Full text of Bishop Jenky’s homily at the 2013 Erin Feis Mass
Photo Caption: “When we come to Mass, we should always invite others to come with us,” said Bishop Jenky in his Aug. 25 homily on the Peoria riverfront.
In this the 13th year of the 21st Century, our American culture is very obviously a therapeutic culture. We have a therapy for just about every problem there is.
If, God forbid, there is a terrible accident or an act of horrific violence at a grammar school, a high school, a college or a university, we can almost take for granted that it will also be announced that professional counselors will be made available to help the students deal with their shock and pain. And that’s not a bad thing!
If a priest meets with someone suffering from serious depression, severe anxiety, paralyzing grief or an all-consuming anger, that priest will most likely refer that person to a professional counselor. And that’s not a bad thing!
Folks from time to time need professional marriage counseling, parent counseling, conflict resolution counseling, or business mediation counseling. And these and many other programs may be helpful options for folks in trouble.
Of course there is also an almost endless variety of groups to support therapeutic healing. There’s Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sex Addition Anonymous, Shopping Anonymous. There are groups to support adult children of alcoholics, folks with eating disorders, folks who have lost loved ones, folks going through chemotherapy, folks taking care of elderly relatives, folks recovering from abusive relationships, and folks who just went through a divorce. And these, and an almost endless variety of other therapeutic programs, can offer all sorts of help and support. And that’s definitely not a bad thing!
But I will tell you what is a bad thing about the immense scope of our American therapeutic culture and that is it tends to deny the reality of human sin.
Not all of our human problems are the result of a bad diet, a lack of exercise, or not being in touch with our feelings. An endless ocean of human misery, and the cause of terrible suffering for others, is the sheer malice of seeing the good, and then freely choosing the wicked. A sinful popular culture tries to make acceptable, mainstream, and normal what the Bible tells us is always sinful and harmful.
So, as Jesus advises: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” Or as our own Fulton Sheen once said: “The truth is the truth even if everyone says it’s a lie. And a lie is a lie, even if everyone says it’s the truth.
In today’s Holy Gospel according to Luke, folks ask Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” And the Lord Jesus Christ gives a rather challenging reply: “Many will attempt to enter, but will not be strong enough.”
At the end of time at the Last Judgement, some will hear terrifying words of condemnation: “Depart from me all you evil doers. And then there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
The evidence of the Scriptures clearly indicates that Jesus believed in tough love. Jesus demanded repentance from sin. Jesus taught that our temporal choices have eternal consequences. Jesus revealed that there was not only an everlasting heaven, but that there was also an everlasting hell.
Today’s popular liberal Christianity tends to beige all of that away. The God of our liberal therapeutic culture is usually presented as only a rather benign, malleable kind of higher force. This concept of God is almost like a tolerant psychiatrist, who for $400 an hour will patiently listen to absolutely anything we may have to say.
There is no right or wrong, no judgement, and certainly no punishment for deliberate sin. All the challenging and disturbing rough edges revealed in Holy Scriptures are simply ignored or just polished away. A tame, almost domesticated god without any real power or authority is invoked mostly for comfort, and to ritualize our happy and our sad occasions.
It’s nice to have a god rather like Santa Claus, invited to our baptisms and our marriages, our anniversaries and even our funerals.
But the One True God revealed throughout the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is certainly a God both of mercy and of judgement. The Living God demands our obedience and insists that we love and serve him with our hold heart, mind, strength, and soul, and that we love our neighbor as our self.
God’s commandments are not optional. The Law of God is not a suggestion. As the Book of Proverbs teaches: “Do not be wise in your own eyes. Fear the Lord and turn aside from evil. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Sin is always a sham and a lie. Sin promises so much, but delivers so little.
And without any recognition of our sins, there can be no experience of God’s grace. As today’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews teaches: “For whom the Lord loves he disciplines. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed, but healed.”
About now you might be asking youselves why, on a beautiful Sunday morning at Erin Feis is our Bishop ranting and raving about hellfire and damnation as we look out upon all the serene beauty of the Illinois River?
Well the short answer is: I really have no choice.
We do not choose the Scripture readings for our Sundays. The Church chooses them for us, and for our good. In the course of three years of appointed readings, we will hear the whole Gospel, not just words of comfort and joy, but also words of terror and awe.
I, like all priests, was ordained to preach Jesus Christ in season and out of season — not only his kind words, but also his hard sayings. Even his saying that if we do not repent in time, in eternity we may find ourselves locked outside and hear the terrible words of judgement: “I do not know you.”
Dear friends celebrating the Erin Feis, Glorious St. Patrick — the patron saint of Ireland — called his autobiography “Confessions” because all his life long he considered himself to be a penitent, someone in need of mercy and forgiveness, someone still in the lifelong process of conversion.
Knowledge of Christ without any recognition of our need, only leads to loss, just as knowledge of our need, without the experience of Christ, only leads to despair. So in this life we will always need God’s gift of grace to continue our repentance and personal renewal. We are all unfinished saints. We are all sinners, so we should all become penitents. And the good news is that God will forgive us, if only we turn to him.
All our lives long we should all be faithful to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We must regularly confess our sins, do penance, and amend our lives. Even the pope has a regular confessor! Confession is the very best therapy, available anywhere, for whomever is lost and for whatever is broken.
We must also be faithful to the Eucharist. Sin began with an apple — a bad meal, eating forbidden fruit that only made us unhappy. Sin can end by eating a good meal, eating the Bread of Life, that spiritual food that makes us whole and happy both for time and for eternity. And the Mass is the best support group available anywhere, for living in freedom and love.
And we should always be ready to share this Good News. When we come to Mass, we should always invite others to come with us — children and grandchildren, neighbors and friends, even those living on the margins of Christianity.
Christ is the antidote for sin and sadness. Christ is the medicine that cures all ill. Christ brings hope and promise to our darkest moments and places, especially those most in need.
A show of piety may be for those who pretend to fear hell. A true conversion of the heart is for those who in their experience of life have sometimes already been there.
Remember what Jesus taught in today’s Holy Gospel with his words of challenge and with his words of hope: “Many will come from the east and from the west, and from the north and from the south, and recline at table in the Kingdom of God. For behold some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last.”
As St. Augustine once prayed, “Late have I loved you, O beauty ever ancient, ever new. Late have I loved you. You called, you shouted, you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, you dispelled my blindness. I have tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for more.”
Our Great God is always full of surprises. And that’s certainly not a bad thing!
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.