Saturday, March 9, 2013

HOMILY – 4th Sunday in Lent (Year C)

In today’s second reading, St. Paul urges the Corinthians to be reconciled to God. Father Kavanagh made this same appeal this past Thursday to our RCIA candidates who will soon make their First Reconciliation, as they prepare to enter the Church this Easter vigil. Father also urged our candidates as they approach this Sacrament, and as St. Paul did the church in Corinth, to be ambassadors for Christ. Father urged them to speak favorably of the Sacrament and for them to invite others to experience the joy and peace that comes in receiving God’s forgiveness and mercy in this Sacrament. So, echoing both Father and St. Paul, I invite you to be reconciled to God this Lent by experiencing the Sacrament of Reconciliation – whether at our Penance Service tomorrow/this evening, or at another parish – AND to be an ambassador for the Sacrament by speaking favorably of it with your spouse, your children, and friends. In this Year of Faith, I urge you to not only be ambassadors for Christ present in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but also for Christ present in the Church. I think that one of the biggest challenges we have has as Catholics is to be not only an ambassador for Christ, but to also be an ambassador for the body of Christ - the Catholic Church. Many people call themselves Catholic and work hard to be Christ-like, and are even willing and able to share their faith in Jesus. But some believe that they don’t need the Church, or they dislike and are suspicious of the Church, or worse, they reject the Church. The author Dr. Christopher Kaczor, in his book The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church, argues that there is a deep unity between Jesus and his body, the Church, and that we need both – Jesus and his Church - to obtain the fullness of the Father’s love, mercy, peace and joy. Dr. Kaczor states that the way to God is through Christ and his Church, but it is sometimes blocked by various misunderstandings people have about what the Church believes and does. And so, his book sets out to examine and clarify seven of the most controversial and common myths about the Catholic Church – thus the full title: The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church, Distinguishing Fact from Fiction about Catholicism. Over the next several months of this Year of Faith – God and pastor willing - I hope to use my homilies and the readings for those Sundays to tackle each of the myths presented by Dr. Kaczor. In doing so, I hope to debunk myths or misunderstandings you and admittedly I at times may have about our Church, while at the same time empowering us with the knowledge and love of our Church to be ambassadors for the Church in our homes, places of work and really everywhere. The first myth is that the “Church opposes Science.” The argument for this position goes something like this: one must choose to be a person of learning, science, and reason, or choose to embrace religion, dogma, and faith alone. The argument continues that the Church opposes science, that it does not sponsor or support scientific research, and it has an explicit distrust of reason in general and scientific reasoning in particular. The short answer is that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, as a Church we pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, knowledge – and that these gifts will be working in each of us to know God’s will and love in our life. And more specific to the anti-science claims, Dr. Kaczor details in his book that Catholics are numbered among the most important scientists of all time - many of whom were and are clergy and religious - and the Catholic Church, as an institution, has a long history of funding and supporting scientific research and instruction. Dr. Kaczor goes on to address several reasons why this myth persists today, such as erroneous perception that the Church holds a very literal interpretation of the Biblical accounts of creation and Adam and Eve, that science can not support the miracles performed by Jesus in the Gospels, the Galileo controversy – when the teaching role of the Church collided with science, and finally the Church’s opposition to stem cell research that involves the intentionally killing of human embryos. I will leave a discussion of these reasons to Dr. Kaczor and get to the heart of the matter. The real tension is between faith and reason – that is, between believing in a God who is beyond our human understanding AND believing only in what you can experience with your senses or prove by scientific methods. Our culture often pits faith against reason – that the more faith-filled you are, the less reasonable you are. Some go as far as to hold that the two can never be combine or reconciled. Rather than choosing between faith and reason, the Church invites us to harmonize our faith and reason. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI calls for us to have a reasonable faith and a faithful reason. I also like the words of St. Augustine: “I believe in order to understand, and I understand, to better believe.” Our goal is to bring both faith and reason into a more fruitful collaboration. Faith and reason working together, for example, help us to begin to understand our Loving creator who made us, made us in his image and likeness, made us good, and at the same time creates all that is visible and invisible in such a way that we can begin to understand using reason and science. Reason in fruitful collaboration with faith also help us to answer some of the most important questions facing mankind: What should I do? Whom should I love? Why do I suffer? Reason and science help to begin to know what is happening. Faith helps to give us understanding, meaning and purpose. In today’s Gospel story of the Prodigal Son, the primary point is the father’s love and mercy for each of his son’s that mirrors the even greater love and mercy that God, our Father in Heaven, has for each one of us! But it is the bothers’ thoughts and actions that illustrate well the Church’s teaching on faith and reason. Both brothers are not lacking in their use of their reasoning skills – both use logic and critical thinking to assess their situations, however, one stopped there, while the other also had faith. The younger brother coming to his senses is aware of how horrible his situation is and objectively and critically knows that he would be would be better off returning to his father. It is his faith in something more and greater than what he can sense, which moves him to action. It is his trust and hope in a loving and merciful father that gives him the courage and humility to return home. And his reward? A great celebration filled with forgiveness, joy and peace! The older brother also using his senses and critical thinking assesses his situation, but he did not have the same hope and trust in his loving father. And, so he would have been shocked to hear his father say: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” With reason alone he could never know that he was part of something greater or that joy and peace that follows. Like the younger son, even if it takes a lifetime or much trial and tribulation, we need both faith and reason to truly know the love God has for us. My friends, we are called to be ambassadors for Christ and his Church. A Church that does NOT oppose reason and science. Rather a Church that embraces the use of science and reason to help us to know God’s will for us and to experience His love and mercy. May you know and have faith in our God.