HOMILY: The Challenge To Be a Life-Giving Church

Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click hereSalesian Sermons

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome | November 8/9, 2014

PROTIP: Before reading on, be sure to take a look at the Sunday readings here. This homily focuses on the first and Gospel readings.

Over the summer, I had an opportunity to visit Rome and to tour St. John Lateran.

It is an impressive Church, filled with massive marble statues and stunning stained glass windows.

But one image that has always stayed with me from my visit had nothing to do with the building and everything to do with the people inside it.  See in Rome, women must dress modestly in order to enter a Church building.  So all around me, I was surrounded by women covered in cheap pieces of cloth that would cover their shoulders and their knees.

To be frank, they looked a tad ridiculous, especially when their male counterparts could be walking around in shorts and a tank top with no problem.

As soon as people left the Church, they whipped those coverings off and shoved them in the nearest trash can.  Free to now walk around Rome as if that wardrobe change had never happened.

I couldn’t help but think of that scene as I read the readings and reflected on this feast for today.

For I am convinced that both parts of that scene are played out in churches all over the country each and every day.

It may not have anything to do with clothing, but people nonetheless are symbolically turned away at the door . . .

If they haven’t been to Church in a while and no longer know the rhythms of the new translation.

If they arrive with their partner or arrive without their spouse after the divorce.

If they arrive with young children who heaven forbid cry during the service or escape from the pew and go tearing down the aisle.

If they arrive with a differing set of political beliefs from the assembly and hear a clear political message proclaimed from the pulpit and embraced by the people.

If they arrive with their doubts, or their disagreements or their anger and find nothing but shame for not being where we expect them to be.

In today’s Gospel, we hear  Jesus work himself into a righteous fury over what the faithful had done to his Temple and I cannot help but ask myself, what would Christ say to me, say to us if he saw the state of the Church?

Would he lament the burdens we lay on people’s backs without lifting a finger to help them?

Would he condemn our judgmental attitudes that so quickly allow us to decide whether someone deserves to be here?

Or would he find us following his lead and welcoming each and every person as they are?

Regardless of their faith or doubts

Regardless of their skin color or their economic class or their sexuality

Regardless of their past or their present.

Would he find us seeking out the stranger in our midst, inviting them to share in the food and the fellowship that comes with belonging to the Body of Christ?

But that, my friends, is only half of the equation.

For those of us here in the pews are also challenged in another way by the feast.

We are asked another tough question.  Is our experience of the liturgy each week any different from the women who whipped those coverings off as soon as they stepped outside the Church?

We hear the potential of what the Church can be proclaimed in the first reading this morning.

We can be a life-giving stream that spreads new life wherever it goes.

Bearing fruit in the lives of our family and friends, our co-workers and our neighbors.

We can become saints, embodying God’s love to each and every person we encounter.

We can be God’s dwelling place, where his light shines forth from us in the words we speak, the deeds we do, the path we walk.

And yet, according to the first reading, this hasn’t happened yet.  We are still just a trickle barely dripping out from behind the gate.

For too often, we walk out of this Church building unchanged by our encounter with our God and with one another.

We return to the world, we return to our daily grind and we fail to allow our hearts to be changed.

Today we are confronted with the paradox that is at the heart of our identity as Christians.

We are invited to come as we are.  And yet at the same time, once we arrive we are called to change.

To become who we profess.  To become who we receive.

Christ.

The one who speaks the truth.  The one who mends the broken heart.  The one who forgives.  The one who challenges the status quo.  The one who sees the person on the margins.  The one who prays.  The one who trusts.  The one who has hope.  The one who loves, unconditionally.

We are the Church, my friends.  Let us be the Church that Christ calls us to be.  May God be Praised.

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