many of us would teeter back and forth.

If the Church is right about the Trinity, the Incarnation (Christmas), Resurrection (Easter), love of God and neighbor, the sacraments – then she’s also right about the body, Christian marriage, the environment, and issues that pertain to life. We’ve all heard that expression, “the truth hurts.” It can. It hurts because it can demand change and conversion of heart. But to water down teaching, avoid difficult topics, or remain silent – it does none of us any good.

What we profess in the Creed: those are the non-negotiables. We have to be unapologetic for that. And everything else practically falls under the umbrella of Church teaching. This isn’t about a bunch of old guys in Rome going out of their way to make our lives miserable. It is about an invitation to conform the gift of our lives to a person, the person of Jesus Christ. And if we have a difficulty with a particular Church teaching, could we be humble enough to at least admit, we just might not understand it?

Do we seek to understand?

The classical definition of theology is “faith seeking understanding.” It means faith in God revealed in Jesus Christ prompts a questioning search for deeper meaning. Could we also be honest with ourselves for a moment and acknowledge as well: how could any one of us think that in the limited capacity of our earthly life, at this moment in history, in this nation, on this side of the ocean, happen to know better than nearly 6,000 collective years of universal Jewish and Christian theology, mind, heart, and lived life?

Believe me: I entered the seminary sixteen years ago, at the age of 26, with plenty of questions of my own. But I did seek to understand, and I remained open to listen. Granted, I had the luxury of eight years of concentrated study and formation. And no, they didn’t lace our food with something and brainwash us (even if they did, it wouldn’t have worked, since so many of us ate out as much as possible).

My brothers and sisters, we have to ask the right questions, consult the right sources, and go to the right people, and be patient with ourselves that this can take a lifetime to wrap our heads and hearts around. I can think of at least 117 other ways to live my life. I didn’t get ordained because I’m a talentless, undatable troll. I’m a priest because of my relationship with the person of Jesus Christ and because I fell in love with his Church: his bride, his living voice. That’s not to say, there aren’t days I wake up and have to remind myself of this. (Ask any husband or wife, they’ll likely tell you the same.) But do you think I chose this vocation because I think some of this is true? Or the religious sister, did she consecrate her life to God because she thought some of this was true? Or the martyr, did he or she suffer unspeakable horrors which cost them their lives because they thought some of this was true?

If you and I at least live out our faith, seeking to understand, with the time we are given, I guarantee you, you will know greater peace. This will spread to homes, where you work, your relationship with this parish, the universal Church, our country, and the world.

Does this world offer us comfort to live otherwise? Yes, “the world offers you comfort,” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote, “but you weren’t made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”


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