The following is a homily for the twenty second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. The readings can be found here.

In 1977, a military dictator rigged the election to become the president of El Salvador. As you can imagine, many people did not take too kindly to this, and so they protested, leading to violence on the part of the government. Peaceful protesters were attacked, went missing, or faced massacres. Eventually, people began fighting back with violence of their own, and by 1979, El Salvador was in the midst of a bloody civil war. From 1979 to 1981 around 30,000 civilians were killed by army death squads of their own government.

Where was the Church in this very Catholic country while all this was happening? Well, silent, at first. The archbishop, Oscar Romero, believed that neither side was entirely free from blame, and thought it best to stay out of politics. He knew that he could not criticize the government like you can here. To speak out against this violence would surely mean getting killed himself, and it just wasn’t worth it.

But then his eyes were opened. A priest friend of his was assassinated. Faithful Catholics, peacefully protesting violence, went missing. He saw atrocities with his own eyes and could no longer remain silent. He began a weekly radio show condemning the violence. Taking the side of the poor and marginalized, he spoke out against the evil that he saw from the government, the violations of human rights being committed in his streets. He preached comfort to the afflicted and affliction the comfortable. Oscar Romero was truly a modern-day prophet: someone who spoke the truth of the Gospel without fear… and he was ultimately killed for it. While celebrating mass in 1980, he was assassinated.

In our Gospel today, we get the first of four predictions of Jesus’ passion in Matthew. He tells the disciples that he is going to Jerusalem, that he will be persecuted by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, that he will be killed and raised on the third day. In one sense, he knows this because he is God. I mean, right? If he’s truly divine, then he has to have a sense of the eternal plan set by the father, that he is going to die for the sins of humanity. God knows all. But I suspect that he knew this on a human level as well, that he just knew it in his bones, an intuition that can’t be questioned. Having studied the prophets, he knew what happened to those who questioned authority. He knew what happened when you went after the rich and powerful. Proclaiming to the masses, “Blessed are the poor” and “woe to the rich,” calling the religious elites hypocrites while dining with sinners and prostitutes… these were not ways to make friends with the rich and powerful. These were ways to get killed. Jesus knew this. Oscar Romero knew this. Jeremiah knew this.

As much as we may say we like prophets, as much as our world needs prophets, there is nothing glamorous about being a prophet. Romero experienced death threats. Jesus suffered his agony in the garden. Jeremiah was ridiculed. In our first reading today he writes, “You duped me Lord.” He is not happy with God. Having preached the word, having told the people to stop acting unjustly, doing just what God asked of him, he is laughed at and mocked. This is not the life anyone wants. And so he says, “I will not mention him. I will speak in his name no more.” He tries to quit God. The pain, the upheaval is too much. Being a prophet has brought nothing but derision.

But he can’t. He just can’t. Speaking about the word of God, he says, “But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” As much pain as he faces, as awful as his life is as a prophet, what choice does he have? He knows that this is the truth whether it’s comfortable or not. The spirit wells up in him and he can’t not decry the injustice he sees. Such is the fate for the prophets. Jeremiah knew he would be mocked. Jesus knew he would suffer. Oscar Romero knew that he would be assassinated eventually. But they kept preaching. When you see the world turning from God, how can you stay silent?

What a question for us all: When we see the world turning from God, how can we stay silent? 

We have this horrible norm in this culture, an unwritten rule in our society, that you never talk about religion or politics in mixed company. It’s just not polite, right? You would never bring up something like, say, abortion among your friends. 50 millions abortions happen worldwide each year, 50 million defenseless human beings are killed each year, but it’s just too controversial a topic to bring up. It’s better to stick to easier topics.

The same goes for racism. Hot button issue these days. Is it “black lives matter” or “all lives matter”? Probably best to avoid it altogether. Otherwise, you might find yourself talking about how redlining districts left African Americans excluded from certain neighborhoods, paying higher interest rates, and forced into bad schools. You might get into a discussion about the prison industrial complex, how people of color are systematically disenfranchised in society, exploited at every level of the criminal justice system and so forced into modern-day slavery, and that, that is surely going to upset some people. Ahmaud Arbery? Breanna Taylor? Jacob Blake? George Floyd? Philando Castille? Eric Garner? Trayvon Martin? Woo. You should probably just forget those names because there is NO chance you could bring them up without people getting angry at you.

I mean, really, the list is a long one of things you want to avoid. The 80 million refugees worldwide fleeing violence. The rising temperature of the earth and our continued overuse of resources. Voter suppression. Predatory lenders. The death penalty. Human trafficking in the porn industry. If you care about your well-being, these are not things that you want to talk about. Taking a stance on these things, devoting your life to ridding the world of them, they could turn your friends against you, cost you your job, bring shame upon your family, maybe even get you killed. If you care about saving your life, then the best thing to do is stay silent and ignore that these things are happening.

