The Vocation of Returning Blessings in a Time of Evil and Insult, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (EF), June 28, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, New York, NY
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Extraordinary Form
June 28, 2015
1 Pet 3:8-15, Mt 5:20-24


This homily was not recorded. The following text guided the homily: 

  • Today in the Gospel, Jesus tells us that to enter into his kingdom, our righteousness, our holiness, literally our being in right relationship with God, must surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees. The Scribes were the ones who made it their whole life to study the word of God down to the smallest letter. The Pharisees were the ones who tried to live by what the Scribes taught, basing their whole life on God’s word. They prayed three times a day. They fasted twice a week. They gave ten percent on all they owned to God. They were living outwardly very holy lives, but Jesus was calling us to a higher standard than they had adopted. The standard he wanted focused not just on outward conduct, but on our inward adhesion to God, to seeing like him, thinking like him, forgiving like him, and becoming more and more like him. He says in today’s Gospel that it’s not enough not just to kill others: he doesn’t want us hating others or insulting them. He’d continue in the Sermon on the Mount that it’s not enough not to commit adultery in the flesh; he doesn’t want us to commit adultery in the heart by looking at lust rather than love at others, including one’s own spouse. It’s not enough, he added, for us to limit our vengeance to an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth or to love our neighbor but hate our enemy. He wants us to turn the other cheek, to pray for our persecutors, to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us. And Jesus never calls us to anything that he is not prepared to give us all the help he knows we need to act on that call. He stresses, however, that his standard is not that we merely be good people. He wants us to be truly Christian, to be little Christs, to follow him and imitate him in our actions.
  • The truly Christian way of life is the way St. Peter reminds the early Christians how to live in today’s epistle. It takes what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount and it applies it to their situation under persecution. The first Pope calls all of them, and all of us, to be “of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate and humble.” God doesn’t want us to be divided but to be of unanimous, together wanting what God wants and rejecting what God rejects. He wants us to be sympathetic, entering into the sufferings of others. He wants us to love others, which means to be willing to be crucified by them. He summons us to be humble, to place ourselves at others’ service. On this fifth Sunday after Pentecost, we remember that God the Holy Spirit has been sent to us to help us live by these standards. St. Peter continues, “Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, [return] a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing.” He wants us to bless those who insult or do evil to us, just like Christ did to those crucifying him, St. Stephen did to Saul and those who were stoning him, so many of the martyrs have done to those who were treating them with hatred. This is the characteristic Christian response, to become God’s blessing on the world and to wish the blessing of God on everyone, including and especially those who need it most. St. Peter next speaks to directly to the context of the sufferings of the members of the early Church. Basing himself the words of Jesus that St. Peter heard live, he said, “Even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” When we suffer on account of our faith, he reminds us of something he himself had experienced in his own flesh as he was mistreated by the same Sanhedrin who had crucified Jesus: that we are blessed. “Blessed are you,” as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “when they insult you, and persecute you, and utter every kind of evil against you false because of me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.” Suffering is an opportunity for our sanctification, for our growing in love of God who suffered out of love for us, and growing in love of others, including our persecutors, for whose conversion and salvation we can offer that suffering. And St. Peter finishes with one of the most famous lines in Sacred Scripture, a line that is crucial for us in this age in which a new evangelization is so needed: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” We Christians are always supposed to be filled with hope, even and especially in the midst of suffering, when we’re in hospital bed, when we’re in prison cells, when we’re being lacerated in comment boxes, or called bigots in the public square, when we’re being dragged through legal systems unjustly on account of our faith, even when we’re being selected for slaughter by terrorist groups when much of the rest of the world just changes the channel, we’re called as Christians to give reason for the hope that we carry within, the hope that doesn’t disappoint, the hope that can’t be extinguished, the hope that is based on the fact that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and all the hatred in the world cannot get him back into the tomb. This is the hope we show precisely through our being of one mind, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, humble, and courageous, through blessing our persecutors, through our turning the other cheek, through living the Beatitudes and all the other Christian standards that Christ describes for us in the Sermon on the Mount and himself lived. We’re called to offer this witness of the hope we carry within at all times, but when we do so in difficult times, the radiant beauty of that hope and the source of it in Christ shines out all the more.
