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It’s not news to anyone that the Catholic Church has been the butt of a few jokes in popular society. If all you ever knew of the Church was from popular movies and television shows, your opinion of the Church would not be favorable: we’re up to no good but mostly irrelevant to society.

Naturally, this is a problem. This week on Everyday Liminality, Br. Tito and I discuss how the Church has been portrayed of late, where we might see some bright spots, and what we hope to change about this.

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The following is my homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

I lived in a fraternity once in which things would mysteriously go missing or show up in strange places. The guardian of the house would routinely make announcements at dinner, “Has anyone seen the stapler? It’s not in the mail room.” Or “Why is the paper cutter in the kitchen? Who was using it and what were you doing?” Without exception, no matter what it was, the response was always the same: silence. No one ever seemed to know where things were, who had used them, why they were broken. It was like the objects in our house were like Toy Story characters who came alive when we weren’t looking and hid themselves in strange places.

This, of course is not the case—things do not get up and get lost on their own—people lose them. They forget about them, get distracted, maybe even treat them with negligence.

It may sound like an extremely obvious point to make—you’re sitting here wondering, “Did Fr. Casey just find out that Toy Story isn’t real?”—but I think remembering this fundamentally shapes the way we interpret our Gospel today. So often, when we hear the parables of the lost coin, lost sheep, and lost son, we place ourselves in the position of the thing that is lost. We read them as Jesus telling us that even though we are lost, God will continue to search for us, continue to seek us out. The story is about how we need to return to God with a contrite heart and he will take us back.

And that’s true, for sure. But I’m not sure that that is the really what Jesus is trying to teach here. Because, remember, objects don’t lose themselves. The coin did not jump out of the woman’s bag and run away; no, the woman had to have misplaced it, dropped it somewhere. The sheep probably walked away, but are you really going to blame one of the world’s dumbest animals for getting itself lost? Of course not. The sheep is lost because the shepherd lost track of it, because he didn’t do his job and let it go astray. Even with the lost son: science tells us that the human brain doesn’t fully develop until you’re 25; I know I’m in the presence of the cream of the crop, students who never did anything foolish in high school, or yesterday… but the fact of the matter is that the part of the brain that makes decisions is really impulsive when we’re young. We all have free will, sure, but the story of the lost son could be as much about a father giving a teenager his inheritance and letting him run off to a foreign country.

In all three stories, the active character—the one responsible for the situation—is not the one who is lost, but the one who lost. These stories are not about comforting those who are lost, convincing them to repent and return to God; they’re about demanding that we take responsibility for those we have lost. The coin did not have a change of heart. It didn’t decide, “Oh, I’ve been bad, I should go back.” No, the woman tore her house apart to find it. She changed her life so that she could get it back. The sheep did not all of the sudden think, “I’ve been foolish. Why did I walk away from the pack?” No, the shepherd left the 99, he took a huge risk of losing more, he went out of his way to retrieve it. But the son, you say? He sinned horribly and repented before returning. Yes, but it wouldn’t have mattered to the father. Even before the son could say a word, the father ran to him and hugged him. When he apologizes, the father never even acknowledges it. What matters is not the son’s contrition, but the joy that the father has to have him back. “Who cares why you’re here, I’m just so happy to have you back.”

These parables are not about the lost, but about those who have lost. These parables are not about our relationship before God in our sin, how we go astray, but about how we, as Christians and ministers, are to respond to those whom we have lost, those on the peripheries, those who are not always welcomed.

I’m talking about our friends and family who have left the Church because we failed to evangelize and catechize. Those people who say “I used to be Catholic,” who come to mass on Christmas and Easter, who feel no connection, no welcome, no fulfillment.

I’m talking about those who have been abused by the Church, who trusted us only to find that trust exploited, who have gone through life burdened with pain and suffering at our hands.

I’m talking about our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who feel that they have no place in the Church because so many Catholics have told them that they have no place, who routinely are told that they are not real Christians, that God hates them, that there is something disordered about them.

I’m talking about those those in prisons and in gangs, those who live in destitution and poverty, who know nothing but suffering in their lives, who find themselves cut off from the human family and do not know the love of God.

These are the lost coins, the lost sheep, the lost sons of our world, not us. Our exhortation today is that we must be like our heavenly father who rejoices when one of these are found. That our relationships must not be based on merit—what someone can offer us, what others have earned—but rather on mercy: like the father to the son, “who cares why you’re here! I’m just so happy that you’re here!”

