Sunday, February 17, 2013

Don't Apologize for Being Catholic: Fr. Andersen

A homily by Fr. Eric Andersen, Sacred Heart in Gervais, Oregon

Feb 17, 2013

Dominica I in Quadragesima. Anno C

Moses told the people: “The priest shall receive the basket from you and shall set it in front of the altar of the Lord, your God.” This is what we might call a liturgical prefigurement. It points towards the Offertory collection, but not the collection itself. Rather it points towards what the collection represents. I am not talking about money. Moses is preparing the people to enter into the Promised Land; the land of milk and honey, of abundance. God has given them so much and Moses reminds the people that they are to give thanks to God by gathering up the first fruits of the products of the soil into a basket and present them to the priest for a thanksgiving sacrifice. We give money. If we cannot literally offer our bodies to be sacrificed, then we substitute something, but we should be mindful that we are offering up our hearts, our souls, our minds, our bodies to God. Just after the offertory collection, the priest says: “The Lord be with you... Lift up your hearts. . . Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” The offertory is truly collecting our hearts and carrying them to the altar. Our hearts are lifted up with Jesus Christ to be offered with Him to the Father.

If it were only that easy. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, tempted, before they could enter the Promised Land. And the gospel today shows us what to expect. Jesus is led into the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the devil. The devil questions our Lord: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here!” Isn’t that just like the devil to tempt the vulnerable with suicide? Despair is a temptation. Self-doubt is a temptation.  Doubting God is a temptation. Where do such thoughts come from? They don’t come from God. They are temptations. Temptation manifests itself in surprising ways that we may not immediately recognize.

To illustrate: in the words of a wise man, “God, our Father, asks His children to fast. Our Mother, the Church, teaches us how.” Let’s say that we are invited to someone’s house on Friday. They are not Catholic. They go to the non-denominational denomination down the street. Their preacher pokes fun at “idolatrous Catholic practices” like abstaining from meat on Fridays. Our friends know that we are Catholic and that Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. So we are invited on a Friday during Lent to a celebration at their house. They are not aware that it is Lent because they do not observe it. They cover the table with casseroles, stews, ribs, and an abundance of sumptuous delights. Your eyes bug out. You begin to perspire, your throat constricts, your heart is beating. You are faced with a big decision to make. And the temptation begins. Your guardian angel pleads with you: “No, don’t do it.” and the devil’s angel on the other side is saying: “Ah, go on. You only live once. Live it up!” And you dive into the table of earthly delights.

Now, the truth is that your Evangelical friends are saying to themselves, “See, I knew it. Those Catholics say they believe all that stuff, but they don’t really believe it all. It really is a false religion. If it were true, then they would live according to their faith as we do.” It would have been so easy to just tell them that since it is Friday during Lent, and since you are a Catholic, you cannot accept their invitation but that you send your warmest greetings. It would not be rude, you would avoid the occasion of sin, and you would be at peace in your heart. If you were Jewish or Muslim, nobody would question such an explanation. But as Catholics, we think that we have to apologize and deny our faith in order to be accepted.

So you’ve gorged yourself on ribs and pot roast on Friday during Lent. The devil won this round and you scandalized the Church by your actions. Then the accusations begin. “Why does the Church even ask me to do all this stuff, anyway? Am I really going to go to hell just for eating meat on a Friday during Lent? Why do I have to go to Church on Sundays anyway? Can’t I just ask God for forgiveness in my heart and call it good? Why do I have to go to Confession? It would have been rude to say no to my gracious hosts…” And on and on the rationalizing goes. And the emptiness inside your soul becomes more and more pronounced. If this was me, the truth is that I know I betrayed God and my conscience. I listened to the voice of temptation and I gave in.


It is so much easier to just acknowledge in all humility that I have sinned and that I need to go to confession. None of us are above sinning. Better to just admit that we are sinners and ask God for mercy. Of course He will give it. A humble and contrite heart is the best sacrifice. “Lift up your hearts.” Place a humble and contrite heart in the offertory basket and let that be lifted up by our Lord to the Father. If you have sins to confess, now is the time. Do not go to Holy Communion until you have confessed them. But don’t wait. Confess now and receive Holy Communion while you still have life to live. Then, with a clean heart you may offer your very self and receive the very Self of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. 

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