09.02.18: Will they know we're Christians?

September 2, 2018

Homily from the 5:30 p.m., 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Masses at St. Paul Catholic Church in Valparaiso, Ind.

 

In 1966, Fr. Peter Scholtes was a young associate pastor at St. Brendan’s Parish on the South Side of Chicago. At the time, the Church was undergoing a huge shift – and so was the neighborhood. The community in which the pastor knew every family, suddenly wasn’t, and people of diverse races and creeds were now calling the area home. Gangs began forming. In an effort to bring young people together in a positive, nurturing environment, Fr. Peter decided to use his musical talents and form a youth ensemble. But, as some of you might remember, “church music” in 1966 consisted of “Salve Regina” and “O Sacrament Most Holy.” Not exactly unifying for our Protestant brethren. So Father sat down and within an hour he penned a hymn that would change the way Catholics and so many others sing, and shape an ecclesiological vision for the future.

 

Sing: We are one in the Spirit

We are one in the Lord 
We are one in the Spirit 
We are one in the Lord 
And we pray that all unity 
May one day be restored

 

Invite all: 
And they'll know we are Christians 
By our love by our love 
Yes they'll know we are Christians 
By our love

 

Do they know we are Christians by our love? Or have we fallen into the same trap as the scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel? Have we gotten so hung up on the letter of the law that we don’t remember the spirit of the law? Have we gotten so hung up that we don’t remember how to love?

 

Is our faith like theirs?

Listen to what Jesus says from Isaiah:

This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.

 

The scribes and Pharisees clung so tightly to the law for the same reason you and I

tend to gravitate toward what’s black and white. It’s easier. It’s pretty easy to say we’re on the right track if we have all the boxes checked. But our faith isn’t a faith of checkboxes. It’s the faith of relationship. A relationship with Jesus Christ. And, relationships, if they’re going to mean anything, they’re not going to have very much that’s black and white.

 

There’s going to be a lot of gray. Gray scares us. It forces us to move out of our comfort zone, away from the strictness of the law, out of our brain and into our hearts, where each of us brings our own baggage and our own set of lenses.

How do we become less afraid of the gray? Well, we don’t go it alone.

 

Sing: We will walk with each other 
We will walk hand in hand 
We will walk with each other 
We will walk hand in hand 
And together we'll spread the news 
That God is in our land

 

Invite all: 
And they'll know we are Christians 
By our love by our love 
Yes they'll know we are Christians 
By our love

 

If we truly walk with someone and accompany someone through life’s grayness,

we can’t pass judgement on them. We’re forced to embrace that humility James speaks about in the Second Reading.

 

But we have to remember, when we do fall into those familiar traps, when we do pass judgement on someone else, that’s on us. That’s not on the person we’re judging.

 

Listen to what Jesus has to say to the scribes and Pharisees:

"Hear me, all of you, and understand. 
Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.

 

When we harbor anger, resentment, judgmental thought in our hearts,

we’re not living the life God has called us to. When we fall into those traps we look to separate and divide, just like the scribes and Pharisees, and to our Latin scholars, the words divide and devil have the same root. How do we steer clear of divisiveness?

 

Sing: We will work with each other 
We will work side-by-side 
We will work with each other 
We will work side-by-side 
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity 
And save each one’s pride

 

Invite all: 
And they'll know we are Christians 
By our love by our love 
Yes they'll know we are Christians 
By our love

 

I want to propose a thought. For generations, we operated on the model of behave, believe, belong. If I behave the way the Church asks and believe what the Church tells me to believe, then I’ll belong to the Church.

 

That legalistic model has separated at least two generations from feeling welcomed in the church. What if we flip-turned it upside down?

 

What if we began using belong, believe, behave? What if the first thing we did was make someone feel welcomed, like they belonged? They’d sense that there was something special about you, they’d want to find out what you believe.

And then, what if they embraced that same belief? It would change their life in the most profound of ways. They’d begin living their lives as true disciples.

 

It all starts with leading from the heart. Because what does a truly joyful heart want to do?

 

Sing: All praise to the Father,

From whom all things come

And all praise to Christ Jesus

His only Son

And all praise to the Spirit

Who makes us one

 

Invite all: 
And they'll know we are Christians 
By our love by our love 
Yes they'll know we are Christians 
By our love

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Walk with God." 

Micah 6:8

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The views and opinions expressed on this personal website are those of the author and do not necessilarily reflect those of any affiliated insitution or organization.

© 2015 by Jeff Burton.