Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Joshua 24:1-2a,15-17,18b
Ephesians 5:21-32
John 6:60-69


August 25-26, 2018 Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

This saying is hard; who can accept it?

These words from the Gospel are referring, of course, to what Jesus told his followers in our Gospel last week: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. But they can just as well refer to the words from Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and most unfortunately to the news of recent weeks about Archbishop McCarrick, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and right in our own backyard, the social media posting about St. John's Seminary. What makes each of these hard to accept for me is how hard it is to even know what framework to put them in, so I begin to understand them. I cannot truly accept something I can't understand. I would suggest that today's 3 readings provide a framework that not only leads us from denial to acceptance, in the sense of acknowledging the reality, but also point a way forward in the face of that reality.

Let me start with Paul's writing to the Ephesians. It is often the case that something that is fundamentally essential for sustaining life can at the same time be deadly. Water and fire come to mind. Submitting to another is one of these. I say it is fundamentally essential because we are made in the image of, and called to be the incarnation of a God who has revealed God's self to be fundamentally self emptying. That wonderful hymn from the 2nd chapter of Philippians says it best: Though Christ was in the form of God, he did not consider that something to be grasped at; rather he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave... Paul is pretty explicit at the end of this passage that his words about the marriage relationship is loaded with much deeper symbolism. I would like to go deeper today but let me first remind everyone that Paul starts this passage by saying that husbands and wives should submit to each other. Nothing that he writes is meant to demean anyone or to imply that there is any inequality in the marriage relationship. We can perhaps understand that a little better by flipping his observation that marriage is the symbol or model of how we the Church are to be in relationship to Christ. Let's start with the relationship of Christ and his Church. We are the bride of Christ; he is the bridegroom. It is simply bad theology to think that in submitting to Christ, we as Church are somehow demeaned or devalued or anything other than being raised up into adoption into that loving relationship we call Trinity. But when this idea of submitting gets misused, it is deadly.

In the light of the recent and not so recent news of the failure of some in Church leadership, I hear Paul saying that through the mystery of this marriage relationship that in submitting to her husband, a wife is calling forth in her husband a vocation of leadership but the particular type of leadership that Christ modeled for us. That is a leadership that empties itself, even to the point of death. in service to those in the leader's care. What we have experienced in almost every aspect of all of these news reports is a failure of some Church leaders to live out that vocation. Our role as the baptized is to submit to the proper authority of Church leaders, not as submissive doormats but as prophets who call our leaders to imitate Christ's kingship, and who are not shy about calling them out when they fail. I am sure that many of you share my anger at what has come to light. Don't let anyone tell you that we shouldn't be angry. Anger is an emotiont that God has built into human beings to signal them that something that is so wrong it must be addressed. This is an anger we share with Jesus when he drove out the money changers from the temple. That is the kind of submitting Paul is talking about. So what are we to do about this?

Some of you have read on social media this week the story of a parishioner, a father with a young son about to make his first communion. After listening to the priest talk in his homily this past weekend about the need for reforms to prevent this from ever happening again, this father stood up at the end of the homily and pleaded with the priest, "Tell us how!"

I am not going to tell you how because I don't know the how for you. But like Joshua, I will tell you what I am going to do. I am going to start by remembering why I am here, how I got to be Catholic and why I continue to come here. It is not because of doctrine, or obligation or fear of punishment, or anything that most people would recognize as theoligical or religious. I am here because of a person, Jesus of Nazareth, who just happens to be God, God who emptied himself of being God to be human like me so that in suffering and dying (and of course rising from the dead), I would be able to experience how much and in what way God loves me. But I am not talking about just being here, continuing to come to church and being a "good" Catholic because I can't think of where else I would go. These readings today call me to stay here and re-double my efforts to be part of the body of Christ. To help comfort and support in any way anyone who has been hurt by this clergy abuse scandal or in fact by any of the dozens of other horrible things that we encounter. To somehow move this Church in any way I can towards being something I can only begin to describe by calling to mind a scene from a movie. My understanding of what we are called to be is captured most vividly by the scene from The Green Mile when John Coffey, a man unjustly convicted of being a rapist and murderer, had the power and the willingness to suck the evil out of the warden's wife despite its deleterious effect on himself. May we become the body of Christ who has that power and willingness to suck the pain and suffering out of those who are so terribly wounded and give them some measure of peace, regardless of the pain we incur.

If you choose to walk away because it is too hard to accept being a Catholic, I respect you, I will continue to love you, continue to be your friend, and I will continue to pray for you knowing that there must be great pain in that decision. But for me, and I won't even speak for my household, for me I will try harder to serve the Lord, Jesus the Christ who I have come to believe and am convinced is the Holy One of God, who loves me, and you, to death.

homily index