A while back, I called a 30-year old man who had been a young adult leader in a youth group at another parish. I said, “I want some advice because I’m starting to love the youth at St. Anthony’s the way I loved all of you, and I feel that I don’t know how to love them well.” Two things he said to me stuck: that all the youth appreciated my high standards—he said that’s what drew people to learn from me; but while having very high standards, I should give gentle guidance. Because a dominant sin of mine is impatience.
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
I bring up this story because the First Reading talks about a watchman warning the people of their sins and impending danger. St. Gregory the Great, one of the best pastors ever, commented on this passage by first denouncing himself because he didn’t live what he preached. But he says, “Because I love [Jesus], I do not spare myself in speaking of him” (Office of Readings, September 3).
I need to imitate St. Gregory: I want to admit my great sin of impatience, but, at the same time, continue to speak the truth clearly and lovingly, and not discourage.
One thing that’s impressed me is our community’s willingness to hear hard truths. So I don’t think we need to revisit this. You’re already ready.
God says to the prophet Ezekiel in the First Reading, “So you, O son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel [A watchman would stand on a high position so that he can see an enemy coming and sound a trumpet]; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me [Three times in this short reading we’ll hear the word ‘warning,’ and St. Augustine says, “It is our business not to keep quiet” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Ezekiel, Daniel, 98)]. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked person shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. [We’re talking about matters of life and death, that is, spiritual life and death, where we can fall away from Jesus and choose hell]. But if you warn the wicked person to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, they shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life” (Ez 33:7-9).
Ezekiel, at this point in his life, was to tell the people their sins after Jerusalem had been invaded by the Babylonians in 587 BC and a huge number of the Jewish people were taken away as prisoners. So, it’s a time of upheaval for them, just as it is for us, and we need to hear our sins, so that we can change.
Because the word ‘warning’ is used three times, here are three significant problems that I see in our parish family.
1) Now that I’ve been with you for over six years as your pastor, I feel I can say this with accuracy: As parents, we’re not doing enough for our children to help them make Jesus the centre of their lives. Every year, we have our children go through our school or Parish Religious Education Program, and, after eight years of Catholic education, the majority are not disciples of Jesus, that is, they have not made Jesus the centre of their lives, the One Who influences their world view and choices more than anyone else.
Danah, who gave her testimony last week, nailed the problem of her teenage years: she admitted she put on a front to hide her faith, would leave Mass when bored, and saw God as a toy on a shelf. She graduated from our school ten years ago, and only she and three of her classmates still practice their faith, and that’s a good year!
Here’s the deal: You parents do many things well, try hard, and I praise God for you! But, in terms of faith, it’s not enough. Most parents think they’re doing enough. But, because I meet parents from all stages in parenting and hear their faith journeys, I see that new parents are doing basically the same thing as the parents of students in Gr. 7, and parents of students in Gr. 7 are doing what Danah’s parents did before they had their conversion.
Parents, I love you, and I’m trying to step up my game by being more patient, but you need to as well. I’m telling you: Look at the parents ahead of you and do better than they.
I mentioned this to two mothers some weeks ago, and one responded, “So there’s no hope.” There’s always hope! Here’s the way: I told her, “Do you love Jesus more than your children?” That’s what Jesus teaches, and this is my first concrete suggestion. Now that we’re starting a new school year, if we listen to Jesus’ command to love Him more than our children, then He’ll be worth following, you will love your children more, and they’ll decipher this, and so will be more likely to follow Jesus.
2) Commitment: I think we, as a community, are poor in our moral commitments. For example, our commitment to Mass. For us in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, it’s currently not a sin to miss Sunday Mass because Archbishop Miller has dispensed us from its obligation. So, if we’re signed up for Sunday Mass and already have a spot(!) and then miss it for a weak reason, for example, we have a family dinner, then it’s not breaking the third commandment, but it’s a lack of love; dinner is more important than the Eucharist, Jesus’ sacrifice, and being grateful. And our children can see that the Eucharist is truly not the centre of our lives. If we have a spot at Sunday Mass and don’t come for a poor reason, that’s a sign of poor moral commitment. Please think also about the people who are on the waiting list for Sunday Mass who can’t come yet.
What about a commitment never to lie? One time, I visited our school classrooms and talked about the commandments. When I asked the Grade 5 students if they would ever break the fifth commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” they shook their heads vigorously. Of course, they would never kill! They’ve learned that moral commitment from us. But when I asked them about the eighth commandment, “Thou shall not bear false witness,” none of them had made a commitment never to lie. And they have learned that from us.