  • These are all very important lessons for us to remember as we enter into a new age in our country after the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to redefine marriage away from what Jesus Christ explicitly taught and what all cultures throughout history, all our founding fathers and presidents, all of the great justices in the history of the Supreme Court until the last few years easily recognized: that marriage involves a husband and a wife and that it’s privileged in law because of its absolutely essential role in the future of our nation by creating the sound families that are the building block of future citizens. We don’t need to be apocalyptic in response to the decision, but at the same time we can’t be naïve. As a broad movement, this has never really been about “marriage equality,” because only three percent of same-sex couples in those places where they could enter into a bond their states called marriage sought to marry. Ninety-seven percent of gay couples who could “marry” weren’t interested. As many of the drivers of the movement have openly and honestly attended, the broader movement has desired rather the destruction of marriage and the “heteronormativity” and traditional sexual morality on which marriage is based. And this much aim and the movement seeking it aren’t going to stop with Friday’s Supreme Court decision offering the civil legal equivalent of “marriage equality” to the small percentage of same-sex couples that will take advantage of it. The larger movement has pretended that all they were seeking was “tolerance,” but tolerance is not enough. We’ve seen it with the way some have sought to use the legal system to sue out of existence bakers, and photographers, pizzerias and banquet hall facilities who regularly serve same-sex individuals for all types of reasons but who out of conscience didn’t want to serve same-sex weddings. We’ve seen it in the way that Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was forced to resign because he had given $1,000 back in 2008 to a California initiative to defend marriage. And now that same-sex unions have been decreed by a one-vote majority of the Supreme Court to be equivalent to the marriage of a man and a woman, we’re going to see that the courts will be used as a vehicle to attempt to force into acquiescence and acceptance people who in conscience don’t and can’t accept this reordering of reality. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who wrote in his dissent, “Today’s decision… creates serious questions about religious liberty. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses. … Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage — when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General [during oral arguments} candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”
  • There’s no question we’re entering into some difficult times in which we’re going to have to suffer on account of our faith. Exactly what form that suffering takes we don’t yet know and the severity of it will depend on how believers in our country and others who don’t believe that in the United States we should be governed by an unelected oligarchy inventing “fundamental rights” that those who signed the Constitution and passed amendments to it would never have recognized respond as citizens at the ballot box and in demanding reforms of the judiciary. But there’s no question that the Church and the faithful are going to be entering into rough waters. As we do, it’s important to remember Christ’s words in today’s Gospel faithfully interpreted by St. Peter in today’s epistle. We’re called to give reason not for the alarm and fears that we carry within, but of the hope we bear from the fact that Christ has truly risen from the dead and that he has helped the Church triumph over so many more difficult circumstances throughout the last 2000 years. We’re called to avoid the temptation to hate those who will call us hateful just because we believe, with Christ and people of every culture since the beginning, that marriage is between a man and woman. We’re called to pray for those who will seek to persecute us for our fidelity and to love those who treat us as the enemy. And we’re called to be of one mind with Christ and with each other at a time in which we need to proclaim some of the real basics of the Gospel to a culture that no longer sees with clarity these elementary truths.
  • “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus tells us. The standard to which he calls us is the standard of Christian holiness, which is fidelity to the truth he has revealed and fidelity to his command to love everyone, including those who have made themselves our enemies, just like he has loved us. Every crisis that the Church faces, every crisis that the Church has ever confronted, is a crisis of saints. A crisis is a time in which we turn much more to God for the grace we need to remain faithful and in that crucible God forms us to be adequate to respond to the time, just like he did in coverting the debauched Roman empire, just like he did in overcoming the barbarians, just like he has done in so many missionary lands. As we come to present ourselves as gifts before the altar, let us open ourselves wholeheartedly to the help he will give us so that we will not return evil for the evil we will suffer, or insult for insult, but on the country return a blessing — the blessing of God living within us — because it is to this we were called.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

1Pet. 3:8 Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble.  9 Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing.  10 For: “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep the tongue from evil and the lips from speaking deceit,  11 must turn from evil and do good, seek peace and follow after it.  12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears turned to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against evildoers.”  13 Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good?  14 But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them,  15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,

Matt. 5:20 I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  21 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’  22 But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.  23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you,  24 leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

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