Why Some Do Not Enter

(Homily 28th Sunday, A)

Last Sunday I may have given a false impression, that I want to exclude certain people from the Kingdom. Not at all. As we hear this Sunday, God has prepared a banquet, sent out the invitations and thrown the doors wide open. It's a matter of coming on in. The question is, Why do some fail to enter?

The answer to that question does bring out what I was trying to get at in my last homily. There are people who do not come in because they do not like what God has put on the menu - or what they imagine he has. They demand the right to set the menu themselves. One way we see that today is in wanting the Church to become a Western style democracy. Do not get me wrong. Like most, if not all of you I take it for granted that a democratic political system (one person, one vote) is the best. But democracy would not be the best kind of Church.

Consider what would happen if the Church were to put her teachings up to a vote. It could be, for example, that the majority consider the prohibition of adultery to be outdated or in need of greater nuance. Could we then reduce the Commandments to nine? Hardly. The deepest reality of the Church is not the assembly or the congregation in itself. Most profound is that she is the bride of Christ and her glory is to have a spouse to whom she can totally submit. What she teaches she has received from him - and she has no authority to change those teachings. A teaching which is hard for us as Americans is the all male priesthood. But we should notice that the pope did not say, "I have decided not to ordain women," but simply that the Church has no power to do so.

The Church then is not a democracy in the sense of putting her teachings to a popular vote. However, I wish to point out two different senses in which the Church truly is a democracy. The first is fairly obvious from the fact that you are here this morning. You made a free choice - or at least you knew that if you did not come, Fr. Bloom would not be sending out a police car to pick you up. Nor can I levy a tax. Whatever you place in the Sunday offering, you do freely and I cannot call you in for an audit. Nor can I force you to volunteer altho some of you have said I bended your arm a little bit. The fact is the people in the pew have the ultimate power. A priest, a bishop, even the pope can only administer what you entrust to us. In that sense the Church is a true democracy.

But there is another, much deeper sense. Our democracy includes all those who have ever been part of the Church as well as those alive now. The Holy Spirit not only acts in every living Christian who is in the state of grace, but has acted in all who have ever lived. In expounding Catholic doctrine the pope and bishops must be attentive to present workings of the Spirit, but also to the past. G. K. Chesterton had a colorful expression for this. He called it the "democracy extended through time."* Even tho there are some one billion Catholics alive today, we are a small minority of all who have ever lived. Furthermore, our own understanding of the faith is likely to be distorted by the particular biases of our culture. The only way to correct those distortions is by listening carefully to Christians who lived in situations very different from our own. If you read Church documents - especially the Catechism - you notice they quote abundantly from teachers who lived centuries ago, especially in the years closest to Jesus. This is not antiquarianism. It is what Vatican II calls the sensum fidelium.** Another name for it is deep democracy, that is respecting the lived and expressed faith of every Christian.

We have become so used to government by opinion polls that the idea of taking into account what people believed in the past can seem strange, even reactionary. If you asked American Catholics whether women should be ordained most would say, "sure, why not?" We tend to look at it as just one more civil rights issue. Considering how people believed (and practiced their faith) in the past, as well as other countries today, can help us understand much more is at stake.

At the time of Jesus there were religions with women priests. He had some talented - and wealthy - female disciples. But for the priesthood he did not choose any of them - even his own mother who certainly had the highest spiritual qualifications. His decision did not imply a reduction of dignity or rights for woman. Historically, Christianity has done the most to promote that dignity. But that is another story.

Perhaps I have said too much about a subject beyond our control. However, there is an important spiritual issue at stake: not just our loyalty and integrity as members of Christ's Church. The great danger is envy. Ironically it is one of our big sins today. Even tho we have more material advantages and more opportunities than practically any other society in history, we are constantly drawn into envy. We compare ourselves with other people and become dissatisfied with our lot in life. If only I had what he has; he's got it so easy (remember the parable of the vineyard workers who arrived at different hours).

Back in the seventeenth century St. France of Sales observed that spiritual dissatisfaction. "Those who are are not married, wish they were. And those who are married, wish they were single." He asked where this universal dissatisfaction came from. It is the failure to recognize that the human heart can never filled with what this world offers.

You know what our problem is? It is not that our desires are too great, but they are so small. We are like the child who goes with his parents to finest restaurant in Seattle. The menu has such delicious plates: prime rib, prawns, grilled oysters, salmon. But the child says, "I want a hamburger!" That is the way we are. We cannot imagine what God has to offer us so we fix our attention on second rate stuff. And if God in his mercy deprives us of that, we accuse him of being unfair. But he is not. He has prepared the richest possible banquet for us. Rather than come it, we sit outside guarding our day old, soggy Big Mac - and envying the guy who happens to have some cold fries. All the while we detect the aroma of an abundant banquet. I know you do because in an unguarded moment you revealed your painful secret. But you have to trust me - or rather together we must trust God - and let go of the wretched stuff we keep grasping. You have to trust that inside is everything you need and more than you ever desired even in your most extravagant moments. And do not worry about how you are dressed. Right at the entrance you will see the changing room with festive garments of all sizes.*** No one is excluded - except by stubborn pride. Now is the time to come in.


*"I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. The man who quotes some German historian against the tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy." (See Orthodoxy)

**The holy people of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name.(110) The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,(111) cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples' supernatural discernment in matters of faith when "from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful" (8*) they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God.(112) Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints,(113) penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life. (Lumen Gentium 12)

***The Sacrament of Confession


Other Homilies

From Archives (for Twenty-eighth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Trust No Matter What Week 3
2011: For Many
2005: Taste for God
2002: Reverence During Mass
1999: Why Some Do Not Enter

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

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Fr. Brad's Homilies (well worth listening)

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(September 2011)

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