Homily for February 15

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Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

It’s not even easy to imagine a culture, a society,
in which the sick are expected to go about
announcing themselves, publicly, as “unclean”
and to live outside the heart of the community,
estranged from human companionship.

Such a custom is abhorrent in our eyes today and offensive.
At least as they were practiced in ancient times.

But we’d need only to drop into 
just about any classroom, in any school,
and keep our eyes and ears open for a while
to see the subtle ways in which one group of students
treat another group of students as “unclean.”
subtly or not so subtly, relegating them, the other,
to a place outside the companionship of the majority.

But not just in schools.
The same phenomenon is found in our neighborhoods.
And in offices and factories.  And within extended families.
And in the Church at large.  And in parishes. In this parish.
And on the world scene, how one people, even one faith
regards another as “unclean.”

Although it’s often very subtle, such discrimination makes itself plain
through gossip, in whispered rumors and idle chatter.
Pope Francis constantly speaks about the evil of gossip. 
In his words:
 “Gossip always has a criminal side to it.
There is no such thing as innocent gossip.”
By definition we never gossip about the good things we find in others,
we gossip about what we think is “unclean.”

Such social discrimination
shapes the seating plans in school cafeterias and
determines who’s on the invitation list for adult social gatherings.

It divides working staffs into working camps
defined by jealousy and power struggles and prejudice.

It tears apart families and divides blood relatives
on account of old hurts and grudges and resentments.

It’s the painful wound of impatience and bitterness and rivalry
in the side of the Church and in individual parishes
where we publicly profess to be one in Christ.

It’s the bigotry that breeds hatred and war among peoples
of different races and faiths.

We need look no further than the gospel
to see what Jesus thinks of such behavior.

His very person rendered the leper, knowing himself as unclean,
rendered him unafraid to approach Jesus.
Jesus stretches out his hand and TOUCHES him,
touches the man who bears the scab, the pustule, the blotch of leprosy.
And those standing by would have then judged Jesus to be unclean
for having touched an unclean man.

And yet it’s in the very touching that the man is healed.

Then Jesus sends him to the temple, to the priest –
a sure sign that the one thought unclean is now healed, cleansed,
and to be welcomed back to the heart of the community and its prayer.

If there’s a lesson for us in the scriptures today it comes in two parts.
Part One: each of us needs to recognize the manner
in which any and all of us, even in subtle ways,
ostracize from our company, from our companionship,
from our social circles and, most importantly – from our hearts,
those whom we are called to love.

Part Two: we need to change our hearts, our minds, our behavior
such that those we’ve excluded will sense in us a new welcome.
This may or may not mean we need to forgive someone who has hurt us.
And we must reach out in real ways, as did Jesus with the leper
and touch the lives of others, engage the lives of others,
whom we’ve cut off from our embrace.

As St. Paul wrote to us today, we need to become imitators of Christ.
And in the heart of Jesus there is no room at all for division or exclusion.

We hear these words at the Lord’s Table,
gathered in the shadow of his  arms outstretched for us on the Cross.
No one knows better than the crucified Jesus
the ways in which we have kept him from our company
when we have excluded him by ignoring or excluding our neighbor.

No one knows better than Jesus
what is or has been unclean in my heart and yours.
And yet he loves us. 
And yet he forgives us. 
And yet he invites us to his table
to be nourished with his life, his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

Here he reaches out to you and to me
and intimately touches us,
heals and cleanses us with his grace,
as we consume him in Communion.

May we, indeed, become the love and mercy we eat and drink.

(This song pairs well with today’s scriptures and this homily.)

 Will You Come and Follow Me (The Summons) by The Cathedral Singers and John Bell on Grooveshark

The Summons

Will you come and follow me
If I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know
And never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown
In you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind
If I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind
And never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare
Should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer
In you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see
If I but call your name?
Will you set the pris’ners free
And never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean,
And do such as this unseen,
And admit to what I mean
In you and you in me?

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
If I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside
And never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
To reshape the world around,
Through my sight and touch and sound
In you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true
When you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
And never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
Where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
In you and you in me.

- by John Bell


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