Discerning what's genuinely human...

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter
(Scriptures for today's liturgy)

Audio for homily

So, Jesus tells us that we’re IN the world,
that he SENDS us into the world,
that he’s not going to ask the Father to take us OUT of the world,
but that we don’t BELONG TO the world.
The only thing he asks
is that the Father keep us from the influence of the evil one.

These words of Jesus remind me of a document from Vatican II.
It’s got a big imposing name,
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,
but its text is beautiful.
Here are the opening words:
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties
of the people of this age,
especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,
are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties
of the followers of Christ.
For nothing genuinely human
fails to raise an echo in their hearts.
“Genuinely human…”

There’s the phrase on which all of this turns
and the key to understanding Jesus sending us into a world
to which we don’t belong.

Our relationship with the world is meant to be one of intimacy
with everything in the world that is genuinely human.
We can be sure that whatever is genuinely human is from God
- not from the evil one.
What is genuinely human belongs to God and thus is God’s gift to us.
Anything less than genuinely human (and certainly anything truly evil)
is not of God and so is out of bounds for Christians.

The task is to discern what is and what isn’t genuinely human
-- and that’s not often easy to do.

Step one in such a discernment is accepting the reality
that not everything we call human is necessarily genuinely so.

Who we are and what we do -- in our humanity --
includes the capacity for great and tragic evil.

Not all human beings act humanely all the time.
We fail. We sin. We do harm to one another and to ourselves.

Remember the words of the poet, Robert Burns:
'Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And Man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, -
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
Not all that is human is genuinely so.

And what is sham, what is false, what is fantasy, what is evil
frequently and cleverly disguises itself and masquerades
as genuinely human.

To discern between what’s true and what’s false,
what’s good and what’s evil,
what’s genuinely human and what is pretense
calls me to include but also to look beyond
my own intelligence, experience and observation
and to seek a wisdom and truth broader and deeper
that any my limited resources might yield.

We need to call on:
history; the scriptures; the wisdom of the ages;
ever-developing knowledge and understanding
of our world and our lives;
the Spirit of God; and the teachings of the Faith.

These are the sources always at hand to help us discern
what is genuinely human among the
joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties
of the people of this or any age.

To presume that I am, in myself, the final arbiter of genuine truth
is to challenge the Creator of the world
and to repeat that sin we call the “original” one,
when a man and a woman in a garden
decided that they knew better than God.

I have no particular concern or application in mind here
for our discerning what’s genuinely human in our experience
beyond the critical importance of recognizing
that sometimes we can be fooled - and that often, we fool ourselves -
when it comes to some very important questions in life.

In Jesus’ own words,
he sends us into the world with a mission for truth
and the truth he speaks of is not one we should foolishly presume
to know or to have.

A week from today we’ll celebrate Pentecost
and the gift of the Holy Spirit
in the world, in the Church and in our own lives.
We very much need the Spirit’s wisdom and counsel
to help us discern the truth
for which Christ has consecrated all of us.

At this altar, Jesus, himself so genuinely human and genuinely divine,
nourishes us in his truth by sharing with us his life in the Eucharist.

May the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties
of the people of our world
especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,
be our joys and hopes, our grief and anxiety as we follow Christ.

May nothing genuinely human fail to echo in our hearts.


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