Saturday, August 16, 2014
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus and the apostles are found in the region of Tyre and Sidon. This territory is now part of modern day Lebanon and was outside of the boundaries of Galilee. This place offered Jesus a place where he could spend time training his disciples – outside of Herod’s reach. And Scripture scholars say that Jesus ventured into this territory just for this purpose and to escape persecution from Herod and from the Jewish authorities.
It is perhaps fitting that, in addition to observing the 100th anniversary of the entry into eternal life of Pope St. Pius X, patron of this parish, we also join Pope Francis in praying for peace in the war-torn countries of the Near and Middle East. In these lands today we witness a fierce persecution of Christian minorities, of Christians whose roots in the region date back before the origins of Islam. In the Gospel reading, we hear of the extraordinary faith of the Canaanite woman, a faith we see reflected in the Christians of Iraq who are facing torture and death because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
In the Canaanite woman of today’s Gospel – and of those Christians today of modern day Tyre and Sidon, of Syria and Lebanon, of Palestine and Iraq – we see a witness that should rouse us from our complacencies and our easy compromises with the demands of Christian life.
Indeed, the qualities of the Canaanite woman that won Jesus’ admiration and the granting of her petition are qualities that we too should strive to emulate. And what were these qualities? Faith, of course; but also, trust, perseverance and humility.
The dialog between her and Jesus is quite striking: By appearing to be harsh, Jesus so strengthens her faith that she deserves great praise. And so, as you begin, pray for those qualities exhibited by the Canaanite woman: faith, trust, perseverance and humility.
Pope Francis calls us to grow in that same faith, trust, perseverance and humility. In this, he is no different than those who preceded him in the chair of St. Peter. It is through faith, trust, perseverance and humility we can come to experience the joy of the Gospel, a joy that even trial and difficulty cannot rob us of.
Pope Pius X, who served at the beginning of the 20th Century, began his pontificate under the motto of “Restoring all things to Christ.” He is remembered for his resolute condemnation of the heresy of modernism but also for his allowing children as young as seven to take holy Communion. There was no question his zeal for souls.
In fact, one can fine many parallels between his inaugural encyclical, E Supremi, and Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium. Like Pope St. Pius X, Francis is concerned with the Gospel not being presented as an oppressive list of “don’ts” but rather as it truly is: good news, a wonderful invitation to mankind to find in Jesus Christ the true vision of life and the path to true freedom. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis criticizes the “sourpusses” that are too often found in the Church. And in E Supremi Pius X wrote: “that Christ may be formed in all, be it remembered that no means is more efficacious than charity.” He adds, “…it is vain to hope to attract souls to God by a bitter zeal. On the contrary, harm is done more often than good by taunting men harshly with their faults, and reproving their vices with asperity.”
Following the example of Christ himself, we must love the sinner even while we hate the sin. Both popes are telling us that we will not be successful in converting those enslaved to sin and blinded by error unless we first love them. Such was the pedagogy of Christ himself who came to call sinners. He called them to conversion, of course; but with great gentleness and compassion – a compassion that Jesus showed the Canaanite woman in curing her daughter.
Faith, trust, perseverance, and humility: these are the qualities that lead us to discover the joy of the Gospel; these are the qualities that enable us to understand that to follow Jesus is not a burden but a gift, a gift to be shared with others. And the popes are right: sourpusses filled with a bitter zeal will attract no one to encounter Jesus Christ in his Church.
Of course, today in America, we are seemingly surrounded by sourpusses, filled with bitter zeal. Just listen to commentators of both the right and the left on radio and TV talk shows. Our political discourse is increasingly filled with shrill polemics that generate much heat but little light. And too often that style of discourse in found in the Church – with people promoting their own agendas with a bitter zeal that turns them into sourpusses.
Now while such divisive partisanship is perhaps the way of the world, it cannot be the way of the Church, for the way of the Church must be, as St. Paul told the contentious Corinthians, a “more excellent way,” the way of love (cf. 1 Cor 12: 31- 13: 13). A “bitter zeal,” rather than witnessing to the Truth, will undermine it. And instead of restoring all things to Christ who prayed that all his followers be one, bitter zeal will fracture the unity of his Body, the Church. Indeed, the cause of so many ruptures in the Body of Christ that resulted in schisms over the course of history can be traced to such “bitter zeal” among those who fancied themselves as “reformers”.
A Church that embraces sinners will always be in need of reform. And many of the problems we face: the decline in Mass attendance, the crisis in vocations including the vocation to the married life, the ignoring of Church teachings on matters of morality, the “religious illiteracy” among many of the faithful, not to mention the sexual abuse crisis of recent years, all underscore the need for what Pope St. John Paul II called “a new evangelization.” St. Pius X wrote: “...it is not priests alone, but all the faithful without exception, who must concern themselves with the interests of God and souls – not, of course, according to their own views, but always under the direction and orders of the bishops.” However, without this direction from the bishops “who preside in charity,” those who insist on “their own views” can easily become consumed with a bitter zeal. And no true reform or revitalization of Church life has ever been the fruit of a bitter zeal.
If we want to enhance the vitality of the Church here in this country in the midst of growing cultural hostility, all of us should take as our role model that Canaanite woman and her example of faith, trust, perseverance and humility. And let us pray with that same faith, trust, perseverance and humility for our brothers and sisters in Christ who today are so beleaguered in the Near and Middle East.