14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA
Previous Years: 2018
Over the last month, you may have heard on the news about the graves discovered at Canadian residential schools. This alone would be enough to talk about, but now Catholic churches across Canada are being burned in retaliation, so it is even more urgent that we talk about it.
If you do not know what I am talking about, the short summary is that for almost a century the Canadian government enacted a policy of Westernization which removed Native American children from their biological parents and placed them in boarding schools or foster homes so that these children would assimilate into European society. In hindsight, it is best described as a program of cultural genocide, with the intention of having native cultures fade away. The schools that these children were placed in were overseen by different Christian denominations, but the majority of schools were Catholic. I am told that the U.S. may have had similar programs, but I did not research those programs in preparation for this homily, so we will keep our focus on Canada.
For decades, including while these schools were in operation, the Canadian government knew that the mortality rate of students sent to these schools was abnormally high, approaching 25% of all students sent there. Recently, ground penetrating radar was used to find the burial locations of many of these deceased students, and the number of unmarked graves found in the last two months is already climbing above 1000. In addition to the dreadfulness lost cultures, these graves are reminders of the additional horror of many premature, unnecessary childhood deaths.
Because of their distance and history, we cannot say exactly what killed the children in these graves. We know that these residential schools were supposed to be funded by the Canadian government, but they were perpetually underfunded, leading to malnutrition and overcrowding which further made the children particularly susceptible to communicable diseases like smallpox, cholera, and measles. We also know there are stories about abuse at the hands of the school administrators which resulted in student deaths.
Some news organizations are implying that these graves are unmarked because every single one of these children was abused to death and their graves were not marked because the Church was trying to hide her sins. This is incredibly unlikely. The far more likely scenario is that these schools were so underfunded that there was not even enough money even to ship the child’s body home for burial, so they were buried on the campus with a simple wooden cross. Over time wood rots, so these graves, which were once marked simply, are now no longer marked at all. Nevertheless, because of the implication that this is a sign of abuse and coverup, much of the anger in the last month has been directed at the Church, hence the church burnings.
So what do we do when we are confronted with grave sins associated with the Church? Well, we start by naming the sins honestly and openly.
The first sin here is that the Church was complicit in a horrific system of abuse and cultural genocide. Yes, historical standards have changed. Yes, at one time many ethnic communities even desired assimilation for their children. But still, the Church should have known better. For one thing, the example of the North American Martyrs, the first missionaries to the Native Americans on this continent, was one of understanding and respecting the Native cultures, even while challenging those cultures to receive and respond to the Gospel of Jesus. For another thing, and I think this is the most damning, we should have known that the destruction of the natural family is always an evil to be avoided. The Catholic Church has always been extremely pro-family, and much of our activism today is in defense of the family. We should have known that any system that relied on the destruction of the family was to be avoided.
It is possible that every Catholic involved in this system was saintly – that they stepped up to take care of children who were going to be taken from their homes either way – but when the Church’s prophetic voice is silent in the face of such an injustice, something has clearly gone wrong. We should have known better and done better.
Second, not every Catholic at these schools was a saint. Yes, certainly it was a different time and standards of discipline were different. But some of the stories from these schools are truly horrific, about student being kicked down staircases or having electric cattle prods used against them. We should not be surprised that a place of desperation, founded on the destruction of families and made worse by underfunding and abhorrent living conditions, would cause even religious and priests to grow bitter and violent. Sin always creates an ever-increasing cycle of sin.
Finally, the third sin is that even after the schools closed, the Church lacked proper transparency and contrition for the sins committed there, a pattern we have seen in our own country with the sex abuse scandal. The secrecy and the denials compound the psychological damage already done to victims of abuse.
So what do we do with all of this? First, we do apologize. Formal apologies have a place, as they bring public recognition and contrition for something that has previously been denied. If someone was told all their life that their suffering is not real or did not take place, it is important for them to hear publicly that they were right all along. But beyond this, I find most public apologies a fake and inauthentic performance art, demanded by people who have no desire to forgive or reconcile. Personal apologies, however, apologies to people who have actually been abused or hurt, apologies which recognize the pain of someone who is looking for comfort and reconciliation – we can never offer enough of these apologies. This is the kind of apology that Pope Benedict offered in 2009 to a delegation of Canadian First Nations in Rome, and the kind that Pope Francis plans to offer a similar delegation when they visit in December. Should any of us ever hear from someone who has experienced abuse at the hands of the Church, we should not be afraid to apologize to them personally. If we cannot apologize personally, we can at least pray for those who have been abused in the Church.
