Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: What shall the Church’s response be to the disaster of 2008?

Dedication of St. John Lateran

Sunday, Nov 9 2008

In case this feast is somewhat confusing, let me just say that it has nothing to do with bricks and mortar. It has to do with being the Church.

In the midst of the most divisive political season I have witnessed since the sixties, our Archbishop Jose Gomez spoke out clearly in defense of life in an opinion article in the local secular paper. He said “abortion is an issue that affects all segments of our society. It represents the primary right guaranteed in our Declaration of Independence—the right to life. Unless we protect this fundamental right of each human person, at all stages of life, no other issue or liberty matters.” He went on to defend our right and obligation as Christians to speak out in defense of the good and in opposition to injustice: “society should not insist that people of faith be silent in the face of grave evil. We live in a society that would like to privatize religion, to take it out of the public square. Privatizing religion would be for all people of faith, an unholy compromise. We who profess to believe in God cannot allow him to be banished from the public square.”

Of course, the usual suspects wrote in to give the usual specious arguments attacking what he said. But one man gave us a memorable response in one line, a line that underscores the importance of today’s Scripture and today’s feast. Will Jones responded: “My hat is off to Gomez, and I wish more Protestants held the line as well as he.”

All our Archbishop was doing, however, was writing the truth as it has been proclaimed by the Catholic Church since the first century. And he wasn’t proclaiming some unique Catholic doctrine. He was defending human life from the most vicious assault in human history. This time around, our American bishops weren’t cowering in a corner–they were telling everyone that politicians who fail to defend the most defenseless humans–preborn babies–and who want to use your tax money and mine to murder these children–are not worthy of our vote. And even though the voters just elected the most pro-abortion candidate in U.S. history to the highest office in the land, and even though a majority of self-professed Catholics actually voted for him, they had to ignore the clear voice of the Church standing up for the right of all humans to life, and their own consciences, to do so.

“The Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament–a sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all.” (LG 1) No other institution in the world has endured and thrived for 2,000 years. No other institution has taught the same doctrines–with development, of course–preached the same Gospel, celebrated the same sacraments, and rendered the same service to humanity. And the Church has done this in season and out, under encouragement or persecution by authorities, rich or poor, for two millennia. How has the Church endured under the unity sign of the Bishop of Rome, whose church is the basilica of St. John Lateran? It is one of God’s miracles that shows his enduring love for us. God wants us to be united with Himself, and so wants us to be united with each other. The Church’s first purpose–the Catechism says (775)– is to be the sacrament of the inner union of men with God. And so the Church is also the sacrament of the unity of the human race. Jew and Gentile, man and woman, wealthy or impoverished, American, Italian, Pakistani, Palestinian, black, white, or any other color are all brought together in Christ into one Church. And because we are united by the sacraments, and by faith, hope and charity, we are also a sign and instrument of the full realization of unity yet to come. In the kingdom of God, the prophecy of Ezekiel is fulfilled. The Book of Revelation tells us of the whole redeemed people gathering in the City of God, the New Jerusalem, where there is no night, because the Lamb of God is the light of the city, and there is no hunger, because God Himself provides our nourishment, our energy.

Today’s Gospel has for ages confused many Christians. Why was Jesus so angry with these poor entrepreneurs who were making a shekel by providing an important service to the Temple pilgrims? We have to read all four Gospel accounts of this incident to get the whole picture.

The people of Israel were God’s chosen people, but they had a mission to the world. Their temple was the place of worship, but, as the prophets said, it was to be a place of worship that would attract Jew and Gentile alike. The outer court was called the Court of the Gentiles, of the nations. The merchants in Jesus’s day had set up their businesses there. It was symbolic of the Jewish rejection of their mission of evangelization. They crowded the Greeks and Italians and Indians and everyone else out. Jesus, however, “got it.” The Son of God had seen across the millennia that a New Israel was going to be needed, and He was the seed of the New Israel, which would be the Catholic Church. On the foundation of his resurrected body a new people of God would be created, and it would be truly catholic–that means universal. It would be for all people, all races, all languages. It would be founded on a fulfillment of the Mosaic Law–a law of love. This new Israel, this Catholic Church, would attract others because of its proclamation of the truth, its celebration in beauty of the love of God, especially in the Breaking of the Bread, and its following of Jesus Christ by serving all of humanity.

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