Fr. Roger J. Landry
Catholic Online Homily Series for the Year of Faith
October 15, 2013
“I am not ashamed of the Gospel,” St. Paul emphatically tells the Romans at the beginning of today’s epistle.
Those are very strong words for someone who, at a human level, might have had many reasons to be shamefaced and silent about the Gospel.
After all he was scourged, beaten with rods stoned, shipwrecked, ambushed, hunted down and imprisoned on account of the Gospel.
He was crisscrossing the globe to preach preposterously that a publicly executed carpenter from an obscure village not only had risen the dead and was alive but was also the Lord and Son of God.
Jesus’ crucifixion, he knew, was a laughing stock for Greeks and an embarrassing scandal for Jews.
But despite it all he stressed that he was not ashamed of the Gospel, in all its paradoxical details, because he knew that, however improbable it might seem to human wisdom, it was in fact the power and wisdom of God.
During this Year of Faith — called by the Church in order to strengthen us in faith so that, more deeply evangelized, we might more confidently and capably evangelize others — it’s important that we confront and with God’s grace overcome any embarrassment we have over our faith.
There are many in the Church who are ashamed of the Gospel.
In the context of an aggressive secularism that is pushing hedonism, materialism, individualism, and rationalistic empiricism, and often mocks Church teaching as the morality of unenlightened, antediluvian cavemen, many feel somewhat humiliated to give witness to their Catholic faith.
Many Catholics have been made to feel that the Gospel is not only “bad news,” but on occasion even ridiculous.
Catholics after all believe that we adore and eat God himself in Holy Communion, even though to the world all we’re doing is consuming cheap bread and wine.
We believe, according to Jesus’ own words, that the path of happiness is spiritual poverty instead of riches, purity instead of sexual profligacy, spiritual hunger instead of satiety, meekness instead of strength, and persecution instead of popularity.
We believe in praying for persecutors, forgiving those who hate us seventy times seven times, and turning the other cheek.
We believe that we shouldn’t commit even the slightest sin even if we were able to win the whole world.
And then we get to the really controversial issues today.
We believe that the Pope is infallible — he cannot make a mistake, ever — on something that he teaches to be definitively held by all the faithful on something we need to be (faith) or do (morals) to please God and enter into his life.
We believe that even though men and women are equal in dignity before God, only men are capable of being ordained priests.
We believe that not even rape and incest victims should morally be able to take the lives of the unwanted children growing within them.
We believe that everyone should remain chaste and sexually abstinent until marriage, and that all sex outside of marriage is sinful.
We believe that even though almost everyone, including Catholic married couples, use some form of contraception at some point in their marriages, that it is still wrong.
We profess to love those with same-sex attractions while at the same time saying that they should never, ever be able to act on those attractions by engaging in same-sex sexual activity.
These are among the issues that make many members of Christ’s flock sheepish with regard to living and sharing the faith. It’s often some priests, religious and Catholics professionally involved in education that are among the most ashamed.
But St. Paul was not ashamed and his example is an inspiration to all Catholics. After describing his holy pride and confidence in the Gospel that is the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,” he went on to tackle straight on many of the contemporary ideas that made those in Rome consider the faith farcical.
He dissected the “impiety and wickedness” found in those who deny God even though creation would make no sense without a creator anymore than a wooden chair would make sense without a carpenter.
He described the foolishness of pagan worship, which exchanges God’s glory to adore statues of birds, snakes or savage quadrupeds.
He mentioned the slavery of those who gave in through the lust of their hearts for the “mutual degradation of their bodies,” worshipping the creature instead of the Creator.
In all of these cases, as G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.”
Like St. Paul, the holy woman whom the Church celebrates today was likewise not ashamed of the Gospel.
St. Teresa of Avila suffered a great deal in her life trying to reform Carmelite monasteries after many of the Carmelite nuns had become too worldly and lax in their observance of the Gospel and the Carmelite rule. She sought in particular to bring these houses “back into shape” so that they might serve as real schools of sanctity. As Jesus pointed to in the Gospel in reminding the Pharisees that it wasn’t enough to clean the outward appearance of a cup but that they needed to clean the insides as well, so St. Teresa taught that it wasn’t enough to wear the habit of a religious, but one needed to pray, to obey, and to have the heart of a religious.
She was ashamed, not of the Gospel, but of the failure to live the Gospel. She knew, as St. Paul tells us today, that the “righteous will live by faith” and that the faithful will live righteously.
Today we ask her intercession and St. Paul’s that, like them, we may always view the entirety of the Gospel Jesus has announced to us as the truth that will set us free, as the Good News that the world always needs, even if it doesn’t realize it.