The Walking Dead

(Homily for Twenty-Second Ordinary Sunday, Year B)

Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness. (C.S. Lewis)

While in Peru, I mentioned to a priest what had happened in the U.S. Episcopal Church: that a man who abandoned his wife and two children for a gay lover was elected bishop. He mulled it over, asked a few questions, then said, “Well, we are in no position to thrown stones, but isn’t there something diabolical about trying to openly justify such behavior?”

In today’s Gospel Jesus confronts a group of sin deniers. Although they criticized others for things like not washing hands before eating and improper care of utensils, they had a way of passing over their own faults. Jesus gives them an examination of conscience:

evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. (Mk 7:21f.)

Jesus called a spade a spade. However, we have a hard time hearing him. Like the Pharisees, we want to equivocate. Unchastity has become “lifestyle.” Deceit, “a few white lies,” or “face saving.” Greed, “retirement planning.” Murder...“reproductive rights,” or “compassion to the terminally ill.” And what Christians once considered the deadliest sin (pride - arrogance) has morphed into “self-esteem.”*

Abraham Lincoln reputedly said that you can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Unfortunately, the easiest person to fool all the time is ones own self. By plain talk Jesus attempts to break the illusion.

Self-deception has enormous consequences. In the case of the Pharisees, it shut them off from Christ, from salvation, from life. They became the walking dead.

Jesus does not ask for a guilt trip, only honesty. The hardest thing any of us can do is admit our own fault. The Catechism describes it this way:

Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart). 1431

For many of us this week marks the beginning of a new year. How about a fresh start in the relationship which matters above all others?


*Concerning pride or self-conceit Lewis wrote, "everyone in the word loathes (it) when he sees it in someone else...hardly any people, except Christians, every imagine that they are guilty (of it) themselves...There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it, the more we dislike it in others." (See "The Great Sin," Mere Christianity) There is of course a laudable self-esteem based upon gratitude and desire to serve. But, how hard for us not to begin comparing ourselves with others!

final version

Versión Castellana

From Archives (Homilies for 22nd Sunday, Year B):

2006: Virtue
2003: The Walking Dead
2000: Facing Ones Own Sins

Bulletin (Hospital & Jail Ministry, School Choice Debate)


Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Faith Helps Foster a Well-Rounded Environmentalism, Says Pope

1633 Letter Resolves the Legend About the Galileo Case, Says Vatican Aide

Pope Pius XII rebuked Nazis, '30s report says (Miami Herald)

Mark Shea on murder of ex-priest John Geoghan:

I feel only sadness at this wasted and ruined life and the many other lives he wounded. May God grant him pardon and peace and may he too be found in the company of the redeemed on the last day. God has made worse sinners into vessels of his glory. May his salvation extend to John Geoghan too.

Meanwhile, the question remains: "Where the heck are the guards who are supposed to keep things like this from happening?"

My opposition to the death penalty is not absolute. Like the Pope, I think that human life should be preserved wherever possible, but that if our prison technology is insufficient to keep murderers from murdering, they should be put to death. I find it difficulty to believe we are incapable of stopping crimes like this, but if we are, then Geoghan's killer should be executed for the safety of the rest of the prison population.

And from Domenico Bettenelli:

You're dead. You win.

Because of a quirk in Massachusetts law, John Geoghan's conviction will be probably voided since he can't be present at his appeal. Fat lot of good that does him. But even so, victims groups are finding something else to be unhappy about.

David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests worried Geoghan's final legacy could have a detrimental effect on abuse victims. "It reinforces the notion that these guys always win," he said. "I worry that will make it harder for some victims report their abuse."
Win?! The guy was strangled by a homicidal maniac in prison. I'd hate to see their definition of losing. Like I've said before, it's one thing to suffer the consequences of someone else's evil actions upon you, but at some point you have stop holding on to the pain and looking for ways to remain unhappy.

Adds Mark Shea:

Exhibit A in the "why unforgiveness is an eternal prison" display. Geoghan is a "winner" only in Clohessy's mind. But the mind can be a very effective prison until the bars are shattered by forgivenness and the abandonment of the demand for the Victimizer to be punished by unforgiveness. Geoghan will, paradoxically, continue to have power over every victim who imitates Clohessy's mindset. Poor souls.

Like I say, Christ's teachings on sex aren't the big scandal for most people. It's his teaching on mercy and forgiveness that really outrages us.

Pictures from Visit to Peru (August 2003)