But even more than that, Jesus does not want us to simply wait for them to return, to “hope” that they magically find their way back, as if the coin will just appear on its own. No, what he is telling us today is that if we want to share in the Father’s joy, we must actively go after those who are lost. If we really love our brothers and sisters, if we really care about the state of their souls, the state of their lives, we must be willing to do all that we can to go after them, even if that means being inconvenienced, dropping everything and tearing the house apart. We must be willing to take a risk, to leave what’s comfortable, in order to go after that one sheep. We must be willing to accept that we might be the reason that they left in the first place, that there is something wrong with our home, something we failed to do, and have the humility to change ourselves in order to welcome them back.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: we love with humility, not because of who they are, but because of who we are. It is not about deserving to be in this place. None of us deserve to be here! The problem of the Pharisees, and why these parables were directed to them specifically, is because they could not accept the wideness of God’s mercy. They could not imagine a God who loves sinners, who welcomes outcasts, who goes out of his way and risks his own life for people who do deplorable things. But that is what our God did. He died not just for the good, but for all. He welcomes not just the repentant, but all. He loves us, all of us, so much, that he’s just happy that we’re here.

If we want to be his disciples, we must go and do likewise. No one is outside of God’s love, and so no one should be outside of our care. Go to the lost and forgotten, go to the hurt and abused, go to those tax collectors and prostitutes of our world, and make it your life’s work to welcome them with love.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times: truth without charity is not truth.

Those who follow me on Twitter know that I get my fair share of inappropriate comments and “hate mail.” On a regular basis, I am called names, sent graphic messages, have my priesthood questioned, and witness my family, friends, or brothers attacked. It is discouraging to say the least.

Especially when you consider that 99% of it comes from fellow Christians, the majority from fellow Catholics.

To be honest, these sorts of comments rarely have a personal effect on me. I understand what I’m dealing with online, that there is plenty of anger and mental illness in our world, and so I can usually ignore it fairly easily. I have learned to utilize the “block” and “mute” features of social media quiet liberally…

But that doesn’t mean that I remain entirely unaffected by the constant stream of hatred. While not hurtful personally, I am often distraught by the effect that people’s words can have on others; I look at the comments towards me, said by Christians, as undermining the wonderful work of evangelization happening in our Church. Why would anyone join a Church where its people talk to each other in this way? It saddens me to see that Christians on the internet act no differently from the rest of the world, that they may, in fact, act worse because of their supposed righteous anger.

This is not good. And it needs to stop.

What I have presented here is an open letter to all Christians. I hope that you may share it with anyone you know who acts rudely or violently online, that it may be a wake-up call to all of us: the world is watching. What do they see when Christians speak to one another? What do they think of Christianity?

I tell you, people will rarely remember what you say to them, but they will never forget how you made them feel. If we are to be evangelizers of Jesus Christ, it doesn’t just matter what we say. How we say it is equally important.

Peace and good to you all.

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Have you ever had a friend that you were so close with that you could just say one word and they would laugh? With a common experience, you two could understand each other and find something funny that no one else understood.

Entertainment can be the same way. While some entertainment makes reference to other works of art to speak to its viewer, sometimes, if a work is large enough, it may make reference to itself. Only those who have seen the other episodes, read the other books, or seen the other movies will get what’s going on, making the work a bit of an inside joke between the writers and the consumer.

That’s what Br. Tito and I set out to discuss this week on Everyday Liminality. Looking at three popular works (30 Rock, the Marvel universe, and Arrested Development) we investigated how this is done, what benefits/drawbacks it offers, and how it speaks to our lives.

For previous episodes, click here, and check us out every Tuesday this fall!

 

 

The following is my homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

They say that you should always read the fine print before you sign anything. I… have not always been the best at doing this. Throughout my life, I have often acted impulsively and signed up for something without knowing what I was getting myself involved with.

When I was in second grade, I saw the boy scouts in their uniforms and thought it was so cool. The idea of hiking and camping seemed awesome, and so I signed up, made my parents buy the uniform and everything I needed… until I realized that we wouldn’t be going on an adventure in the rocky mountains every week and that there were many things about being a boy scout I found boring. I quit after three weeks.

