Our Agitation over the Synod is a Testimony to Our Lack of Faith.*
Lessons from cycle II of the feria, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite:
Ephesians 6: 10-20.
Psalm 144: 1-2, 9-10.
Luke 13: 31-35.
The Thirtieth Thursday of Ordinary Time.
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9:54 AM 10/30/2014 — It's a shame that I was not able to go through all of St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians with you; it's one of the most important books in the Bible because it deals with the neglected subject of grace; and, if you've been one of those who's allowed yourself to get worked up and upset over what you hear or read about the Synod, you'll understand how important a subject grace is. Someone living in an invalid union can receive a thousand consecrated hosts, but he receives no grace; the state of his soul makes the reception of grace impossible; and, if you decide in the name of compassion to allow him to receive anyway so he doesn't feel alienated, then you've basically reduced the Eucharist to exactly what the Protestants always said it was: just a symbol, not really Jesus at all. And that's completely ignoring the supposedly forbidden topic of an unworthy reception of Holy Communion constituting a mortal sin of sacrilege.
If anything, the agitation we may be suffering when we read about what a few at the Synod have said, published by those who get some sort of cabollistic pleasure out of seeing how many people they can get upset, serves as a test of our faith, since we know for a fact that Christ will not allow the Church to teach error. Infallibility does not mean that things become so because the Pope says they're so; it means that Christ prevents the Pope from saying that which is not true; he couldn't change Church teaching regarding the worthy reception of Holy Communion even if he wanted to; and, if we find ourselves reading spurious and uninformed reports and allowing our interior peace to be disturbed by them, it merely serves as a reminder of how imperfect our faith is. “Nam et ipse Deus meus et salutaris meus; susceptor meus, non movebor amplius.” Psalm 61 (62): “He alone is my God and my Saviour, my protector; I shall be disturbed no more” (v. 3).
Which is not a bad introduction to the conclusion of the Blessed Apostle's missive to the Ephesians, part of which wraps up the Missal's offerings from this letter. Paul has been warning them about the Devil, and how the evil and temptation against which they battle every day is not random: there is an intelligence behind it. He reminds the Ephesians that, in spite of what they may have placated themselves into believing, they are living in an evil age; and, if they don't wake up and realize it, they will be defeated before they even realize they're at war. He becomes so explicit about it in today's reading, he even lapses into a military metaphor:
You must wear all the weapons in God’s armoury, if you would find strength to resist the cunning of the devil. … Take up all God’s armour, then; so you will be able to stand your ground when the evil time comes, and be found still on your feet, when all the task is over. …take up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fire-tipped arrows of your wicked enemy; make the helmet of salvation your own, and the sword of the spirit, God’s word (cf. 6: 10-17 Knox).
He could be Charlemagne giving a pep-talk to his troops before battle, except that he's not. He's an Apostle of Christ, trying to get his spiritual children to realize that they are at war in a very real sense, even though it's not against an enemy of flesh and blood: “It is not against flesh and blood that we enter the lists; we have to do with princedoms and powers, with those who have mastery of the world in these dark days, with malign influences in an order higher than ours” (6: 12 Knox). Who's he talking about? Remember a few week's ago when we celebrated the feast of the Guardian Angels, and made reference to the Revelation of St. John: the Devil is driven out of heaven with his followers and sent to hell, from where they continue to make war against God by proxy, by making war against us, trying with all their might to turn us away from salvation. And Paul is telling his “troops,” if you will, that they have the better weaponry. All the Devil has in his arsenal are the vices: greed, avarice, lust, self-promotion, all of which designed to target the natural appetites that infect our human condition; but the Christian's weapons are made for him by God: the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of God's Word: “Stand fast, your loins girt with truth, the breastplate of justice fitted on, and your feet shod in readiness to publish the gospel....” (6: 14 Knox).
Why is the Apostle so fired up? Why is he trying to get the Ephesians so agitated? Because he has sensed in them a spiritual complacency, a willingness to cooperate with the secular world around them, a desire to fit in with polite society lest they be viewed as backward and old-fashioned.
You're familiar, I'm sure, with an anagram that has crept into our political discourse of late: RINO, which stands for “Republican In Name Only.” Well, St. Paul is here accusing the Ephesians of being CHINOs: “CHristians In Name Only.” They go to church, they sing hymns, they even contribute; but, they're not living any differently than anyone else, they're not at war, they're not recognizing the evil times in which they live, they're not identifying the Devil in their midst because, if they did, they would be painted as kooks and outcasts.
Why do you think it is that every time you open a paper or turn on the television there's some new survey telling us that a majority of Catholics now support things that the Church has always taught as objectively sinful, such as homosexual marriage, for example? The media love to trumpet these surveys from the roof tops because they prove that Christianity is a spent force in society; that Catholics in particular, no matter how often they go to church, no matter how they make a point of saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” no matter how many of them have Rosaries dangling from their rear-view mirrors, are really no different than anyone else. Their religion is just a matter of style, and their churches are nothing more than clubs or social service organizations. And that's why they're dying out: not that the Catholic Church would ever cease to exist, but that it would simply cease to be the Church; it would become very much like what the Episcopalian Church is already: all the trappings of high religion, with vestments and statues and incense and beautiful music, but it doesn't believe in anything.
All through this letter St. Paul has been warning the Ephesians to wake up and smell the coffee. Today he is telling them to make sure they're not drinking decaf; that the salvation of their souls is a lot more important than fitting in; and that the way to win the battle is to recognize a war when you see it, and fight it with all the weapons of grace that God has put at our disposal.
* This homily is a condensed version of a series on Ephesians I had preached during Philip's Fast during my last year as pastor of a Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic parish.