Sunday, February 26, 2012

Don't Tempt Me

Mother Teresa used to (reportedly) say: "I know God never gives us more than we can handle...I just wish he didn't trust me so much."  How true, how true!

   First Sunday of Lent   B 

A new recruit in the monastery
approached a wise, old monk for guidance.
“Tell me, please: How did you become holy?”
“Two words,” the old monk answered.  “Right choices.”
Intrigued, the novice continued,
“And how does one learn to make right choices?”
“One word,” the old monk replied.  “Growth.”
So the novice asked, “And how does one grow?”
“Two words,” the old monk smirked.  “Wrong choices.”

Every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer, we plead:
Lead us not into temptation…
It’s kind of a curious thing for which to pray, if you think about it.
As if our heavenly Father would intentionally put us in harm’s way;
as if God was, for some reason, actually trying to get us to sin…

The original Greek word used both near the end of the Lord’s Prayer
and in the gospel passage we’ve just heard
can have a couple of related but different meanings:
either temptation or testing.

Let’s start with temptation.
Whether its source is the devil himself,
the wayward thinking of this world,
or the fallen state of our human flesh,
the goal of temptation is always the same: to get us to do wrong.
Giving in to temptation is rarely a matter of knowing good from evil
(we’re all pretty adept at that);
rather, the culprit is usually the weakness of our convictions.
Whatever tempts us can never force us to do something bad;
it can only lure us, hoping we’ll come to want something bad.
Temptation never takes way our free will;
it simply tries to bend and change it.  (cf. B. Stoffregen)

Now, while temptation aims
to get us choosing all the wrong things,
testing, on the other hand, has a very different purpose.
Whether it’s an exam at school, or tryouts for a team,
or a particular trial at work or in a relationship,
when we’re tested, the goal is to find out
who we are and what we’re made of.
And, generally, when we’re given a test,
it’s not because somebody wants to see us fail.
Instead, they want to find out our abilities,
to reveal our true character—
and to help us to discover these for ourselves.
A good test seeks more than to find out what we’ve already learned;
it helps us to learn something new.

Temptation or testing?  Which is it with God?
There’s great wisdom in using one Greek word with two meanings,
because with the Lord—in a sense—it’s both.
God certainly does not send us temptations,
but he does allow us to face them as a test—
not at all because he’s hoping we’ll fail,
but to give us an opportunity to prove ourselves—
to show who we really are and what we’re really made of.

It’s one of the devil’s many tricks—
an attempt to cover his own tracks—
to convince us that, because God allows us to be tempted,
God is out to get us—
quick to condemn, eager to punish,
constantly setting traps to snare us on our way.
This was a common enough notion
about many of the ancient pagan gods—
and one which manages to hang on still today.
How often have we said or heard 
something a little irreverent,
and then waited—
even though tongue in cheek—
for the lightening to strike?
Notice, however, the sign God gives to Noah
when the floodwaters subside:
I set my bow in the clouds.
And when God says, “bow,” 
he’s talking about a piece of artillery.
God symbolically hangs up his weapon,
never to fix an arrow on its string again.
In fact, the Lord has hung his bow
pointing toward heaven and away from the earth.
So have no fear of dodging those divine thunderbolts!
Even in his testing, God is for us—not against.

Taking our human condition upon himself completely,
we find Jesus emerging from his baptism in the Jordan River
only to be tempted by Satan.

The desert experience of God’s own Son
is a vivid reminder for all of us who follow him.
Passing through the saving waters of baptism
is a sacrament—not magic.
It’d be nice if it formed an invisible force field around us,
protecting us from every evil;
clearly, that’s not the case.
We find ourselves, as Jesus did,
among wild beasts and angels alike.
But while it’s not magic, baptism does give us grace:
a spiritual shot in the arm,
a good dose of God’s own life, of God’s own strength.
As with temptation, grace doesn’t take away our free will,
but tries to change and shape it—
to lead it toward God and the good,
away from the devil and his empty promises.
Cooperate with God’s grace, and we can conquer anything.

The God who promised 
not to flood the earth again to destroy it
has also promised to flood our souls 
with his gifts
that he might restore them.
With these forty days of Lent,
as with Noah’s forty days in the rain
and Jesus’ forty days in the desert,
God gives the human race a chance 
to start over, to begin again.
Let us not neglect this opportunity
to be renewed in the grace of our baptism.