There’s just one problem: Jesus says to us today, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it… Take up your cross and follow me.” St. Paul reminds us that if we want to be disciples of Christ, then we must not conform ourselves to this age, but as he says, “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” 

Being a prophet is not a fun existence. Calling out injustice, standing up to the rich and powerful on behalf of the poor and marginalized… that’s not going to lead to a comfortable, happy existence. But I guess I just have to wonder: what other choice do you have? Speaking the truth may bring some discomfort to our lives, but does that mean we’d rather ignore the truth? Hide from it? Deny it?

It’s true that it is not polite to talk about religion or politics in mixed company, but maybe being polite isn’t our highest goal. Maybe what matters more to us than being polite is the life and dignity of the poor, the rights of the disenfranchised, the love of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and maybe, just maybe, these things matter so much to us that we’re willing to stand for them even if it might turn people away from us. Not uncharitably. Not hatefully. But also not worried about disturbing people. Sometimes, when the world likes what is bad, it needs to be disturbed.

Jeremiah thought so. Jesus knew this to be true. Oscar Romero preached it loud and clear on his radio show: “That is what the church wants: to disturb people’s consciences and to provoke a crisis in their lives. A church that does not provoke crisis, a gospel that does not disturb, a word of God that does not rankle, a word of God that does not touch the concrete sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed—what kind of gospel is that? Just nice, pious considerations that bother nobody—that’s the way many people would like our preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny subject so as not to bother anyone or cause conflict and difficulty, shed no light on the reality in which they live.”

Being a prophet is not an easy life. It will most likely bring you hardship. But I ask you: as disciples of Christ, those who know the truth of the Gospel and see the world broken as it is, what other choice do you have? “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it… Take up your cross and follow me.”

Did Catholics Make Up Purgatory?

Purgatory is one of those things that everyone is familiar with but few people actually know what it means. The word purgatory has entered into the popular parlance of western english as a way to describe a painful period of waiting, of a holding cell with no end in sight.

This is not what the word means for Catholics.

Not only is it completely untrue that those in purgatory are unaware of their fate (all people in purgatory are saved), it is entirely untrue that it is a boring or passive place. Purgatory is about purification, not waiting.

In this week’s Catholicism In Focus, I look at the teaching as described by the Catholic Church and see where the theology comes from in the Bible.

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Many literary and cinematic works use the themes of Christianity to make a compelling story. Coming back from the dead. Saving a people. Being the chosen one with greater power and authority to lead than anyone in history. In many ways, Christ-like images are all throughout our entertainment.

But what can we learn from them? Where might we need to be cautious of them? Br. Tito and I discuss a few of our favorites in this week’s episode of Everyday Liminality.

The Flaw with the Abortion Argument

Today I decided to talk about an easy issue that is in no ways controversial or problematic in our world. Okay, maybe not…

Christian Clichés

A few years ago I did a video called 5 Words a Christian Shouldn’t Say in which I suggested that our speech can be lazy sometimes. Maybe even more repugnant than swear words are words that express something contrary to our faith. What we say matters.

Unfortunately, there are many phrases that fit this bill as well. As common and seemingly religious as they are, things like “Jesus take the wheel” doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. When we ask ourselves, “Is this what I actually believe?” the answer is almost always “no.”

And so, in the spirit of that first video, I offer five Christian clichés that we need to eradicate from our everyday speech.

Do I Have to Obey?

One of the biggest problems with theological debates online is that many people fail to understand the concept of the “hierarchy of truths.”

Sometimes it’s a matter of treating everything the Church teaches as equally important. When this is the case, well-meaning Christians will call other Christians heretics because they don’t fast on Fridays or because they have a problem with the Church’s teaching on contraception. While both of these teachings are important, neither of them are dogmatic in nature, meaning that disobedience of either does not result in excommunication or heresy.

Far more commonly seen, unfortunately, is the confusion of the hierarchy, elevating a non-authoritative teaching over dogmatic principles. This is seen when people quote the theological writings of a pope, saint, or prominent theologian as proof of something, forcing people to obey. Maybe it’s even a line from an ecumenical council many years ago. Just because a pope, saint, or theologian writes something, doesn’t mean that it is a binding teaching for all the faithful. We must have an understanding of the difference between private opinions and the ordinary magisterial teaching of the Church, and then within that ordinary teaching, where it all fits together.

Hence, this week’s video. It is by no means a comprehensive work and will need a few more followup videos to even cover all of the basics, but it’s a start: what is the hierarchy of truths? What must a Catholic obey?

