After being called in and prepared in the Introductory Rites, and given a great gift in the Word of God, the congregation now sits for what is ultimately the most interesting—or most excruciating—part of the mass: the homily.

Theologically speaking, the homily is far from the most integral part of the Mass (it may even be omitted for serious reason); surely the reading of Christ’s words and receiving the body of Christ are more essential to the act of worship than what the priest comes up with each week. And yet, survey after survey marks the homily as one of the most important aspects of a good worship experience for church goers, and one of the most common reasons people choose to stop coming to Mass if they’re lackluster. It is something that pope Francis has spoken of multiple times:  our homilies must be more engaging.

It is a shame, frankly, that more people do not hear great homilies on a regular basis because it serves such an important role in the liturgy. In the words of the priest (or deacon), the world of Scripture intersects with our own worlds. It is his duty as the homilist to explain what we have just heard, giving context to the reading, while also showing how the readings are not simply 2000 year old stories but living accounts of God’s work in our world today.

For that is what this entire section of the liturgy is meant to do: to send us out. The homily, Creed, and General Intercessions serve to connect our own personal experience, in our own worlds, to the living Christ. In hearing the homily, actualizing our faith in the here and now, and calling to mind the places in the world that need Christ, we are given an opportunity to take what we’ve heard and put it into practice. While we do not physically leave the church just yet, our focus at this point is outward.

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From the stern and oppressive theology that made everyone afraid of God, to hippie-inspired self-love  homilies that made sin irrelevant, the topic of sin has swung the pendulum back and forth over the past few generations leaving some to wonder, “What is sin?”

Really. I’ve had people ask me questions along these lines on multiple occasions. When we go from talking about it too much to never talking about it at all, people get confused.

It’s no wonder, then, that good and faithful people are looking to strike a balance between God’s law  and God’s mercy, emphasizing forgiveness while also trying to do everything they can not to need it. Sin is a serious problem, and some priests are rightfully preaching in a way to recapture an appropriate aversion to it in our lives. God may be forgiving, but that should not make us any more apt to sin.

I saw one such attempt recently on Twitter, and I thought that it’s intentions were right. At its core was a desire to please God, to inspire people to take their lives seriously, and realize that sin is nothing to mess with. Everything we do should reflect the fact that God is our greatest desire. That tweet? “A friendly reminder that whenever we give into sin we are saying ‘I want this more than God.”

So, yeah. As you can imagine, whenever someone compliments something for having the right intentions… you know that there’s a going to be a “but” to follow. This is no exception. I find this to be a really helpful reminder for certain people in certain situations (namely, those who do not take their lives seriously) but… I also think that it can be problematic, even harmful to others in a different situation (namely, those who are trying their hardest to please God but still struggling to overcome temptation.) Sin is always a turn from the will of God, but it does not necessarily say that we want our sin more than God. Sometimes, we need to remember that our will has been weakened, that our freedom is not perfectly intact, and that, even with our eyes fixed on God, we can make mistakes.

In this video, I do not completely disagree with this fellow evangelist’s words, but I wish to offer some nuance to them. I fear that, taken as it is, in only so many words, this very true and well-intentioned tweet might do harm to people already burdened by sin. To them, I want to offer a simple message: even if you sin, God still loves you. Never forget this.

A number of years back, I was at a parish for mass on Sunday when I heard something that shocked me to the core: the priest, referring to the Holy Spirit, said “she.”

Gasp!

At this point I can’t remember when exactly this was or when I first heard it, but I remember being very confused, even offended by it. Who did this priest think he was? God is not a “she.” He’s just trying to be hip or go with the trends of the world. Stick to the faith father and stop pushing an agenda.

Over the years, I began to hear this more, both by priests within Church and by other faithful Christians in other contexts, and I began to question my feelings on the matter: why does this offend me? I remember someone asking me one time, “You believe that God is neither male nor female, right? God is above gender? Then why does it offend you when we use the analogous language of “she” but not when we use “he”?

Fair question. God is not masculine by nature. God is not an old guy with a beard. God is pure being, completeness, beyond any particulars or potencies. Sure, God is often depicted in Scripture in traditionally masculine terms (most notably as “father” by Jesus), but God is also described in traditionally feminine terms as well. We tend to latch on to one, but not the other.

So, what’s my response today? Am I an advocate for beginning prayer “In the name of the Mother…” or “following her word”? Not necessarily. But I am more conscious of the fact that our language is wildly insufficient. I fear, sometimes, that we forget that we are using an analogy and begin to deify the wrong aspects of God. I fear, sometimes, that the title “Father” has become less of a term of endearment and more of an idol. For what is an idol but making something that is not God into God? If we believe that God is beyond gender, then what does it mean when we insist that God only be referred to through one gender?

Interesting questions for sure, and hopefully something that we can continue to approach with humility in the future!

Last year, Catholicism In Focus asked the question, “How Late Can I Come to Mass?” Officially, there isn’t a rule or an actual cutoff. There are no bouncers at the door. While most people would say that if you made it by the Gospel and Homily, you were good, this has simply never been the case.

But the very fact that most people thought this—and held to this conviction so strongly that they fought with me on social media when I presented this video—shows how engrained this notion was. Why is this significant? Because implicitly, the vast majority of people have been raised to believe that the what maters at Mass is the Eucharist, and everything else is secondary. “Oh, don’t worry, you just missed the first reading. You didn’t miss what really matters…” You might not find someone who actually says these words that bluntly, but the idea is certainly there.

This, quite obviously, is not what the Church wants us to think, and the problem was apparently so bad, that it had to explicitly state the opposite in its Constitution on the Divine Liturgy: “The two parts which, in a certain sense, go to make up the Mass, namely, the liturgy of the word and the eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship. Accordingly this sacred Synod strongly urges pastors of souls that, when instructing the faithful, they insistently teach them to take their part in the entire Mass, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 56.)

The liturgy of the Word is not simply a warm up to what really matters. It is a gift in and of itself. In reading from Scripture, Christ is made truly present. That is pretty incredible, and something that we should take seriously!

A little while ago, I was talking with someone about how the Church cares for the poor, works for justice in our world, and does all that we can to promote peace. I said that we do these things not because we’re “do gooders” or hippies, but because it is our responsibility as Christians.

I forget the context of the conversation, but it was a pretty standard response to whatever was asked, straight from Catholic Social Teaching 101. I will never forget the response:

But why should we care about this world? If we believe in heaven, who cares if people are poor or die? Shouldn’t our only focus be on getting souls into heaven?

Rarely am I caught off guard by a question, but this one certainly got me. I could see what the person was getting at, I could see why they would ask this, but there were just so many problems with that way of thinking that I didn’t know where to start. Luckily I have a good internal filter and regrouped, because my first thought was, “So, are you suggesting that we just mercy kill everyone who has a tough life so that we can ‘send them to heaven?'” That would not have been a pastorally appropriate response.

I can’t remember exactly what I said at the time, but it got me thinking, theologically, how to best answer this question. In this week’s Catholicism In Focus, I offer three reasons why we care about protecting life, and really, the entire physical world:

1. Creation was created by God, it is good in itself, and is a vessel for experiencing God.

2. The human person is more than just a “soul” or spiritual body, but is fundamentally a physical being.

3. Salvation is not simply an other-worldly experience, one completely removed from our reality.

Is this a complete list? By no means. But I think it offers a foundation for a Catholic view of the world that must be behind everything we do. Unless we accept these three points as a basis for our faith, we might struggle to understand much of what we do and why we do it, leading us to ask tragic questions like, “Why should we care about life at all?”