Sunday, January 05, 2014

God’s ‘Inclusiveness’


(Epiphany 2014: This homily was given on January 5, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Ephesians 3: 2-6; Matthew 2: 1-12.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Epiphany 2014]


A buzzword is defined as “a word or phrase . . . that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context.” 

Every age has its buzzwords.  Some modern ones include: “globalization;” “Generation X;” “millenials;” “viral;” “gravitas;”—and one that you hear all the time these days: “inclusiveness.”

What brought this to mind was an editorial from the Times of Trenton newspaper that I came across online the other day.  It was entitled, “Pope Francis Offers Refreshing Message of Inclusiveness.”

The good news is that this was a very complimentary editorial--at least it was complimentary toward Francis.  The bad news is that it was not so complimentary toward the popes that came before him.  In fact, the editors tried to portray our new Holy Father as being completely different from his predecessors, and as teaching things that are actually in direct conflict with the teachings of previous popes.  He’s humble; they were not.  He’s compassionate; they were not.  He’s not materialistic; they were.  He’s not concerned with doctrine; they were obsessed with it.  He’s “inclusive”—he accepts everybody, almost totally ignoring their sins; they divided and excluded people, because they were almost exclusively focused on people’s sins.

And to support that last point they wrote the following, quoting Francis himself: “[The Church’s true] message, says Pope Francis is ‘the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives.’”

Now I presume the editors of the Times of Trenton were English majors (or that they at least took an English course or two in college); however they seem to be completely unaware of the fact that there’s a very big difference between the word “before” and the expression “in place of”.  Pope Francis did not say, ‘the saving love of God comes IN PLACE OF moral and religious imperatives’”—which is what they imply in their editorial.  Rather, he said, ‘the saving love of God comes BEFORE moral and religious imperatives’”—which is, in essence, the very same thing that Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope John Paul II, and every other good pope of the past has said!

The teaching, in other words, that God loves us and has saved us through his Son, Jesus Christ, comes first.  It has a certain priority over other aspects of the Faith.  But that teaching about the Father’s love and the sacrificial death of Jesus doesn’t negate or replace the teaching on the commandments!

If anything, it makes the teaching on the commandments more important!

I mention this today because the Feast of the Epiphany which we celebrate in the Church this weekend is about “inclusiveness”—but not the kind of inclusiveness that the editors of the Times of Trenton advocate.  This feast is about the inclusiveness of God’s plan of salvation.

The Magi were the first Gentiles—the first non-Jews—to worship Jesus.  Scripture tells us that they were “from the east”—which probably means that they were from ancient Persia (an area now known to the world as Iran).

The very fact that St. Matthew—who was writing primarily for Jewish converts to Christianity—mentioned these Magi in his gospel was significant.  He wanted to make the point to his fellow Israelites that Jesus didn’t just come into the world to save the Jews.  He came to save EVERYBODY—Jew and Gentile alike.

God’s plan to save the human race, in other words, is characterized by inclusiveness!  The best kind of inclusiveness!  As St. Paul put it in today’s second reading: “the Gentiles are now coheirs with the Jews, members of the same body and sharers of the promise through the preaching of the gospel.”

Everyone is included in the plan.  To that we Gentiles should say, “Praise God!”  But this does not mean that everyone will actually be saved! 

This is the point that often gets forgotten or ignored.

To be saved we need to follow the example of the Magi, who, we are told here “prostrated themselves [before Jesus] and did him homage.”

You prostrate yourself in front of someone who has authority over you and over your life.  You give homage—that is to say, worship—to God.  So by this simple act of prostrating themselves before Jesus and doing him homage, these Magi were implicitly acknowledging our Lord’s divinity, and proclaiming their desire and intention to obey him—and his commandments.

Simply put, the Magi were included in God’s plan of salvation, and, just as importantly, they did nothing to exclude themselves from the fulfillment of that plan in them.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Herod.

God loved Herod, of course, just like he loved the Magi; he loved Herod and wanted Herod to be saved—just as he wanted the Magi to be saved.  As one of the great saints put it in a meditation he wrote:

A tiny child is born, who is a great king.  Wise men are led to him from afar.  They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth.  [But] when they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed.  To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, [Herod] himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.  (Second reading from Office of Readings, December 28)

Herod, as evil as he was, was included in the plan of God for the salvation of the world, but the Scriptures indicate that he did almost everything he could possibly do to exclude himself from the fulfillment of that plan in him.

Like murdering the Holy Innocents.

What the editors of the Times of Trenton (and many others in the secular media) don’t seem to understand is, yes God’s salvific plan includes each and every one of us—but it does not include our sins!  Which means that if we refuse to repent and insist on clinging to our sins (as, it seems, Herod insisted on doing in his life), then we will exclude ourselves from the fulfillment of the Lord’s plan in us.

Which obviously means we will exclude ourselves from the glorious and eternal kingdom of heaven.

If the Times editors and others like them actually took the time to read and study—in context—all that Pope Francis has said and written, they would see that his message is substantially the very same message that was given to the world by Benedict XVI and John Paul II and every good pope that came before them. 

They all preach and teach “inclusiveness”—but not an inclusiveness that denies or ignores sin!  Rather, they preach and teach an inclusiveness that calls people to repentance and to freedom from their sins.

And ultimately to eternal life!

Pope Francis put it simply and beautifully at the beginning of his recent apostolic exhortation when he wrote this line: “Those who accept [Jesus’] offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.”

To which the Magi—and every good pope of the past—would certainly say, “Amen!”