NB: This is one of those few instances where I wrote a different homily for the English and Spanish speaking Masses.
This weekend I want to preach on two things. First, I want to preach on the shooting in Las Vegas, because if the entire country is talking about something, the Church should probably have something to say about it, too. Second, I want to preach about abortion, because October is Respect Life month, and for the entire month we have very brave and dedicated people praying in front of the local Planned Parenthood.
But the readings for this Sunday have made this somewhat difficult. There is no obvious pro-life homily hidden in the Word of God this week, related to guns, abortions, or anything else.
Instead, the first reading and the Gospel seem to be about stubbornness. In Isaiah, it is the land itself that is stubborn. The landowner does every single thing he possibly can, and yet the land does not produce good fruit. In the Gospel, the land is producing just fine, but the workers refuse to give the landowner his due, despite numerous reminders and representatives. Jesus is using this parable to accuse the Pharisees of becoming so stuck in their own narrow interpretation of Judaism that they reject and kill all of the representatives of God, including the Messiah himself. The image of vineyard tenants is important for this parable because, as our first reading says, the vineyard of the Lord is the House of Israel. Jesus is acknowledging that the Pharisees have legitimately been entrusted with tending the House of Israel, he is just saying that they have become corrupted in their work.
Stubbornness and corruption. If we are going to talk about political issues, maybe this is exactly the question we should be asking ourselves, because we live in a democratic country, which means that we, like the Pharisees, have legitimately been entrusted with the care of our nation and our society. Of course, this means that we also have to face the challenge of Jesus: are we good stewards, who return to God the fruit that he asks of us, or are we stubborn, wicked stewards who lock God out of his own vineyard?
My friends, I am sorry to say that more and more we appear to be in the second category. We are becoming a group of people who are so attached to our narrow politics that we begin to exclude God entirely. In fact, to be blunt, I believe that one of the most grievous and dangerous trends in the Catholic Church today is that more and more people are choosing their politics over their faith. More and more people would rather hold the party line and ignore their bishops than listen to their bishops and try to change their party. It is getting so bad that we are literally locking Jesus out of his own vineyard, because we are too stubborn to compromise, change, or dialogue.
A major reason for this is what I will call “signal issues”. A signal issue is something that the most active, most zealous, and most involved members of a political party care a lot about, so in order to keep these people zealous, active, and involved, the political parties must continually “signal” their support and loyalty. Abortion, for example, has become such a signal issue for the Democratic Party in the last decade that the national party now refuses to support or fund any pro-life Democratic politicians. To give even an inch, to compromise at all on full and complete access to abortion-on-demand, is seen by the involved and zealous base of that party as an act of betrayal that cannot and will not be tolerated. Same-sex marriage and transgender issues are going that way as well. On the GOP-side, the major signal issues that do not admit of compromise are guns, military spending, and capital punishment.
Let me give you two very concrete examples of how this refusal to compromise plays out:
First, in January of this year a bill was introduced in Olympia to limit the size of gun magazines. At the moment, Washington State does not have a capacity limit on gun magazines, meaning that a person can legally load a semi-automatic weapon with as many bullets as technology will allow (which, in some cases, is dozens and dozens), and empty these bullets at a rate limited only by the speed of the trigger finger. This bill would have limited the capacity to ten rounds, which was considered sufficient for both hunting and self-defense. But this bill died in committee.
Second, last week a bill called the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” passed the US House of Representatives. This bill bans most abortions after 20-weeks’ gestation, because it is at 20-weeks that we are scientifically certain that a fetus can feel the pain of being killed. This bill will be permanently filibustered by the US Senate.
Both of these bills are compromise solutions, trying to find common ground between the status quo and an absolute ban. And yet neither can pass because they are related to signal issues. We have become too extreme and too stubborn in our politics to give even an inch, ever, to compromise, ever, even when there might be broad support outside of the political extremes.
Now, I will admit that some issues do not allow for political compromise. Abortion, for example, cannot be tolerated under any circumstance, because it always ends an innocent human life.