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The intricacy of the plan, the thrill of the chase. There’s something so entertaining about “heist” movies. Whether it’s the suave Ocean’s Eleven or the brute The Fast and the Furious, movies about people stealing stuff captivate us from start to finish.

Which… is kind of weird when you think about it, right? Are we not just glamorizing criminals? Br. Tito and I discuss this conundrum in this week’s Everyday Liminality.

The following is a homily for the twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. The readings can be found here.

So… Let’s be honest: today’s Gospel is a challenging one. If you were to meet someone who wasn’t a Christian, who had never heard of Jesus, this would probably not be the first passage you would show them. Unlike the merciful, humble, all-knowing God that we usually know him to be, what we get here appears to be a man who ignores someone in need, calls her a dog, and then all of the sudden changes his mind.

Not exactly a shining moment for Jesus. Not exactly a comfortable passage for us. So what do we make of this?

If you’ll indulge me for a minutes, I’d like to share parallel story that might help understand what’s going on here. In 2005 there was a basketball movie called Coach Carter. Based on a true story, it’s about a successful businessman, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who is asked to come back to coach the high school basketball team where he used to be a star, only the school has taken a horrible turn in 20 years. There’s gang violence and drugs, the players are skipping class and getting suspended. They’re just a disrespectful bunch of teens going nowhere in their lives. On the first day, he lays down the law—you will attend class, you will get good grades, you will act like men and respect each other. One player swears at him, tries to punch him, and ultimately quits the team. He leaves in disgrace.

Here’s where the story starts to parallel our Gospel. A few weeks later, he tries to come back. His life is a mess, he needs help, he just wants to play basketball. He shows up to practice and begs the coach, “What do I have to do to play?” It’s a moment of vulnerability, of humility. He comes to apologize. What does the coach do? He ignores him. “You quit. You’re not welcome here.” But he doesn’t leave. He stays right there, waiting. The coach turns around and says, “Okay. You can get back on the team. But you owe me 2500 pushups and 1000 sprints. Oh, and you have to do it by Friday.” An impossible task. The boy’s face looks sad. But he doesn’t leave. He puts down his bag, takes off his jacket, and starts doing pushups, starts running up and down the court. As the week goes on, he continues to work, and the coach does nothing but belittle him. “Give up. You’ll never make it. You’re embarrassing yourself.” But he doesn’t. He puts himself through pain and humiliation, he continues to work. There is a determination in him that no one has seen before—he is not going to leave until he’s accepted back.

At first, the coach looks like an absolute jerk. How could you treat a high schooler like this? But as we know from this coach, he’s a good man. He’s not doing this out of ego, not because he actually thinks the boy is worthless and will fail, but precisely because he wants to challenge him: show me that you’re serious. Show me what I know you can do, that you can commit yourself to something and work hard. Show me that you’re the man I know you can be. In one sense, the coach is saying, “Prove to me that you’ve changed.”

But it’s more than that. In a more important sense, what he’s saying is, “Prove to yourself that you’ve changed. I know you can do it, but do you know?” Up til now all we’ve seen is a kid messing around with gangs, skipping class, causing fights, quitting when things get hard. He’s afraid. To let him right back on the team might be fine, it’s what he wants, but it doesn’t address the real problem: he lives a destructive life because he doesn’t believe in himself. He’s never actually overcome a challenge—he just runs from them. In ignoring the playing, giving him an impossible task, putting every obstacle in his way, the coach was letting the player see for himself: yeah, I am committed to this. I can work hard. I can believe in myself even when others don’t. This could not have been accomplished by merely letting him back on the team the first time he asked. Sometimes the person we have to convince the most, the one who have to forgive above all, is ourselves. Am I really sorry? Can I do this? Are things going to be different this time around? He’s got to prove it to himself.

But do you know what? There’s even more than that going on here. You see, treating the player like this and forcing him to show his true colors wasn’t just about proving it to the coach or to himself—it was also about proving it to the other players. 

The thing we often forget in these situations is that it’s not just about the person who leaves and comes back, it’s also about those who stayed and followed the rules the whole time. Had the coach just let the player back immediately, without showing his commitment, the other players may not have accepted him, they may have felt slighted, they might have learned that you can do whatever you want because it doesn’t matter.

But he does, and it pays off. You see, as hard as this player worked, Friday came but it wasn’t enough. He was 500 pushups and 80 sprints short. The coach told him he couldn’t play, “please leave the gym.” He starts walking away, but one of the other players calls out, “I’ll do pushups for him. You said we’re a team. If one person struggles, we all struggle. One player triumphs, we all triumph, right?” And so he does pushups. And another does sprints. And then all of the sudden the whole team is working for him, helping him up, welcoming him back to the team. This would not have happened had the coach let him play the first time he asked.

