Homily -21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

A very compelling homily from Pastor Dick Dahl who stood in for me this past Sunday. Thanks Dick!

Less than a month ago, on July 26, two 19-year-olds burst into a small setting like this, in which an elderly priest, Father Jacques Hamel,  was celebrating Mass with a small group of worshipers. They forced the priest to his knees and slit his throat. They didn’t do this for money. Nor was it in a drunken spree.  They committed this murder to give glory to God.

Of course Father Hamel was only one of many such victims, 84 of whom had been run over and killed by a truck just 12 days earlier further south in Nice, France.

Muslim leaders declared the murders of Father Hamel and those elsewhere as “a pure betrayal of our (Muslim) religion” and that “These heinous crimes violate the tolerant teachings of Islam.”

Yet, Gary Gutting, a professor from Notre Dame University, pointed out in a New York Times opinion piece earlier this month, that there is a danger implicit in any religion that claims to be God’s own truth. He wrote the following:

Both Islam and Christianity claim to be revealed religions, holding that their teachings are truths that God himself has conveyed to us and wants everyone to accept. They were, from the start, missionary religions. A religion charged with bringing God’s truth to the world faces the question of how to deal with people who refuse to accept it. To what extent should it tolerate religious error? At certain points in their histories, both Christianity and Islam have been intolerant of other religions, often of each other, even to the point of extreme violence.

Prof. Gutting went on, “This was not inevitable, but neither was it an accident. The potential for intolerance lies in the logic of religions like Christianity and Islam that say their teachings derive from a divine revelation. For them, the truth that God has revealed is the most important truth there is; therefore, denying or doubting this truth is extremely dangerous, both for nonbelievers, who lack this essential truth, and for believers, who may well be misled by the denials and doubts of nonbelievers. Given these assumptions, it’s easy to conclude that even extreme steps are warranted to eliminate nonbelief.

Today, however, we object that moral considerations should limit one’s opposition to nonbelief. We believe that people have a human right to follow their conscience and worship as they think they should or even not at all.

Here we reach a crux for those who adhere to a revealed religion. They can either accept ordinary human standards of morality as a limit on how they interpret divine teachings, or they can insist on total fidelity to what they see as God’s revelation. They can insist that divine truth utterly exceeds human understanding, which is in no position to judge it. God reveals things to us precisely because they are truths we would never arrive at by our natural lights. When the omniscient God has spoken, we can only obey.

Consequently, religions can be divisive or unifying forces. When they become primarily ideologies, belief systems by which we see ourselves as “right” and others “wrong,” we are inclined to define our identify through people seen as our enemies. For example, Catholics and non-Cath0lics, believers and non-believers, us and them.

Even in our national politics, some believe we should see those who don’t think, look and believe like us as dangerous and that they should be excluded. Others argue that we are stronger together and that our differences enrich us.

Today’s readings, however,  proclaim an astounding vision — not of exclusion but of inclusion: Isaiah prophesied, “I am coming to gather every nation and every language.” Psalm 117 , rejoices, “Praise Yahweh, all nations; extol him all peoples.” Why? Because “his faithful love is strong and his constancy never-ending.”

The reading from Luke’s Gospel goes further, “People from East and West, from North and South will come and sit down at the feast in the Kingdom of God.” This gives a new meaning to the concept of “globalization.” The blasphemy is to put imaginary limits on God’s astounding, all-inclusive and all-embracing love. In doing so one reduces the eternal, the infinite, the unnameable to a mental idol.

If we follow Jesus as our guide, we open ourselves to the Source of  all life in the image of a parent. We see ourselves as part of a universe enveloped in personal Presence, Mystery and Energy beyond our comprehension, inclusive of all. We rely on this parental-like God in the words of today’s Psalm  precisely because, “his faithful love is strong and his constancy never-ending.” Instead of a rigid man-made ideology subject to blind distortion, love is always our guide, the norm by which we know we are guided by the Spirit.