When I was a freshman in college I signed up for this sort of “outside the box” series of classes that sounded incredible. It was team taught by the best faculty in the school, used interdisciplinary methods, and was supposed to be this amazing learning experience. Turns out, they were also known as the hardest courses at the school… and you had to take all three to get credit for any of them, so there was no quitting without losing everything. Should have read that pamphlet all the way through…

And then there was that time that I met the Franciscans and was so moved by their lives that I signed up to be a priest only to find out after the fact that they take a vow of chastity and can’t get married. You should have seen my face when I realized that one!  Okay, the last one is a joke, but you get my point. So many times in my life I got involved with things before I knew what I was getting myself into, and as a result, never really committed to what I was doing. Easy in, easy out.

For many people in the world, the Church is the same way. 

I look at all of the kids that have gone through religious education over the years. Their parents signed them up for the classes, they coasted through for a couple of years, and then got a nice party at the end with a pretty communion dress. Without much knowledge of what they were doing, without a strong commitment to what they were signing up for, they became Catholic Christians, they began receiving the sacraments, without knowing much of Christ or his mission.

This was certainly the case for me. I went to class, knew I was a Catholic, but come confirmation, it was basically my graduation. I went to Mass because it was a “good thing to do,” I guess, but I didn’t want to get involved, didn’t want to go to any more classes, didn’t really want to do anything. I considered myself a Christian, but my life wasn’t really any different from any of my other friends. I acted just like others, wanted the same things as them. I was very much a Christian in name, but not in commitment.

Unfortunately, this is the case for many people. I think of friends and family who say that they’re Catholic, consider themselves Christians… but never actually pray, never actually go to Church, change nothing about their lives. They’ve gone through the motions and received the sacraments, they bear the indelible mark of Christ on their souls that they received in baptism, they might even receive Christ in the Eucharist from time to time, but they’re not actually disciples of Christ. They are Christians in name, but not in commitment.

Maybe, to some extent, you’re the same way. You’re here, and that’s awesome. There is obviously something inside you that got you here, you want to be here for this hour, and I applaud you for that.  But what about the other 167 hours of the week? Do you have a relationship with Christ that shapes and defines all that you do?
If you do, awesome! Let it grow. If not… and I know this sounds harsh… but are you really a Christian?

The reason I ask is not because I’m here to judge you, not because I’m here to separate the real Christians from the fake ones. No, I ask simply because I know that Jesus doesn’t want lackluster commitments. He doesn’t want easy signups, partial followers, people who accidentally find themselves involved with something because they forgot to read the fine print. Through a number of parables and sayings in our Gospel today, Jesus reminds his followers that being a Christian is not a part time job. Being a disciple means giving everything to God, making Jesus the most important person in our lives, for whom we’d be willing to do anything. Life for a disciple is not easy… and he wants to make sure that anyone who follows him, everyone who signs up knows ahead of time. Like the king calculating his troops, the builder planning the house, Jesus wants his disciples to take this commitment seriously. Are you sure you know what you’re signing up for? If you follow me, read the fine print: You better be ready to bear your own cross.

This does not simply mean that things will be difficult for us. We use the phrase so much that I think it’s lost its meaning—bearing our cross is nothing more than an inconvenient situation. We get sick? Cross to bear. Have to deal with difficult people? Cross to bear. Have to share Netflix account with my sister and she’s always using it? The worst cross to bear!

No… Following Jesus, bearing our cross, means radically changing our lives. It means aligning our values, our thoughts, our actions, our politics, what we do with our free time, how we spend out money—everything about us—with Jesus Christ. It means, in a world where slavery is the norm, being like Paul writing to Philemon, challenging his friend to act more justly: now that you are a Christian, he says, you cannot treat men as slaves, receive this man as your own brother. It means realizing that the world will not accept us when we side with Jesus, that we will face persecution and hatred because of his name. Like Paul, we may even find ourselves in prison.

No, following Jesus is not an easy task. It is not for the faint of heart. And so Jesus wants to let people know: this is what you’re signing up for, this is what you’re getting yourself involved with. Are you really sure you want to follow?

Here at mass we are given Christ’s very self, the Way, the Truth, and the Life in physical form. We are given all that we could ever want, and MORE. What Jesus is offering us today is something that no one else in the world can offer. But in receiving it, in coming to this table, we do not simply receive something, we make a covenant with the Lord, we sign our names in his blood, accepting all that comes along with it.

You’ve read the fine print, you know what that entails. And so I leave you with this question: Do you just want to be called a Christian, or do you actually want to be one?