Ambiguous and/or non-Catholic sermon topics for this weekend’s readings:
1) “In the first reading, we see the curing of Naaman the Syrian. Jesus later mentions in Luke 4:27 “And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed--only Naaman the Syrian”, and that sends the Jews into a FRENZY of anger and they try to kill Jesus right then and there. In our own day, lots of pharisaical Catholics don’t want to hear that God is working outside the walls of the Catholic Church. They want to keep Christ in and want to keep others out. They want to exclude and judge. “Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” (Matthew 23:13).
RESPONSE: In the Old Testament, God’s Covenant was with a particular people (nation). The people who were upset with Jesus were upset that He was saying that God can also work outside the Jewish nation. Now the New Covenant is open to EVERYone. Any halfway decently catechized Catholic knows that God works outside the walls of the Church as well, but that He desires to draw everyone to the Church even when He works outside it. So those who “lock people out” would only be those who tell other people “you need not worry about becoming Catholic…there’s nothing here for you that you don’t already have outside the Church.” They are the ones locking people out and not entering in themselves.
2) Jesus went to the lepers in the Gospel today, a place where some don’t want him to go. Today there are places where some mean Catholics do not want the Church to be present.
RESPONSE: This is false. Every true Catholic wants the Church to be as present as possible to every person on the planet. That is why men and women, through the centuries, have chosen celibacy and even the missionary life…in order to bring the Gospel to ends of the Earth. That missionary option needs to be encouraged and celebrated.
Also, St. Augustine says about this weekend's Gospel: “The lepers may be taken mystically for those who, having no knowledge of the true faith, profess various erroneous doctrines. .. leprosy is a blemish in color, when true things appear clumsily mixed up with false in a single discourse or narration…It is plainly implied that leprosy is false doctrine which the good teacher may wash away.” Augustine is saying that it is clear that Christ desires to purify and wash away from people false doctrines. Speaking about such false doctrines as if they were something that the Catholic Church should celebrate would be dangerously wrong, in the same way that people would not suggest that a healthy person would benefit from contracting leprosy.
The Church has historically, through missionaries, teachers, etc. never been afraid to go to a place where non-Catholic ideas reside, but always with the goal of bringing people TO the Church, “curing of the leprosy of false teaching” as Augustine suggests.
All of us, in bringing the Gospel to places where it isn't celebrated (workplace, school, larger community, etc.) should show up and say "you all follow false teachings! CONVERT!" But working for the conversion to the Church of all we meet is a call we've been given by God. We ignore and/or demean that call at our peril.
3) “Our second reading says that the “the Word of God is not chained”. Unfortunately, in our own day, many bad Catholics want to chain up the Word of God and keep people from receiving the Good News of the Gospel. Many bad Catholics today want to keep people from the Eucharist because they want priests to be celibate men.”
RESPONSE: A priest is not just a sacramental dispenser, a functionary whose role is only significant because of the sacraments he “produces”. A priest is to be conformed to Christ, and is called to be a type of “alter Christus” to the people. So the priest has value apart from his ability to administer the Sacraments. We don’t go to Mass to see the priest, but the priest’s presence among the people, in his celibacy, continence and chastity, is an important aspect of Catholicism, and celibacy has a long history (when lived)of being a dramatic and effective sign that impresses non-Catholics that the Church is always seeking to invite to a conversion to the Church. People in every age recognize the fact that a person being willing to give up marriage (and sexual expression within marriage) means a person believes, in a more radical way, the things he or she is seeking to offer (in this case, the Truths of Catholicism).
The Catholic priesthood has also been historically understood to be connected to the Old Testament temple priesthood, where God required that the men who would offer sacrifice practice a period of abstaining from sex for several days in preparation to serve at the altar.
Canon 277 also says: “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity.”
I also submit Chesterton: ““It is true that the historic Church has at once emphasized celibacy and emphasized the family; has at once (if one may put it so) been fiercely for having children and fiercely for not having children. It has kept them side by side like two strong colors, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink. It hates that combination of two colors which is the feeble expedient of the philosophers. It hates that evolution of black into white which is tantamount to a dirty gray. In fact, the whole theory of the Church on virginity might be symbolized in the statement that white is a color: not merely the absence of a color. All that I am urging here can be expressed by saying that Christianity sought in most of these cases to keep two colors coexistent but pure.”
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 6
In the past, what has led to an explosion of the Catholic Faith around the world was a consistent call for heroic missionaries. Are we issuing that call anymore?
4) “In the lepers that Jesus visits in today’s Gospel, we see that Faith is present prior to full incorporation into the Church. So we see that non-Catholics and even non-Christian peoples are capable of possessing Faith even prior to evangelization. So we can leave them where they are and not work with urgency to bring them to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith.”
RESPONSE: First of all, it is important to note that the 10 lepers in the Gospel this weekend cry out for Jesus! By name. And that matters. They do not cry out for some other deity. They cry out for Jesus. Theopholus notes: “They do not merely supplicate or entreat Him as if he were a man, but they call Him Master or Lord.”
And secondarily, yes, Catholicism acknowledges that Faith in God can be present even prior to baptism and prior to a participation in the sacraments of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas says it this way: man receives the forgiveness of sins before Baptism in so far as he has Baptism of desire, explicitly or implicitly; and yet when he actually receives Baptism, he receives a fuller remission, as to the remission of the entire punishment. So also before Baptism Cornelius and others like him receive grace and virtues through their faith in Christ and their desire for Baptism, implicit or explicit: but afterwards when baptized, they receive a yet greater fullness of grace and virtues III q. 69 a. 4.
There are specific gifts that Aquinas notes for those who are baptized: 1) incorporation in Christ, 2) enlightenment and 3) fruitfulness. So we should want all to come to the Church and join in the sacramental life of the Church so that they receive these amazing gifts. Again, it is why countless missionaries gave up everything – they went to help incorporate people into the life of the Church; to INVITE (never force. Always invite. Where anything other than invitation to the Church has been used, the Church condemns that OUTRIGHT) them to a new reality altogether, a life as a Son or Daughter of God through baptism, not through continuing to do what they have been doing, nor to live as they had been living. I can’t believe we have to say this, but it is important that a person become Catholic. If we understand Catholicism, we should desire that everyone join us in the Church.
Aquinas also teaches that those who are not baptized will at best enter into purgatory. “Suppose, therefore, a catechumen to have the desire for Baptism (else he could not be said to die in his good works, which cannot be without "faith that worketh by charity"), such a one, were he to die, would not forthwith come to eternal life, but would suffer punishment for his past sins, "but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire" as is stated 1 Corinthians 3:15 (III 68 a. 2 ad. 2).
We cannot be content to let people outside the Church continue to live outside the Church. Again, without force, our hearts should desire completely that all know the Life of Christ in His Church.