Second, in response to all of this, we should pray deeply with the words of Saint Paul in our second reading. “That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”
The Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, blessed with the fullness of the Revelations of God. We have been given the power and presence of Christ himself in the sacraments. And yet the Lord has allowed his Church to be populated by sinful and broken men and women. These institutional sins, these abuses against children, these are the thorns in our flesh that keep us from being too elated. The Church is always going to be sinful, and it is always going to be in need of reform. The Lord allows this to happen so that we can realize, over and over and over again, that his grace is sufficient for us and that our power is made perfect in weakness. We do not need our institutions or our reputation. We need Jesus’s grace. We need the humility of confronting our sins to keep us focused on the Gospel and the Gospel alone.
St. Paul continues, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” St. Paul is likely not speaking about a sin, but about a physical deformity, so the analogy is not perfect. I would not say that we should boast of the Church’s many sins. But I would say that we should always we honest and open about our Church’s sins. Because without our sins, we have no need for Christ. Jesus came to save us, and we need to be brutally honest about our personal and institutional need for salvation. If we say we are without sin, we are saying with do not need the Lord. Honesty is good for the victims of abuse, as they are finally recognized, but it is also good for us. Our honesty, and the insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints that come with it, may seem to make us week, but instead it makes us strong. It makes us strong because it refocuses us on the Gospel. It makes us strong because it reminds us of our need for Jesus and finally makes room, again, for him to save us.
Un de los hechos más espantosos que he escuchado en los últimos años es que menos de la mitad de los hispanos en los Estados Unidos son católicos. Menos de la mitad. En los siglos posteriores a la aparición de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, casi la totalidad de América Central y del Sur se hizo católica. Casi todos los hispanos en este país y en todos los demás países provienen de una familia católica. Entonces, ¿por qué tantos abandonan la Iglesia católica tan rápido? ¿Cómo tenemos veintidos mil hispanos en el condado de Whatcom y solo doscientos hispanos en la misa dominical?
Algunos, particularmente esta generación de niños, abandonan la Iglesia por el secularismo. No creen que la religión sea importante, prefieren tener relaciones sexuales fuera del matrimonio y dormir hasta tarde los domingos que escuchar a la Iglesia Católica. Entonces se van, y solo a veces ellos regresan. Pero hablaremos de estos problemas en otro momento.
En cambio, encuentro que los hispanos son increíblemente devotos y orantes. Por lo que puedo decir, la mayoría de los hispanos que abandonan la Iglesia Católica no abandonan la religión por completo. En cambio, nos dejan por los mormones o los testigos de Jehová o los evangélicos o los pentecostales y carismáticos. Se van porque no creen que la Iglesia Católica sea lo suficientemente orante o lo suficientemente emocionante. Se van porque creen que no predico lo suficientemente bien. Se van porque no les gusta nuestra música. Se van porque nunca han tenido una experiencia de Jesús dentro de estos muros.
Pero somos la única Iglesia verdadera de Jesucristo. A diferencia de estas otras iglesias, que fueron creadas por las opiniones de los hombres, nuestra Iglesia se basa en las enseñanzas de los Apóstoles. Tenemos la plenitud de la verdad. Tenemos los sacramentos. Tenemos el único sacerdocio verdadero. Tenemos la presencia de Jesús en la Eucaristía. Tenemos verdadera devoción a la Madre de Dios. Es obvio para todos, incluso para muchas personas que se van, que la Iglesia Católica tiene razón. Pero todavía se alejan y buscan a Jesús en otra parte.
Es por lo que escuchamos hoy en el Evangelio. Jesús llega a Nazaret y comienza a predicar de una manera asombrosa. La gente conoce sus increíbles hazañas. Y, sin embargo, esa gente se ofende con él. Se niegan a aceptar sus obras y su predicación porque creen que lo conocen. Tienen una expectativa de quién se supone que debe basarse en su familia, y no permitirán que Jesús crezca más allá de esa expectativa. Cierran sus corazones a Dios porque no están dispuestos a ver a Jesús de manera diferente.
Por eso la gente deja la Iglesia Católica. Todos y cada uno de nosotros queremos conocer y amar a Jesús. Jesús es increíble y asombroso y aquellos que llegan a conocerlo tienen sus vidas cambiadas por él. Entonces, si alguien está sentado en una Iglesia Católica y no se siente cerca de Jesús, asume que el problema es con la Iglesia. Porque creen que conocen la Iglesia. Piensan que su experiencia personal del catolicismo es la única experiencia del catolicismo.
Pero, ¿alguna vez han considerado que el problema son ellos? ¿Han considerado alguna vez que la Iglesia tiene riquezas infinitas de espiritualidad y poder, pero nunca se han molestado en buscarlas? ¿Han considerado alguna vez que ir a misa una vez al mes no es suficiente? Que nunca se acercarían más a Jesús si seguían haciendo lo que siempre estaban haciendo. ¿Sabes por qué la gente encuentra a Jesús cuando va a otras iglesias? Es porque cuando van a estas otras iglesias, finalmente comienzan a tomar en serio su vida espiritual. Finalmente comienzan a ir a la iglesia todos los fines de semana sin excepción. Finalmente comienzan a orar todas las semanas. Finalmente comienzan a leer las Escrituras. ¡Pero adivina qué! Habrían tenido mejores resultados si hubieran comenzado a hacer esto cuando eran católicos.
