HOMILY FOR 23RD SUNDAY O.T. (A) RELATIVISM AND RIGHT AND WRONG
At first glance, it seems that Jesus is being authoritarian in this passage.
He is explaining to His Apostles, the future leaders of the Church, how they should deal with members of the Church who fall into sin and cause scandal to the family of believers. Here Jesus is referring especially to the kind of sin that affects the whole community directly.
He instructs his Apostles not to ignore it, but to do something about it.
- Maybe that's why it sounds so authoritarian to us - we are used to thinking that tolerance, even tolerance of sin, is the highest value.
- But that's not Jesus' perspective.
- He wants His Church to care about tolerance, yes, but He wants it to care even more about truth.
- Sin is real, and it is destructive, both for the person sinning and for the whole community.
- Sin is like a destructive fire that starts in one person's soul.
- If it isn't put out quickly with Christ's mercy, it can destroy that person and spread like a spiritual forest fire through a whole community.
And that's why Jesus instructs His Apostles to do everything possible to bring people back when they stray.
- First they should approach them one-on-one and patiently encourage them to come back to Christ.
- If that doesn't work, they should patiently involve some objective parties in the discussion.
- And only if the scandal continues should there be a public denunciation, in order to make it clear to everyone that the sinful, scandalous behavior is contrary to God's loving plan of salvation - to isolate the fire.
This Gospel passage comes right after Christ's parable of the good shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep in order to seek out the one who has strayed.
Christ is insisting here that all His followers, and especially His ordained ministers, have the same selfless and determined attitude.
In past periods of history, the reality of sin was something everyone was familiar with.
But in our day and age, this basic truth has been eclipsed by a devotion to the false god of relativism.
- Relativism says that there is no objective right and wrong equally valid for everyone.
- Instead, relativism says, the only thing that matters is what each individual feels is right and wrong for him.
- In other words, morality is relative to each person.
This sounds nice, but it is both illogical and impractical.
It is illogical because it contradicts itself.
- The statement "right and wrong is not universal, but personal" is actually a universal statement.
- It is like saying, "It is objectively true that there is no objective truth."
- That makes no logical sense.
But relativism is also impractical - no one actually lives by it, because they can't.
- Imagine a high school teacher who flunked all his blond-haired students, just because they had blond hair, and in his mind that was a sign that they didn't deserve to pass.
- No one would accept that. It is clearly unfair treatment. But a true relativist would have to accept it.
That same illogical logic is at the root of what our society tries to tell us about sins like pre-marital sex, homosexual unions, abortion, and cloning.
- In order to have a reason to justify what many people have strong, personal desires to do, they try to say that there are no universal moral standards - in other words, that there is no such thing as sin.
- But that's like saying there is no such thing as poison - it's a psychological comfort, but it's dangerously wrong.
- Jesus is reminding us today that sin is destructive and real, and that he is the antidote.
Many of us priests and deacons are struggling these days to prepare couples for marriage, because of cohabitation — and sex before marriage. It is intrinsically immoral behavior. It is bad for the couple. And study after study have shown that couples who cohabitate before marriage stand a more than three times rate of divorce than couples who do not. There simply is nothing good that comes from couples. But time and time again, we hear, “yes we know that, but we have decided this is right for us.” Relativism. Its relative to us to do this immoral act, because we think its okay and regardless of the moral truth, we have dismissed it as irrelevant.
There is right and wrong. And wrong is destructive.
This is why we should be grateful, not resentful, when the pope and our bishops remind us about what's right and wrong - as Jesus commands them to do in today's Gospel.
They are protecting us from fashionable ideas not grounded in God's truth, but in human opinions.
But for us to appreciate fully our Church's teaching, we have to do two things.
First, we have to actively listen to it.
- It is not enough for a mature Catholic to listen to the news from any major news outlet, which often hates the Church and more times than not intentionally misleads what the Church teaches.
- That would be like thinking that your dad's barber or business competitor could keep you up to date on your dad's life.
- We need to use better sources and go deeper!
- Reading the Catechism of the Church; knowing your faith; listening to Catholic Radio; watching stuff on the forum.org which is in the bulletin; going to ongoing formation sesssion which our new dean of formation, James Silk will talk to you about at the end of Mass today.
All of this will help you form your conscience better and live a life in concert with the Church and not live a life of relativism.
Second, we have to remember the difference between doctrine and recommendations.
- Church leaders often make excellent recommendations about public policies, like how to improve a public education system.
- Since these are recommendations, Catholics are free to disagree, discuss, and improve them.
- Doctrines, on the other hand, are teachings that flow directly from God's revelation.
- These have to do with things that are always true, regardless of circumstances.
- For example, when the Church consistently teaches for two thousand years that abortion is evil, that is the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking, and no Supreme Court decision can make abortion good.
Same is true of marriage between one man and one woman; same for cohabitation. These moral issues are not open for discussion. We have to be clear about this.
- Things that are included in the universal Catechism are doctrines. And recent popes have been using Encyclical Letters to explain those types of things more fully.
Today, as Jesus renews His commitment to us, let's thank Him for being a good shepherd who wants to save us from the destruction of sin, and let's promise Him that this week we will do our part to be good shepherds too, as well as faithful sheep.