The problem is that we have begun to treat every single issue like abortion, even when these issues allow for debate and compromise in authentic Catholic moral teaching. We would rather humiliate and stonewall our opponents than compromise, even when compromise is possible. And for issues like abortion that do not allow for political compromise, we have started using them as an excuse not to love, dialogue with, or even acknowledge the humanity of our political opponents. Our society is tearing itself apart in front of us, and so many of us just want to stand there and watch it burn, because at least our opponents will burn with it.
In a way, I can forgive our political parties for this extremism, because they are simply reflecting the attitudes of society in general. I find it much harder to forgive us in the Church, who have allowed ourselves to be corrupted by this Satanic, hateful, hellish attitude. We are disciples of Jesus Christ! which means that the first and only thing we should care about is what Jesus wants in this world. When did we decide to sell our souls to cable news or the Huffington Post? When did we decide that it was okay to cut off family members and friends because of political disagreements? When did we decide that we could not build bridges and have conversations with abortion supporters or closed-boarder advocates, even while we deeply disagree with their beliefs? When did we decide that we should lock Jesus out of the vineyard of our politics?
Because do you know what Jesus wants? Jesus wants people to stop dying violent deaths. Jesus wants us to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. Jesus, the King of Love and Prince of Peace, wants us to love him and to love his Church more than we love Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, or Donald Trump. Jesus wants us to lay down our anger, our name-calling, and our grudges so that we can work with any and all people of goodwill to find compromises that achieve a more just and more peaceful society.
Jesus wants us to be his disciples first and political advocates second. Yes, Jesus wants us to work through the political system, to work through our political parties. But, as disciples of Jesus Christ, when the teachings of our Lord and his Church come into conflict with the dogmas of our politics, there should be absolutely no question in our minds which one we will welcome into our vineyards, and which one we will lock outside.
Update: At the request of one of my parishioners, I wrote an addendum on how to have political dialogue.
Este fin de semana, las Misas inglesas están recibiendo una homilía sobre la política, y lo importante que es elegir las enseñanzas de la iglesia sobre las políticas de los partidos políticos. Pero esto no parece ser un problema que plaga a la comunidad hispanohablante tanto, así que decidí que debería predicar a usted acerca de otra cosa. El problema era elegir esta otra cosa.
Me parece muy fácil predicar a la comunidad de ingleses, porque crecí en esa comunidad. Conozco esa comunidad. Sé cómo piensan, qué les afecta, qué problemas enfrentan. Lo mismo no es cierto en la comunidad hispanohablante. Yo no crecí en América Latina, o con padres latinos. No sé lo que es preocuparse constantemente por asuntos de inmigración, o ser un niño que habla un idioma diferente en la escuela que en casa, o el ser el padre de ese niño. No sé lo que es tener familia viviendo en otro país, o ser desgarrado entre dos culturas. Puedo escuchar historias, puedo leer estadísticas, pero siempre seré un observador externo.
Bueno, como un observador externo, me parece que uno de los retos más difíciles que enfrenta esta comunidad es la cuestión de la cultura. Para los que crecieron en México o en otro país, la pregunta es cómo preservar parte de la cultura de la antigua casa, al mismo tiempo que intentan adoptar parte de la cultura del nuevo hogar. Para los niños de inmigrantes, la pregunta es cómo ser un latinoamericano, cómo ser criado en la cultura americana genérica sin perder completamente las raíces familiares. Estas son preguntas difíciles, preguntas que mi familia tuvo que contestar mucho antes de que yo o mis padres nacieran, cuando vinieron de Irlanda y de Inglaterra y de Alemania y de los países bajos.
Afortunadamente, la Iglesia nos da orientación y dirección en estas preguntas, sobre todo aunque nuestra segunda lectura de hoy. San Pablo dice: “aprecien todo lo que es verdadero y noble, cuanto hay de justo y puro, todo lo que es amable y honroso, todo lo que sea virtud y merezca elogio.” En otras palabras, cuando estamos divididos entre dos cosas, o entre dos culturas, debemos determinar lo que es santo y de Dios, y enfocarnos en esas cosas.