Así que pregúntense: ¿están aburridos aquí en Asunción? ¿Sientes que nunca has encontrado a Jesús aquí? Y luego pregúntense: ¿qué estás haciendo al respecto? ¿Vienes a la adoración todos los miércoles? ¿Estás participando en el grupo de oración? ¿Estás aprendiendo sobre tu fe? ¿Vienes a la confesión? ¿Está arreglando su matrimonio y recibiendo la Eucaristía? ¿Vas a abrir la Biblia alguna vez? ¿Estás estudiando la Biblia con otras personas? ¿Estás sirviendo a los pobres y unos a otros? Puede pensar que conoce la Iglesia Católica, pero no es así. No hasta que comiences a vivir como un católico. No hasta que comiences a orar, a recibir los sacramentos, a leer la Biblia, a servir a los demás. Jesús está absolutamente presente aquí. Esta es la Iglesia de Jesucristo. Si crees que no es así, eres como la gente de Nazaret que está ciega a lo que está frente a ellos.
Spanish (Original English Text)
One of the most horrifying statistics I have heard in the last few years is that fewer than half of Hispanics in the United States are Catholic. Fewer than half. In the centuries after the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, almost the entirety of central and south America became Catholic. Almost every single Hispanic in this country and every other country comes from a Catholic family. So why are so many leaving the Catholic Church so quickly? How do we have 22,000 Hispanics in Whatcom County and only 200 Hispanics at Sunday Mass?
Some, particularly this generation of children, leave the Church for secularism. They do not think religion is important, they would rather have sex outside of marriage and sleep in on Sunday than listen to the Catholic Church. So they leave, and only sometimes do they come back. But we will talk about these problems a different time.
Instead, I find Hispanics to be incredibly devout and prayerful. As far as I can tell, most Hispanics who leave the Catholic Church do not leave religion altogether. Instead, they leave us of the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses of for the Evangelicals or for the Pentecostals and Charismatics. They leave because they do not think the Catholic Church is prayerful enough or exciting enough. They leave because they do not think that I preach well enough. They leave because they do not like our music. They leave because they have never had an experience of Jesus inside these walls.
But we are the one true Church of Jesus Christ. Unlike these other Churches, which were created by the opinions of men, our Church is founded on the teachings of the Apostles. We have the fullness of truth. We have the sacraments. We have the only true priesthood. We have the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We have true devotion to the Mother of God. It is obvious to everyone, even to many people who leave, that the Catholic Church is right. But they still walk away and look for Jesus elsewhere.
It is because of what we hear in the Gospel today. Jesus comes into Nazareth and he began to preach in an astounding way. The people there know about his incredible deeds. And yet, those people take offense at him. They refuse to accept his deeds and his preaching because they think that they know him. They have an expectation of who he is supposed to be based on his family, and they will not let Jesus grow beyond that expectation. They close their hearts to God because they are unwilling to see Jesus differently.
This is why people leave the Catholic Church. Every single one of us wants to know and to love Jesus. Jesus is incredible and amazing and those who come to know him have their lives changed by him. So if someone is sitting in a Catholic Church and they do not feel close to Jesus, they assume that the problem is the with the Church. Because they think that they know the Church. They think that their personal experience of Catholicism is the only experience of Catholicism.
But have they ever considered that the problem is them? Have they ever considered that the Church has infinite riches of spirituality and power, but they have never bothered to look for it? Have they ever considered that going to Mass once a month is not enough? That they were never going to get closer to Jesus if they just kept doing what they were always doing. Do you know why people find Jesus when they go to other churches? It is because when they go to these other churches, they finally start to take their spiritual life seriously. They finally start to go to church every weekend without exception. They finally start to pray every week. They finally start to read Scripture. But guess what! They would have had even better results had they just started to do this when they were Catholic.
So ask yourselves: are you bored here at Assumption? Do you feel like you have never found Jesus here? And then ask yourselves: what are you doing about it? Are you coming to adoration every Wednesday? Are you participating in the prayer group? Are you learning about your faith? Are you coming to confession? Are you fixing your marriage and receiving the Eucharist? Are you opening the Bible ever? Are you studying the Bible with other people? Are you serving the poor and each other? You may think you know the Catholic Church, but you do not. Not until you starting living like a Catholic. Not until you start praying, receiving the sacraments, reading the Bible, serving others. Jesus is absolutely present here. This is the Church of Jesus Christ. If you think it is not, you are like the people of Nazareth who are blind to what is in front of them.