Homilette for Friday, July 31, 2009

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, priest

(Leviticus 23:1.4-11.15-16.27.34b-37; Matthew 13:54-58)

A man once complained that everything he hears in church he has heard before. “Isn’t there something new that the Church can teach?” he asked. This man appears to be like the townspeople of Nazareth who reject Jesus out of too great a familiarity with him.

What of the man’s objections? Does the Church have anything fresh and stimulating to say? We can answer “yes” and “no” to that understandable wish. Yes, the Church reinterprets the gospel anew for every place and time. These days the Church’s message is often that Jesus knows and accepts us as a friend who also calls us to move beyond our felt limitations. Two recent best-selling books, Dinner with a Perfect Stranger and A Day with a Perfect Stranger, indicate the popularity of this message. Forty years ago the Church saw Jesus more as a reformer who could bring about peace in our time. Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World exemplifies this optimistic teaching.

But it would not be disingenuous to answer the man’s query by saying “no,” the Church’s teaching remains the same. And there is good reason for the permanence of the message. As much as humans like to think of themselves as progressing, humanity remains hobbled by the same basic problems. Science and technology have contributed greatly to alleviating the burden of work, but they have not made people morally better. We still think too much of ourselves and too little of others. Rather than give thanks to God, we want to take credit for ourselves. The Church’s message today is the same as Jesus’ two thousand years ago which was little different from the great prophets’ hundreds of years before that. Humans have to reject sin and turn to the Lord!