La cultura Latina y estadounidense tienen fortalezas y debilidades. ¡Lo que es maravilloso es que los desgarrados entre dos culturas no están en desventaja, son bendecidos! ¡Porque tienen opciones! Y tienen la oportunidad de construir una cultura fuerte, virtuosa y piadosa fuera de la combinación de los dos.
¿Qué bien he observado en la cultura Latina desde que llegué al Skagit Valley? He visto que los latinos son un pueblo de comunidad, que pasan mucho tiempo con sus familias, que van a reuniones vecinales, que están bien simplemente pasar el rato y comer y charlar sin la necesidad de ser constantemente entretenido. He observado que los latinos siempre están dispuestos a ayudar y a dar su tiempo; que si pido voluntarios para un proyecto o un ministerio, la comunidad Latina siempre viene. Cuando los latinos se comprometen a algo, no se comprometen a medias medidas. He estado muy impresionado con cuántos latinos vienen a confesar, y he observado que incluso cuando los latinos se alejan de la iglesia, todavía mantienen un respeto por la fe.
¿Y qué tiene de bueno la cultura estadounidense? La cultura estadounidense cree en la igualdad, que todo debe ser justo, y que todo el mundo debe jugar con las mismas reglas. El respeto de la cultura estadounidense por la ley impide que el nepotismo, la corrupción financiera y otros vicios se vuelvan extensos. La creencia cultural estadounidense en la meritocracia tiene un significado tradicional que todo el mundo obtiene lo que gana. Y, hasta hace muy poco, la cultura estadounidense valoraba la libertad de expresión y religión, incluso protegiendo el habla y las creencias que eran desagradables o diferentes.
Pero ambas culturas también traen maldades. La cultura estadounidense en sus peores preocupaciones sólo acerca de enriquecerse, y comprar cosas nuevas y elegantes. La cultura estadounidense puede parecer fría e impersonal, incluso y especialmente hacia la familia. La cultura estadounidense hoy en día cree demasiado en el placer y la autorrealización, justificando el divorcio generalizado y la promiscuidad porque hacen que la gente se sienta bien.
Y la cultura Latina tiene sus propios problemas, aunque no puedo saber si éstos vienen del viejo país o se desarrollan aquí. Muchos, muchos latinos sólo aparecen en la iglesia cuando es tiempo para el bautismo o la primera comunión, y no educan a sus hijos en la fe. Algunos latinos prefieren saltarse la Misa y confesarlo más tarde que hacer el esfuerzo de ir a Misa en primer lugar; ¡O, peor, podría perder Misa y no confesar en absoluto! Hay muchos latinos que valoran la fiesta sobre el Sacramento, posponiendo bautismos y bodas durante años porque quieren esperar hasta que puedan pagar una gran fiesta. Y, probablemente lo peor de todo, hay muchos hombres latinos que quieren tener el control total sobre sus mujeres, quitando sus teléfonos, su dinero, sus coches, y su libertad por celos y falta de confianza, o simplemente para mostrar su poder.
Amigos míos, de nuevo, ¡La comunidad hispanohablante tiene una gran oportunidad! Puede construir una cultura fuerte, hermosa, vibrante aquí en los Estados Unidos, uno que pone otras culturas y países a la vergüenza. Puede ser un pueblo piadoso, más piadoso que los países de los que vino, y más piadoso que el país que encontró. Pero requiere apertura. Pero esta cultura no se puede construir aferrando sólo al mundo que quedó rezagado, ni adoptando de manera sin crítica todas las prácticas de un nuevo hogar estadounidense.
Mis amigos, para todos nosotros, inmigrante o no, no podemos ser como los viñadores en el Evangelio, que se apegaron tanto a sus comodidades y preferencias que golpearon y mataron a aquellos que se lo quitaban. En lugar de ello, debemos ser abiertos, acogedores en nuestros viñedos lo que es bueno, y mantener fuera lo que es malo, para que podamos presentar a Dios una cosecha deliciosa y abundante.
