June 25, 2020
Thursday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time
First Reading: 2 Kings 24:8-17
Responsorial: Psalm 79:1B-2, 3-5, 8, 9
Alleluia: John 14:23
Gospel: Matthew 7:21-29
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus says: “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.” If we look at the lives of the Saints, we will see that they all had ordinary virtues but to an extraordinary degree. Yes, some of them worked miracles and performed other extraordinary feats. But if you looked in the basement, you would see that their foundation was not some esoteric power, but the “ordinary” virtues of faith, hope, and charity available to all in the Christian life.
This is one of the dangers and temptations in priestly and religious life. Because ordained ministers and consecrated religious “represent” the Church in more visible ways, their talents and personalities are on more public display. The danger is that sometimes the talents or personality of a pope, bishop, priest, religious, etc. becomes too much the focus for many people. A cult of the person begins to develop around the man or woman, with concomitant dangers both to the one so revered and to the ones doing the revering. Contra John the Baptist (whom the Church celebrated yesterday), they are not decreasing and so Christ is not increasing.
Genuine holiness is not something that can always be discerned from brief interactions with a person – and very rarely can it be discerned through the distorting lens of television, the internet, and social media. Indeed, not infrequently a person’s public or media image can be the opposite of their real persona. That someone has “charismatic” gifts which might play well in public settings or in the media is no guarantee that the bearer of said gifts is actually holy.
This is why Saint Paul would say in First Corinthians: “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
In measuring ourselves – and in exercising discernment about who to trust as genuine guides in the Christian life – we must look beyond the superficial. Recall what gifts the Holy Spirit promises those who cultivate love for Christ and their neighbors: wisdom, understanding, counsel, piety, knowledge, fortitude, and fear of the Lord. None of these are things that are going to come across in a television interview or social media profile. Rather, these gifts are the essential virtues that all persons of good will, believers or not, should be striving for – holiness is merely the amplification of these by grace to heroic levels.
We’ve seen sadly in the life of the Church that many Christian “superstars” turn out to be false prophets. Those who build their faith around them and not Christ will be like those who built their house on a foundation of sand: “The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”
And if such deceivers and crass manipulators do not themselves repent, they will suffer the fate of those Christ speaks of in the Gospel: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’”
Strive always to follow the perennial teachings of Christ and his Church.
(This is the final homily by Fr. Sina. We wish him well as he moves to St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg.)