[HOMILY] Why are we Divided? Fake News vs the Gospel
No matter where we look today, we see angry talking heads. Flip on any news channel, right or left, and there they are. Sometimes I notice they’ve managed to stuff 6-8 people on there, all yelling, grimacing, looking smug. When I go to take refuge in the millennial news world of YouTube, I see younger, more diverse, and more energetic men and women, but I can’t escape that polarizing and resentful feeling. Even ESPN has its share of talking heads, so unshakable in their opinions and feelings on whatever sport – and why not? We worship sports in America, so it makes sense that we take seriously the rise and fall of our patron franchises.
Can we look to Catholic new sources and take refuge in news provided by our own Church? That’s no escape, we seem just as divided and frantic as the secular news. There is the Pro-Life camp and the Social Justice camp, both tearing at the reins of the Church and accusing each other of being soft Catholics, all claiming Pope Francis is on their side.
There are so many voices, so many feelings, passion, and hate. It’s easy for us to be swept up in the flurry of voices, so confident and full of malice for anyone who dissents from our platform. And when we find ourselves swept into one camp, we look across at those who are swept into the other camp, and we gaze upon them with derision. How could they possibly be so naïve, so backwards to believe that? Whatever that is.
What voice do you find yourself listening to?
We can be sure of this: there is one voice worth listening to. Moses tells us in the first reading “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you… to him you shall listen,” God will put his own words in his mouth, that prophet will tell us everything our Father commands him.
We look to the Gospel and see that this is obviously Jesus- he is the new prophet, the new Moses who speaks with divine authority.
Ok, what does it mean to listen to Jesus voice? What happens? Let’s look to the Gospel itself and see.
We see whenever Jesus teaches, people are astonished. Look at the whole Gospel, really dig into it, take it at face value rather than filtering it or assuming you understand it, and you will be astonished. Yet what is it about Jesus’ teaching that’s astonishing? I propose it is his promises and his demands.
What does Jesus promise? Joy to the full (Jn 10:10), peace (Jn 16:33), happiness in this life and the next (Mk 10:29-30), eternal life (Jn 5:24, 17:3), resurrection (Jn 11:25-26), a new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3:13), Divinization – partaking in Trinitarian life (Jn 17:20-23 and the Fathers). How can we really ponder that and not be taken aback – or astonished?
Yet Jesus also make demands on us. Are they difficult? Yes, he tells us to “be perfect as my heavenly father is perfect.” He gives us the beatitudes, tells us to love our enemies. He demands that we be detached not only from those evil things in the world that will harm us, but to be detached from the good things of this world. Jesus’ demands are impossible by human standards.
As a result, so many of us look at these teachings and ask in our hearts the same thing the demon asked: “Have you come to destroy us?” Do the demands of the Gospel steal our freedom? And is that not the Gospel of our day- freedom! In our time, everything evil is so because it is a threat to freedom. Everything good is so because it promises freedom- total, uninhibited freedom, so precious to our culture of radical individuality.
So, to submit to Jesus’ authority as the Gospel presents it seems foreign. We want Jesus to be our buddy, or perhaps our teacher, and certainly he is a model to look up to. But do we still see him as our God? As the one who speaks the words of the father to us?
Why are we so afraid of the Gospel’s demands? Why do we recoil at the difficulty of the Christian life? I think it’s because we have separated the promises from the demands. Perhaps we forgot the promises entirely.
When the great adventurer Sir Ernest Shackleton was preparing for a trip to Antarctica, he posted an ad in the paper that read:
“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”
Thousands of men answered that ad. Why is that? Because we all love adventure! And we don’t care about the cost, the strain, the suffering, as long as the adventure is worthy.
That’s how we must think of Christ’s demands. Being a Christian is a great adventure- the greatest and only adventure worth living for. Yet, to really live it, to survive, and even thrive, we must strive for Christian perfection. The moral teaching of Christ is in many ways the necessary training to prepare ourselves for the journey.
Without the great promises of Christ in the forefront of our mind, when the demand is separated from the great adventure of discipleship, his moral teaching seems arbitrary, demanding, rigid, and cold. And so we ask him, “Have you come to destroy us?” I think for the answer to this question we can look back to Jesus calling his disciples and hear him say “Come and you will see.”
We need only look as far as the lives of the saints – those who followed Christ with abandon – to see the great joy and freedom discipleship brings, even amidst great suffering. Amidst the fake news our world gives us, all these talking heads that seek to divide us, polarize us, and provoke anxiety, we must look to Jesus Christ and his refreshing, real news – the Gospel. If we look at it anew, and allow ourselves to be astonished by it, we will find that the demands of the Christian moral life – which are certainly difficult – are also a joyful part of this great adventure.