Español (English Original)
This weekend, the English Masses are getting a homily about politics, and how important it is to choose the teachings of the Church over the policies of political parties. But this does not seem to be a problem that plagues the Spanish speaking community as much, so I decided I should preach to you about something else. The problem was figuring out what that something else should be.
See, I find it very easy to preach to the English-speaking community, because I grew up in that community. I know that community. I know how they think, what affects them, what problems they face. The same is not true of the Spanish-speaking community. I did not grow up in Latin America, or with Latino parents. I do not know what it is like to worry constantly about immigration issues, or to be a kid who speaks a different language at school than at home, or the be the parent of that kid. I do not know what it is like to have family living in another country, or to be torn between two cultures. I can listen to stories, I can read statistics, but I will always be an outside observer.
Well, from the outside, it seems to me that one of the hardest challenge faced by this community is the question of culture. For those who grew up in Mexico or another country, the question is how to preserve some of the culture of the old home, while also trying to adopt some of the culture of the new home. For children of immigrants, the question is how to be a Latino American, how to be raised in generic American culture without completely losing the family roots. These are hard questions, questions that my family had to answer long before I or my parents were born, when they came over from Ireland and England and Germany and the Netherlands.
Thankfully, the Church does give us guidance and direction on these questions, most especially though our second reading today. St. Paul says: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” In other words, when we are torn between two things, or between two cultures, we must determine what is holy and of God, and focus on those things.
Latino and American culture both have strengths and weaknesses. What is wonderful is that those torn between two cultures are not disadvantaged, they are blessed! Because they have options! And they have the opportunity to build a strong, virtuous, godly culture out of the combination of the two.
What good have I observed in Latino culture since I have arrived in the Skagit Valley? I have seen that Latinos are a people of community, who spend much time with their families, who go to neighborhood gatherings, who are okay just hanging out and eating and chatting without the need to be constantly entertained. I have observed that Latinos are always willing to help and give their time; that if I ask for volunteers for a project or a ministry, the Latino community always comes. When Latinos commit to something, they do not commit in half-measures. I have been very impressed with how many Latinos come to Confession, and I have observed that even when Latinos walk away from Church, they still maintain a respect for the faith.
And what is good about American culture? American culture believes in equality, that everything should be fair, and that everyone should play by the same rules. American culture’s respect for the law prevents nepotism, financial corruption, and other vices from becoming wide-spread. The American cultural belief in meritocracy has traditional meant that everyone gets what they earn. And, until very recently, American culture valued free speech and religion, even protecting speech and beliefs that were disagreeable or different.
But both cultures also bring evils with them. American culture at its worst cares only about getting rich, and buying new and fancy things. American culture can seem cold and impersonal, even and especially towards family. American culture today believes too strongly in pleasure and self-fulfillment, justifying widespread divorce and promiscuity because they make people feel good.
And Latino culture has its own problems, though I cannot know whether these come from the old country or are developed here. Many, many Latinos only show up at church when it is time for baptism or first communion, and do not educate their children in the faith. Some Latinos would rather skip Mass and confess it later than make the effort to go to Mass in the first place; or, worse, might miss Mass and not confess it at all! There are many Latinos who value the party over the sacrament, putting off baptisms and weddings for years because they want to wait until they can pay for a huge fiesta. And, maybe worst of all, there are many Latino men who want to have total control over their women, taking away their phones, their money, their cars, and their freedom out of jealously and a lack of trust, or just to show their power.
My friends, I will say it again, the Spanish speaking community has a great opportunity! It can build a strong, beautiful, vibrant culture here in the United States, one that puts other cultures and countries to shame. It can be a godly people, more godly than the countries it came from, and more godly than the country it found. But it requires openness. But this culture cannot be built by clinging only to the world that was left behind, nor adopting uncritically all the practices of a new American home.
My friends, for all of us, immigrant or not, we cannot be like the tenants in the Gospel, who got so attached to their comforts and preferences that they beat and killed those who would take it away from them. Instead, we must be open, welcoming into our vineyards what is good, and keeping out what is bad, so that we can present to God a luscious and bountiful harvest.