Although seemingly harsh at first, what this coach did was what everyone needed. The player needed to prove to the coach, prove to himself, prove to his teammates that he was for real, that he wasn’t going to desert them this time. And he did. He was tested, but didn’t give up. 

In an odd way (and certainly long-winded way), that is precisely what is on display today in our Gospel.

Remember who the Canaanites were. They were people who lived among the Israelites for centuries, people who rejected the God of Israel, who went to war with them. While the woman herself might be “innocent,” what she represents is a people of infidelity and violence, someone who can’t be trusted. She represents a major enemy to their faith.

And so she asked for help, and Jesus ignores her. She asks again and the disciples tell her to leave. She asks a third time and Jesus insults her. And so we ask again, why does Jesus do this? Because he actually hates her and doesn’t want to help her? Not in the least. 

From the very beginning, from the start of his ministry, we know that Jesus has come first for the people of Israel, but through them he has been sent to save everyone. This is precisely what we see in the first reading from Isaiah. He wants nothing more than for her and all her people to come back, to love God, to be faithful, to be a part of this team. 

But her people have shown time and again that they are not faithful, that they don’t love God. Can he be sure that she’s going to be faithful this time? Just like the coach, he has to test her. He has to get beneath her request and see if she’s really serious. His actions do not show someone who hates a person and then is convinced to love them, it shows a person saying, “I love you and want you back, but I need you to prove to me, prove to yourself, prove to my disciples, that this time will be different. Do you seriously want this? Are you willing to endure some pain? Are you willing to work? Are you willing to be persistent?”

What we see is that the answer is unequivocally “yes.” Just like the basketball player, she doesn’t leave when ignored; she doesn’t cower when judged; she doesn’t run away when challenged. She shows that her faith is the most important thing in the whole world, that she’s willing to do anything to be accepted, to have her daughter healed. 

She proves to Jesus that her hopes for her are real; she proves to herself that her faith is more than words; she proves to the disciples that foreigners can have faith, that they should accept her as one of their own.

Her witness of faith, just like the basketball player’s determination, offers us an example to follow today. How often we go to God in prayer and say, “Lord I love you. Lord I want to follow you. Lord I want your help.” It’s easy to say these words, to go to God when we need something. But how true is that faith? How much do we trust that God hears us? Unfortunately, there are times when we will not hear anything at first. It will seem like God is ignoring us. Will we stay and wait, trusting in God, or will we walk away? There are times when even the Church will get in our way, when disciples of Christ—the bishops, priests like me, your fellow parishioners—will discourage you, act uncharitably towards you. Will we stay and wait, trusting in God, or or will we walk away? Heck, there might even be times when we feel that God is rejecting us, that there is no place for us in the Church. In those times, will we still have faith? Will we stay and wait, trusting in God, or will we walk away?

Today, be like the Canaanite woman. Be like this high school basketball player. Let your faith, your persistence, your love, your entire lives prove to God, prove to yourself, and prove to your brothers and sisters in Christ that what you want more than anything else in life is Jesus Christ.

If you’re interested in watching the scene I described, it can be found here: 

“Treat others the way you want to be treated.” This is the wisdom we learn as kids, and it’s the wisdom of the Bible. Why do something to others if you wouldn’t want the same treatment? It’s a basic building block of morality.

And yet, it’s not without its quarks. As I share in this video, sometimes, when we take the passage too literally, we run the risk of missing the point. Sometimes it might be helpful to remember that not everyone wants to be treat the same way, and that true Christian humility means treating others the way they want to be treated.

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Folks, this may be the best episode of Everyday Liminality that Br. Tito and I have ever produced. I’m not even going to say more. If you haven’t listened yet, check it out, share with a friend, and let us know what you think.

Throughout the middle ages, it was easy to have a rather “isolationist” approach to people of other faiths. They either lived in other countries than most Christians, or in the case of Protestants, didn’t exist yet. When everyone around you is of the same faith, there’s not much you need to do.

But what happens when you live in 21st century America? What do you do when the majority of people around you are not of your same faith? While some in the Church would still prefer to treat them as if they don’t exist and hide in our own bunkers, this is hardly practical, nor is it in our best interest. Relating to people of other faiths not only offers the opportunity for evangelization, it allows us to strengthen our own faith.

In this video, I want to talk about what makes good ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. Rather than focusing on what we have in common, resting in the lowest common denominator of faith, I suggest jumping right into the deep end: focus on the differences. As far as I’m concerned, it’s only when we show who we really are and what we really believe, humbly and respectfully, that coming together in these ways is worth it.