Next week, we start our annual four-week pro-life series, and there’s a part of me that still hesitates about preaching on life and abortion… because I’m afraid of losing people, especially those who are new and spiritually growing. Even though we’ve done this for five years straight and people do come back, the temptation is still there. The reason why I’m committed to doing this series is because the Church reminds me to be faithful to Jesus.
We all need the Church to point us in the right direction, because we live in the age of feelings, where we often take the easy way out. For example, at funerals, most Catholics say our loved ones are already in heaven. But what about purgatory? What about what Jesus says in the Bible, that it’s very difficult to enter heaven?
This week there was a controversy in the NHL where a Russian Orthodox player wouldn’t go along with LGBTQ events, and one reporter quoted Jesus against him, but doesn’t understand what Jesus taught. Hopefully, we can address this in another homily.
Today will be the foundation for that homily and others: We need the Catholic Church to remind us of what Jesus really taught. Today’s Gospel is fascinating because we see the answer to three questions we should ponder whenever we’re tempted to misinterpret Jesus’ teachings.
First question: What was the main subject of Jesus’ preaching? It’s not love. Love is not a bad answer because loving God is the greatest commandment, but it’s not His main subject. And it’s also not ‘Be a good person’—that’s a modern-day gospel, but it’s not in the Bible because it’s a very low moral standard.
The answer is: “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near…’ Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom…” (Mt 4:17,23). The main subject of Jesus’ preaching in St. Matthew’s Gospel is ‘the kingdom of heaven,’ meaning God’s loving reign, where His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. To be part of His kingdom, we need to change our mindset and lives, which is what’s meant by ‘repent,’ and, on August 27, 2023 we’ll hear Jesus say to St. Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19). This remarkable authority that Jesus gives to Peter is why Catholics hold that the pope has the authority to teach in Jesus’ name. This is why we believe the Catholic Church is not just a human organization, but is founded by God. The kingdom of heaven is so important that we’ll hear it 18 more times on Sunday for the next year.
So, based on this, the second question we can ask ourselves and others is: How can we say we love the king, it’s just that we don’t love his kingdom? Oh, we love Jesus the King so much!… but don’t want anything to do with His kingdom! Jesus is our king, the king of our lives, but, I’m not sure if I accept all of His teachings in His kingdom.
A woman once wrote me: ‘My faith in God is deep, strong, and unwavering, but I have to be honest with you and admit that after our meeting, I’ve needed time to reflect on my faith in the Catholic Church. Being raised by devout Catholic parents and growing up in a Catholic school, I have always felt supported, encouraged and inspired.’ This woman felt judged that I challenged her to keep the teaching of the kingdom that we go to Mass every Sunday. I told her that I never intended to judge her and was sorry if I did, and I wrote back, ‘How do I let Catholics know Jesus’ teaching without watering it down?’ I didn’t want to hurt her again which is why I didn’t challenge the fact that her faith in Jesus is very weak; it’s all feelings. If she had written, ‘My faith in Jesus is so unwavering that whatever He asks me, no matter how hard it is, I’ll do it,’ then we’d know she loves the King.
The third question to ask is: Why did Jesus live? To save us. Yes, He came to save us by His death and Resurrection, but that’s not all. The first line of today’s Gospel says, “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee” (Mt 4:12), in other words, He was trying to avoid being killed by Herod (Daniel Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew in Sacra Pagina, 71; Leroy Huizenga, Behold the Christ, 130; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Matthew 1-13, 65-66)! In St. John’s Gospel, it says, “So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple” (Jn 8:59). He was always avoiding death until the right time. If His only goal were to die and rise again, He could have just done it in today’s Gospel. However, He had to do something first: He had to start building His kingdom, His Church.
It says today, “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother… And he said to them, ‘Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mt 4:18-20). He spends three years training the leaders of His Church, the ‘fishers of people.’ Dr. Tim Gray points out that kings in the ancient world were always builders, and Jesus Himself says that wise men build their house… on sand (Cf. Mt 7:24-27)? No, on rock. That’s why the Gospel says, ‘Simon, who is called Peter.’ The name Peter means rock. Jesus is the wisest of all men and builds His Church on Peter. In Mt 16:18, He says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” Why did Jesus live? To build His Church, the Kingdom.
So, with these three questions (What was the main subject of Jesus’ preaching? How can we say we love the King but not His kingdom? And why did Jesus live?), we should ponder how much we love the King.
This is where our confidence comes from in speaking the truth. If Jesus and the Church say that “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt 7:13-14), then we must preach that few people choose heaven and that it’s very hard to get there. This is why we’ll spend the next four weeks speaking about the Gospel of life.
Given that I mentioned someone who was missing Mass, may I say it was so beautiful to see so many people come to Mass on January 1, because usually many people skip that day. And, I’d like to teach once again that going to Mass every Sunday is a grave moral obligation for those who love the King, and the Church has said that, for us in Canada, it’s also a grave moral obligation to go on December 25 and January 1. To miss these days through laziness or excuses is a mortal sin. So, this year, when Christmas is on a Monday, we’re obliged to go on Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, then Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023 and Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. I’m telling you now so that you have a whole year to consider it.
By the way, whenever people tell me, ‘Oh, Father, I participated in Mass virtually,’ and it’s clearly an excuse, I say to them, ‘When you die, do you want to go to heaven in person or virtually?’
We live in the age of feelings, but, thank God, we also live in the Kingdom! If we do the King’s will on earth as it’s done in heaven, then His kingdom will reign on earth.