Your Homily: Sanctuaries and Stumbling Stones

Here’s where we go off script. This is the part of the Mass that’s not in any rite book and you won’t find it there in your bulletin. It’s the homily and because I had some training and was ordained, I get to stand up here dressed like this and deliver it. But I possess no unique or superior knowledge, experience, or faith that distinguishes me from you in any meaningful way. I come to this with humility and so it is with humility that I ask you to consider what your homily would be if you were the one standing up here right now instead of me.

I remember talking to some of my diaconate classmates a few years ago about preaching styles, about the privilege of taking sacred scripture and then talking about it for seven to ten minutes, trying to shed some light on it in a creative and meaningful way. We discussed the idea that some preachers feel it’s their job to affirm, to console, to “make the good news feel good”. Others said that, like the prophets, the real job of the preacher is to challenge, to prod, to point out areas where we can be doing better.

In your homily, which would you choose? To console? Or to challenge?

I say, why choose? The Bible does both. Jesus did both. Our Catholic Church often does both. In the Old Testament, Isaiah said: “God is both sanctuary and stumbling stone.” (Isaiah 8:14).

In your homily, which would you choose? To console? Or to challenge? Would yours include sanctuaries or stumbling stones? Or both?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about salt, a city on a hill, and light. And he points out that salt without taste, a city hidden, and light covered over are not being what they fundamentally are meant to be. They are not fully whole, not living up to their potential… they are diminished.

The meaning of this for us seems quite clear and direct:

Do we believe that God will accompany us no matter what?

Do we accept his promise of eternal life?

Do we try to love each other as brothers and sisters, regardless of our individual circumstances?

Do we strive to incorporate the values of the beatitudes into our daily lives?

And will we follow Jesus… picking up our cross when necessary?

Let’s say the answers to all these questions are yes… that we believe in his accompaniment, we accept his promise, we love each other, we try to live the beatitudes, and we desire to follow Jesus… but then, in reality, there is very little evidence of any of these in our lives. Then what? Then our label as a Christian is as good as tasteless salt, a hidden city, and blocked light. And we are not whole, we are not living up to our potential, we are diminished.

The evidence of Christianity in our lives is our homily. It’s how we translate sacred scripture into something meaningful. It is standing up in front of everyone we know and declaring who we are. Who we really are.

So much about our faith is the script… but your story is the unscripted part and it includes the parts that are sanctuary and the parts that are stumbling stones. It’s not in any rite book and it’s never going to be in the bulletin. That’s because it’s personal… it’s yours… and only you get to preach it.


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