Unashamed of the Gospel, like Jesus, Paul, and Ignatius of Antioch, 28th Tuesday (I), October 17, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the 28th Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr
October 17, 2017
Rom 1:16-25, Ps 19, Lk 11:37-41


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted during the homily:

  • “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.
  • 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. One of the great dramas taking place in the Church today, I’m convinced, is about whether we’re ashamed of Jesus’ teaching about the indissolubility of marriage or whether we think it’s part of the truth that sets people free, part of the Gospel that, although hard to live in circumstances, is meant to bring us to God and fill us with joy.
  •  St. Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel 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.”
  • Jesus himself sought to teach us by his own example how not to be ashamed of the Gospel. In the midst of an encounter in which his Pharisaical host wanted to make him feel guilty for not having washed his hands, Jesus used it as an example to teach us about how to cleanse our insides, by giving of ourselves totally to living the Gospel as generously as Jesus did. He says that we become pure on the inside by almsgiving, which means not just giving a quarter to a poor person or a quarter of a million to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, but by giving of ourselves in love to God and others. It means like St. Paul giving ourselves together with the Gospel and not being ashamed of doing either, even if no one else is doing so besides Jesus. The path to purity of heart, to cleaning our insides, is a truly Eucharistic life in which we receive Jesus’ total self-gift and say, in return, this is my body, my blood, my sweat, my flesh given out of love for you.
  • Today we celebrate a saint who was not ashamed of the Gospel either. St. Ignatius of Antioch is one of the greatest human beings who has ever lived. He showed his holy craziness, his confidence in the Gospel as the power of salvation for those who believe in his life as he was describing how he wanted to become pure alms to be given to God and to make up what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. As we read this morning in the breviary from his letter to the Christians in Rome, he said, “No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire.” He wasn’t ashamed to die ignominiously in the eyes of the world for the sake of Christ who had died for him. He was willing to deny himself, pick up his Cross, and follow Christ through death to life. He didn’t fear death in the least, as if life in this world were more important than life in the next. He wrote, “I am writing to all the churches to let it be known that I will gladly die for God if only you do not stand in my way. I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God. … The time for my birth is close at hand. Forgive me, my brothers. Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me stillborn. My desire is to belong to God. Do not, then, hand me back to the world. Do not try to tempt me with material things. Let me attain pure light. Only on my arrival there can I be fully a human being. Give me the privilege of imitating the passion of my God. If you have him in your heart, you will understand what I wish.” He was aware of the draw of the prince of this world and the spirits of disobedience seeking to draw him to deny the Gospel, to deny Christ. “The prince of this world is determined to lay hold of me and to undermine my will which is intent on God. Let none of you here help him; instead show yourselves on my side, which is also God’s side. Do not talk about Jesus Christ as long as you love this world. Do not harbour envious thoughts. And supposing I should see you, if then I should beg you to intervene on my behalf, do not believe what I say. Believe instead what I am now writing to you. For though I am alive as I write to you, still my real desire is to die. My love of this life has been crucified, and there is no yearning in me for any earthly thing. Rather within me is the living water which says deep inside me: ‘Come to the Father.’ I no longer take pleasure in perishable food or in the delights of this world. I want only God’s bread, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, formed of the seed of David, and for drink I crave his blood, which is love that cannot perish. I am no longer willing to live a merely human life. … Pray for me that I may obtain my desire. I have not written to you as a mere man would, but as one who knows the mind of God.” He saw his martyrdom as the time he would become a Christian not just in name but in deed.
  • St. Ignatius drew his strength from the Eucharist. He saw his life, as we just noted, as being ground into wheat so that he could become in Christ pure bread, united and transubstantiated in the Eucharistic sacrifice. He called Jesus in the Eucharist God’s great gift and the medicine of immorality, given for the forgiveness of sins, which makes real and eternal life possible. We don’t need lions to grind us into wheat; we have ordinary life. But all of that is meant to be a preparation for this sacrifice.
  • The devil ultimately wants to make us ashamed of our faith and, as we talked about yesterday, ashamed of the reality of the Eucharist, such that we treat Jesus in the Sacrament of his Love with indifference, irreverence, coldness, sacrilege and the scorn of shame. Jesus wants us to be humbly proud of it, to see it as an incredible gift, to live it as he did and then to share it with others who still worship false gods who cannot save. This is the greatest way in which we, following St. Paul in today’s first reading, may show our boast in God and respond by according the Lord glory as God and giving him thanks. May the Lord strengthen us and the whole Church to be justly proud and grateful for every part of the Good News and give us the courage and love to share it with everyone so that their lives might similarly be filled with the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
ROM 1:16-25

Brothers and sisters:
I am not ashamed of the Gospel.
It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:
for Jew first, and then Greek.
For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith;
as it is written, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.”
The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven
against every impiety and wickedness
of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
For what can be known about God is evident to them,
because God made it evident to them.
Ever since the creation of the world,
his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity
have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.
As a result, they have no excuse;
for although they knew God
they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks.
Instead, they became vain in their reasoning,
and their senseless minds were darkened.
While claiming to be wise, they became fools
and exchanged the glory of the immortal God
for the likeness of an image of mortal man
or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.
Therefore, God handed them over to impurity
through the lusts of their hearts
for the mutual degradation of their bodies.
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie
and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator,
who is blessed forever. Amen.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 19:2-3, 4-5

R. (2a) The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day,
and night to night imparts knowledge.
R. The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.
R. The heavens proclaim the glory of God.

LK 11:37-41

After Jesus had spoken,
a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home.
He entered and reclined at table to eat.
The Pharisee was amazed to see
that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.
The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.”