Do your children lie to you, parents? I’m sorry to say that they’ve probably learned that from you. If you want your kids never to lie, then tell them about your own commitment. I sometimes, though rarely, lie, but I’m horrified by it and deeply embarrassed to admit it. But I’m trying with all my heart never to lie; it is a commitment. By the way, it’s better to commit and fail, than never to commit and accept failure as the norm.
What about a commitment to prayer? For six years we’ve talked about the importance of prayer, and, if you’ve been here for six years and still don’t have an absolute commitment to daily prayer, then you’ve got a big spiritual problem. No one can grow if they’re spiritually malnourished. I remember watching an exercise guru on YouTube say, “If you’re working out every day, but still don’t know what you’re eating, then you’re still a beginner because true athletes know what they’re eating.” I was humbled because that’s I: I work out hard, but I’m careless about my diet. And that applies to Christians who don’t have a commitment to prayer. If you’re not committed to at least 15 minutes a day, then you’re not even a beginner. Beginners in the spiritual life start with 15 minutes of prayer a day. Now, what if we’re exhausted? Then pray standing up. What if we have no time? Then cut out something else from your life.
You should know that God hears the prayers of parents for their children, but they must be truly from the heart, not when we rush prayers and tack them on at the end of the day. I’m talking about having a conversation with Jesus about our kids, listening to Him speak through the Bible, and then asking for help to love our kids more.
3) From what I observe, I think many of you still have moral world views based more on the world’s opinions than on the Bible and the Church. For example, on abortion, most of us are against it, but we’re soft on it and make illogical exceptions. We say things like, “Well, I would never have an abortion, but I won’t force my morality on others.” But this logic doesn’t work on other moral issues: “I’m against slavery, but I wouldn’t force my views on others.” To say this actually means we’re pro-choice because we’re conceding that the choice of abortion isn’t that wrong, when in fact we believe it’s wrong. We’ve given lots of homilies on abortion, on all the reasons, but many of us think like most Canadians because we follow popular opinion more than Catholic moral teaching.
As of this homily, there have been 28 million people killed worldwide because of abortion. But there have been 826,000 deaths due to COVID-19. According to Worldometers, death by disease is 8.8 million; HIV/AIDS is 1.1 million; cancer is 5.5 million; smoking and alcohol is 5 million; so, abortion kills more than any of these. In order to do the greatest good, shouldn’t we try to end the greatest cause of death? But most people don’t think like that, because the world tells us that we need abortion, because of so-called hard cases like rape, incest, to save the life of a mother. But the majority of abortions don’t happen for those reasons. Even a pro-abortion doctor admits, “Most women of every age, race, income level, parity, and education who chose an abortion cite reasons having to do with concerns about responsibility to children… as well as concern about the children they may have in the future… They base their decision mainly on their ability to remain financially stable”.
Most of us have been taught to make moral decisions based on feelings rather than facts. Maybe you’ll notice this in the people in your life who lie—why? Because getting out of trouble through lying feels better than accepting the consequences, but the fact is it always destroys relationships. In the same way, in hard cases where abortion is an option, the difficult situation makes us feel like abortion is the solution, and then we conclude that it’s okay in all cases.
We all agree that racism is wrong and we’re horrified when we see acts of racism, and that’s correct. But we don’t have the same reaction to abortion because we don’t see it, and therefore don’t feel it. Even though most of us would say it’s wrong and that we’d never have one, we’re not stirred to action because it doesn’t make us feel badly.
If God has put it on your heart that, for example, you should spend your time fighting poverty, follow that call! Our parish is trying to do its small part to help people in need by donating money and volunteer hours. But, while we acknowledge that poverty is terrible, we think according to the facts that the number one cause of death in the world is abortion (See also Causes of Death in 2017), and so we should act accordingly, like voting for life, protesting, making known the truth. The world will tell us that there are many other more important moral issues, and some people will spend their lives standing up for those issues and that’s praiseworthy. But the fact is that abortion is the most important moral issue because it’s the number one cause of death in the world, and no other right matters if we’re dead.
Please let me know what you think about these ideas. I won’t get irritated, because, after all, I’m trying to be more patient!
Hearing our sins is life-giving. God says to Ezekiel, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” (Ez 33:11). I have so many apparent reasons to be impatient, but, every time I confess that I’m wrong and start being more patient, people in my life do better spiritually.
Remember what Danah revealed: The start of her coming to God was her mom’s re-conversion. Lorenza stepped up her parenting more than others (when I asked her if she loves God more than her two daughters, she said, “Of course!” But that also means she loves them to death); she made stronger moral commitments, and started changing her moral world view. She listened to God’s warnings.