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Bishop's Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

September 4, 2022

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu]

Did you know that some people consider the Catholic Church a hate group?  Did you know that there has been an alarming increase in vandalism against Catholic churches in the past several years?  One of our priests recently mentioned that he had attended a classmate’s ordination at the Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, and that after Mass people were shocked to find that the windshield of every car parked near the Cathedral was smashed.  Were you aware that one author of a popular national magazine recently dubbed the rosary a dangerous weapon?

While we lament all of these seriously flawed judgements of the Catholic Church, we may also stand proud that the reason we are so hated and persecuted is because we have been faithful to Jesus and to the law of God.  When so many others see abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide or capital punishment as rights of individuals, we Catholics insist otherwise and affirm the right to life in every stage.  While many have jumped on the bandwagon that accepts the notion that one may decide on one’s own gender, we Catholics insist on the truth that God has made us male and female, and that, even if we grapple with our identity, we cannot pretend that something is what it is not.  We Catholics believe that the only true marriage is between one man and one woman.  We believe that sexuality is a gift of God that should only be fully expressed in the context of marriage, while our children in school are being taught just to be careful and to be safe.  Then we hear about the alarming increase of sexual harassment and assault in the military, and we wonder why.  We Catholics, in fact, believe many things that upset many others in our society, and therefore we are ridiculed, and, in a sense, punished by those who consider themselves the enlightened ones.  One cannot make certain observations about certain groups in our society without being judged harshly as bigoted, but if you put down the Catholic Church, you are applauded.

I believe this is what Jesus meant by saying that one who does not hate father and mother, and so on, is not worthy of him.  The One who is love itself did not want hate in the world, but he knew that real love would only come when we first focus our love on God himself, without putting anything else before God.  If any other love takes precedence over the love of God, that other human love will be much less than it could be.

What Jesus says in today’s Gospel is shocking and seems to contradict his principal teaching about the primacy of love of God and love of neighbor, but he knows we can easily turn our priorities away from this goal.  This is why he tells us so starkly to focus on him, and not even on those who are closest to us or even on ourselves.  If we put Jesus first before all others, he will assure that our relations with others will be even richer.

The Gospel of Jesus is often paradoxical.  To take up our cross, our suffering, seems to be cruel, yet Jesus knows – and personally demonstrated – that it is precisely the way to be free.  Such was the case with Paul’s friend Philemon.  His slave, Onesimus, fled from his service – a crime punishable by death – and went to seek out Philemon’s friend Paul, who was in prison in Rome.  There Paul converted Onesimus to faith in Jesus and urges him to return to Philemon – taking up his cross, forgetting himself.  But Paul writes to Philemon, urging him to take up a cross as well by not only forgiving Onesimus but accepting him as a brother in Christ.  Paul was asking Philemon to swallow his pride and probably to open himself to ridicule among his friends for treating a run-away slave with mercy and love.  We presume Philemon did just that, because later we see Onesimus doing great things in the service of the Gospel.

Sometimes, out of love, we must make hard decisions, decisions that may bring us harsh criticism, even persecution.  Parents know the value of this kind of tough love and how difficult a cross it is to bear.  Sometimes as citizens we need to do the same, going against the tide of our culture, and thereby risking divisions even among family members and friends.  It is never easy to take up these crosses, but Jesus assures us that only if we do will we be truly free.