Sunday, May 01, 2005

Always Be Ready To Give An Explanation To Anyone Who Asks You A Reason For Your Hope.

(Sixth Sunday of Easter (A): This homily was given on May 1, 2005, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14: 15-21.)

Benedict XVI

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of Easter 2005]

They say that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes.

Well, for the contemporary Catholic, one more item needs to be added to that list. In addition to death and taxes, a Catholic in the modern world will certainly—at least once in his life—hear the Church criticized in his presence.

That’s guaranteed!

And sadly, some of us will hear the Church criticized in our presence every day—or almost every day.

In certain instances, unfortunately, we won’t be able to do anything about it. We will be powerless to address the attacks and objections. But at other times, God will give us the opportunity to speak up and defend what we supposedly believe in.

And what does the Lord expect of us in those situations?

St. Peter answers that question for us in today’s second reading, taken from the 3rd chapter of his First Letter. There he says, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you a reason for your hope.”

Please notice, he does not say, “Sometimes” or “Most of the time”—he says, “Always!” St. Peter tells us ALWAYS to be ready to explain what we believe and why we believe it!

So—are you ready?

Those who attack the Church, incidentally, are counting on you NOT to be! They’re counting on your ignorance and laziness. Because when you don’t know—or don’t care to know—your faith, they prosper! And they typically lead many astray in the process.

This group, by the way, includes those who attack the Church FROM WITHIN! You see, not all the enemies of the Church are outside her walls. Judas may have killed himself in the year 33, but, unfortunately, the spirit of Judas still lives! It lives within those priests and theologians and nuns and Catholic public figures of our day who openly attack the Church and her teachings in the public square.

Some of them (I’m sure you’ve noticed!) have been very vocal in recent weeks. In fact, they’ve been literally all over the airwaves giving their “expert commentary” on the death of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI: Richard McBrien, Charles Curran, Joan Chittister, and many of their dissenting friends.

Last week a man from Ashaway wrote against the papacy and the Catholic Church in our local newspaper, The Westerly Sun. Immediately, I sat down and put together a response, addressing the man’s errors.

This person was clearly not a Catholic. That was obvious from the way he wrote. Consequently, his ignorance of the faith is somewhat understandable and excusable.

I expect more from people like McBrien and Curran and Chittister, because they do know the truth! But sadly, these “experts in theology” do little more than undermine the faith of good Catholics by supporting almost everything the Church condemns.

Because people like this are around and are spreading their lies far and wide, it’s even more important that we take these words of Peter seriously: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”

Then, in the next line, Peter qualifies his statement a bit and tells us how we are to do this. He writes, “Do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.”

“Keeping your conscience clear” means seeking personal holiness. Peter wants us not only to speak the truth, but to live it as well. And that makes sense: if we don’t live what we profess, we won’t be able to convince anybody that our faith is true.

And he says that we should act in this way so that when we are maligned, those who defame our good Christian conduct will be put to shame.

Notice he says “WHEN” we are maligned, not “IF” we are maligned. Peter had been serving Christ long enough by the time he wrote this letter to know that some people would not accept the truth even if it was taught to them in a loving way by genuine saints!

This, I think, should give us some insight as to the insane, hateful—and ultimately diabolical—accusations that have been leveled against our new pope, Benedict XVI, since he was elected on April 19.

You talk about being maligned! You’ve heard the accusations, I’m sure: He was “God’s Rottweiler” when he served under Pope John Paul II; he stifled “free thought” among theologians; he was a member of “Hitler Youth”; he’s a polarizing figure; he hates women and homosexuals; he will move the Church backward, not forward—and on and on it goes.

What hogwash!

Let me tell you a few things about our new Holy Father, the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. You can share these with the maligners you run into in future days.

First of all, he worked very closely with our previous Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. John Paul loved Ratzinger because he was humble, holy, and orthodox! (Not a bad combination, if you ask me!)

And he was smart! Before he became a bishop in 1977, Joseph Ratzinger was one of the greatest theologians on the planet; he was one of the theologians who helped to prepare the documents of the Second Vatican Council (so I think it’s safe to say that he won’t be changing any of the teachings of Vatican II—as some have said he will!). On a personal note, when I was a student at PC, and in grad school in Toronto, and in the seminary, Joseph Ratzinger was one of the theologians whose writings I studied. And he was well worth reading!

Since 1981, he’s been the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office of the Curia that’s responsible for making sure the Catholic faith is taught as it should be.

And he’s done a fantastic job as head of that office—despite what McBrien and his friends say. They don’t like our new pope because when Ratzinger was a cardinal he saw through the lies they tried to pass off as genuine Catholic teaching, and he did his best not to let them get away with it!

In the past, when he was asked to identify the reasons for all the confusion in the Church since Vatican II, Cardinal Ratzinger would often speak of “relativism.” He would say that the relativism of the world—especially the western, industrialized world—has infected many Catholic universities, seminaries, etc., and has led some people to mistakenly believe that every dogma and doctrine can be changed, and that there are no absolutes—especially in the area of personal morality.

This should help us to understand why journalists like Chris Matthews continue to ask questions such as: “Do you think the Church will ever change her teachings on abortion, contraception, women’s ordination, and the necessity of Christ for salvation?”

Cardinal Ratzinger—now Pope Benedict—has said, and will continue to say (like David Spade says in that television commercial), “No, no, no! These teachings will not change, because they CANNOT change!”

It’s like asking a scientist to change the law of gravity! He can’t do it. You may not like the law of gravity (especially when you fall down!), but a scientist is powerless to change the law! It is what it is.

In the homily he gave at the Mass that began the papal conclave, Cardinal Ratzinger said, “A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted [in this world, a dictatorship] that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the ‘I’ and its whims as the ultimate measure.”

Our new pope knows by experience (like John Paul II knew by experience) how relativism eventually leads to destruction—personal and social destruction. He witnessed the phenomenon, firsthand, growing up in Nazi Germany!

Listen to these words of columnist Michael Novak, taken from an article he wrote last week (click here for article). As far as I’m concerned, this says it all:

“In his formative years, [Joseph] Ratzinger heard Nazi propaganda shouting that there is no truth, no justice, there is only the will of the people (enunciated by its leader). As its necessary precondition, Nazism depended on the debunking of objective truth and objective morality. Truth had to be derided as irrelevant, and naked will had to be exalted.

“To anybody who said: ‘But that is false!’ the Nazi shouted, ‘That’s just your opinion, and who are you compared to Der Fuehrer?’

“To anybody who said, ‘But what you are doing is unjust!’ the Nazi shouted louder, ‘Says you, swine.’”

Relativism was the philosophy that stood behind Nazism—and Communism. And this is the philosophy that liberal theologians like McBrien and Curran now want us to embrace in the Church!

Benedict XVI says, “I don’t think so.”

Which is exactly what Jesus Christ would say!
In fact, that’s pretty much what Jesus did say to us in today’s Gospel text from John 14. He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. . . . Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

Relativism says, “There are no commandments; there’s no objective truth; everything can be changed.”

Jesus says, “That’s not true! There are commandments; there is objective truth; everything cannot be changed!”

Benedict XVI—like John Paul II—says what Jesus says.

And that’s why I dearly love this new pope!

I pray you do as well.