Summary: Our culture is in dire need of the gospel of Christ, but to attract others to Christ, the Truth, we must be good, and our worship must be beautiful.

Fifteenth Sunday in Course

July 11, 2010

Liturgy and Worship Series

Someone was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. On that desolate and baking-hot road, robbers were hiding. They mugged him, beat him, and left him to die. Somebody else went past without helping because the victim had lost his job and couldn’t afford the COBRA premiums. Another snubbed him because he had lost his residency paperwork. A good Catholic happened along and his heart was moved with compassion. He applied first aid and was going to take further care of him when a government official showed up and denied him permission to nurse the victim back to health. It seems that the law forbade any health care provider from giving such assistance unless he offered a full range of what the government calls health care services, including contraception, abortion, and assisted suicide.

First, let me assure you that I know the health care laws–I know that if someone goes to an emergency room for critical care, the health care providers must take care of that victim. Insurance and residency don’t matter. But the rest of the story is uncomfortably close to the facts. It is widely known, even if the media doesn’t want to talk about it, that a huge proportion of health care is provided by Catholic charities, in this city and all over the nation. But even now, before the full impact of health care change takes effect, Catholic institutions are being forced out of medicine because we insist that every human being has the right to life, from conception to natural death. Moreover, Catholic institutions are being forced to stop providing adoption services, because they, in conscience, cannot place children with same-sex couples. It is ironic that, in a real sense, Catholics are being compelled by civil authorities to stop doing the good that we do best–for the children and for the sick.

Last spring, before he was moved to the archdiocese of Los Angeles, Archbishop Gomez wrote a pastoral letter on evangelization. Echoing Pope John Paul, he calls us to dedicate ourselves to the “evangelization of culture.” (19) In so doing, he addresses himself specially to the laity, asking you for “diligent study and planning. . .to identify challenges and find new means to make the mystery of Christ’s salvation understood in our culture today.”

The agenda is not a political platform. It is greater than politics. First, he reminds us to proclaim “the Gospel as liberation, as the truth that sets men and women free from the bondage of sin and death.” In so doing, we “must also be bold and forceful critics of the idols, injustices, and immorality we find in our culture.” We must hold these evils up to the light and ask society and individuals to examine their false “value assumptions, patterns of thought, and lifestyle models.”

Second, he specifies the enemy as an “anti-Gospel” that denies “any special significance or dignity to the human person.” Specially heinous is the denial of the right to life to “the weakest and most vulnerable.” Human beings have infinite dignity from conception to natural death. We must defend that. We must defend the family, and natural marriage, divinely instituted as between “one man and one woman.” And we must resist the pressure to practice our faith in Church on Sunday and keep our mouths shut in the public square. (26)

How do we do this? We are immersed in a culture that glorifies immoral conduct, with TV and movies and Internet stories that teach our young people that healthy relationships always involve fornication. All of us who watch network TV see dozens of people getting beaten and murdered every evening. Men and women are invited to subject themselves to verbal and physical abuse for a cash prize. And we are invited to watch and laugh at this mistreatment? No wonder people look at me strangely when I tell them they have infinite worth!

What is needed, and I doubt I’ll see it flourishing in this lifetime, is the resurgence of a truly Catholic culture–Catholic in the sense of having its roots in the Gospel and catholic in the sense of having universal appeal. And what we have, what we have inherited, does have universal appeal. It is the appeal of the three attributes of the divine–beauty, goodness and truth.

Our task is to create in this parish and diocese a community of beauty, goodness and truth. The goal is Christ–who is the Truth–and widespread acceptance of his Law of Love as taught in the Catechism. But Truth is not immediately appealing, particularly to a generation that has caught the disease of cynicism, that echoes Pilate’s sneering reply to Christ, “what is truth?”

What makes Truth appealing, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, is goodness. If people see how good we are, how well we treat others, how virtuous we act, they will be attracted to that goodness, and then to the truth. That is why, first of all, we must root out in ourselves and in the Church any institutionalized evil, whether it is sexual abuse or financial mismanagement. We must replace these demons, as individuals and as a community, with the virtues we find in Jesus and Mary.

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