Sunday, July 5, 2015
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
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It is a well known truth that what is right is not always popular. That's why G. K. Chesterton wrote in 1907 in the Illustrated London News, “Right is right even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong even if everybody is wrong about it.” Chesterton has been called the Apostle of Common Sense for his ability to succinctly point out obvious truths to a society largely blind to them.
Anyone with even a modicum of humility knows that he or she can be wrong (sometimes very wrong) about certain things. Just as it is possible for individuals to be wrong, it is also possible for whole societies to be wrong, as well. But misunderstanding the truth of a thing does not make it any less true; it only makes it misunderstood.
The Church reminds us of this reality today in our liturgical readings. In our first reading from Ezekiel 2:2-5, the prophet Ezekiel is told by the Spirit of God to go preach to the Israelites "whether they heed or resist." Their failure to receive the truth does not remove Ezekiel's duty to proclaim it.
In our second reading from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, St. Paul boasts of his weakness, "in order that the power of Christ may dwell with" him. Paul's weakness only underscores the fact that what he preaches is not of himself but of Christ. Anyone who ministers on behalf of Christ, most especially ordained ministers of the Church, know of their solemn duty not to teach their own opinions but to present faithfully the teachings of Christ -- even when, as our gospel reading reminds us -- the teachings of Christ are not popular.
Today's gospel (Mk 6:1-6) has Jesus preaching in His own home town, where rather than listen to His teaching, the people say, "Where did this man get all this? ... Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary?" In other words, Who do you think you are? Why do you think you know any better than us?.
More and more moral teachings that used to be considered common sense are being treated with derision by our society. I mentioned last week that every Protestant denomination once taught that contraception was a moral evil until the Anglican church altered its teaching in 1930. We forget just how much general public opinion has changed on this issue. Society as a whole was so against contraception at the time that the Washington Post ran an editorial warning that the acceptance of it, "if carried into effect, would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality" (March 22, 1931). Today the public sees contraception not only as permissible but as the responsible thing to do.
There is an ongoing shift in public opinion today regarding same-sex marriage. As recently as 2008, President Obama said in an interview with MTV, "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage." Likewise Hillary Clinton, in 2004, proclaimed her belief that marriage is "a sacred bond between a man and a woman." Obvious, both of their positions have changed, as have the opinions of most Americans on this issue.
Public opinion can change for the better. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the owning of one human being by another was considered perfectly acceptable. Today slavery is widely recognized as the moral evil that it is.
So which is right? Which is wrong? Either we, as a society, were right about these issues in the past but are now in error; or we were wrong about this issues in the past and are now correct; or there is no such thing as right or wrong, only shifting "societal norms." Many today take the third stance. But such moral relativism is dangerous, for it subjects us to the tyranny of majority opinion. If good and evil are whatever the majority says they are, then there is no such thing as evil, and no such thing as goodness.
By contrast, the Church understands goodness and truth as things to be discovered, not invented. In this way, morality is like science. Scientific fact does not depend on popular vote. The world is round even if a majority believe it to be flat. The earth revolves around the sun, even if it appears to most people that the sun moves around the earth. Scientific debates are not settled by one side shouting louder than the other, but by correctly understanding the data. A true scientist has no concern for how popular his or her findings may be, but only whether they are true.
The same holds true for the moral law. It is not important whether our moral teachings are popular but whether they are true. Sadly, I have seen Catholics this past week derided by their fellow Catholics for simply adhering to the constant and clear teachings of the Church. I am sure they can identify with Jesus in today's gospel, rejected by His own friends and neighbors. But the most amazing thing about our gospel today is how Jesus did not react. I've read the gospel story several times now, and I don't see Jesus whining or complaining. I don't find where it says Jesus pitched a fit, engaged in self-pity, or derided His neighbors for their intolerance. No. What did Jesus do? The gospel says He cured sick people and laid hands on them. The gospel says the people were offended by Him, and that probably broke His heart. But He loved them and cared for them. Without backing down one iota on the truth of His teaching, Jesus loved them.
May we be humble enough in our own day to follow our Lord's example.