So, you see, the test God sets before us
is the one every student has always dreamed of:
it’s open book!
God gives us all the answers!
And what’s more, as that wise old monk knew so well:
even by occasionally making wrong choices
when faced with temptation,
we can still grow—by grace—
and learn to make the right ones.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Onward, Christian Soldiers

One of the most endearing and uniquely Roman customs experienced during my seminary days was early morning Mass in the "station churches" of Lent. A holdover from an earlier age, they reflect a time when there was a roving Papal liturgy: Mass, preceded by a penitential procession, in different parish churches of the Eternal City each day.  An article on Zenit from yesterday has me fondly remembering those brisk walks to Mass before classes (and most often before sun-up), and that today would be the day to visit one of my favorite of Rome's hidden churches: San Giorgio in Velabro.

The soldier saints in the stunning medieval apse fresco (St. George on the far left, St. Sebastian on the far right) are a great illustration of the newly-translated Collect (opening prayer) heard at the beginning of yesterday's Ash Wednesday Mass:
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
You can follow the "march" of this daily Lenten pilgrimage at a distance (or even up close--maps are included!) on the website of the Pontifical North American College.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What is it about Ash Wednesday?

In conversation with a recent convert last week, he said, "There's never been a better time to come back to the Catholic Church!"  I asked what he meant.  "Since we made all those changes in the Mass last fall [implementing the new English translation of the Roman Missal], even the regular Catholics are lost and confused.  So if you've been away a long time and are worried that you won't know what you're doing, right now is the best chance you'll ever have of blending in."  

I think he may be onto something...

   Ash Wednesday   

What is it about Ash Wednesday?

My first Ash Wednesday as a parish priest, I went to make a visit at the hospital.  I was quite taken aback as everywhere I turned there was someone else—patient, visitor, doctor, nurse—asking me, “Father, have got any ashes?”  Like I just carry a pocketful of them around with me, ready to mark any ol’ forehead I meet!  I was even more startled when I returned to visit the hospital that Friday…and got hit with the same question.  “But I couldn’t make it to church, Father!”  “I know…but it’s Ash Wednesday…”

This is not simply a North Country phenomenon, either.  Every year, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral down in Manhattan, the line of people looking for ashes today winds its way right out the door and around the city block.

What is it about Ash Wednesday?

Over the years, I’ve discussed that very question with my brother priests more times than I count.  Why does today—like Christmas, like Easter—seem to bring Catholics right out of the woodwork?

The most common theory I hear is that it’s because we’re giving something out for free.  It may only be a dirty smudge on your forehead…but there’s no charge.  And who among us doesn’t like to get a bargain?  I guess I’ve always figured your motives were a little higher than that.

Maybe it’s because, deep down, we know we need a regular reminder of our mortality.  Remember—the ashes so poignantly tell us—that you were made from the dust of the earth, and to that earth, to dust, you will most certainly one day return.

Maybe it’s because this conspicuous sign is such a distinctive and visible reminder of our Catholic faith.  (Seems every year that some Catholic politician gets called out for wearing ashes while on the job, doesn’t it?)  This would be a rather ironic reason, though, since Jesus just warned us in the gospel not to perform our religious duties for others to see, that we might then win their praise.   The only attention we should be seeking is that of our Father in heaven.

What is it about Ash Wednesday?

Discussing this very question last night, I came up with my own new theory.  Since ashes and Ash Wednesday are all about sin, maybe—just maybe—this is the day that all those whose lifestyle and values don’t quite jive with those of the Church, those who take issue with her teachings, those who don’t regularly get here to Mass…maybe because today is so clearly for sinners, this is the day that all of us sinners really feel like we belong here.  This is our day!  Today, we're right at home.

My friends, if this is what it comes down to, then I’m more than willing to carry around a pocketful of ashes with me at all times, smearing foreheads whenever and wherever necessary!

We must remember that the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and all the spiritual treasures of the Church—these are not rewards reserved for the righteous, but healing medicine for our sin-sick souls.  Just as we don’t restrict our sinning to one day a year, neither does God restrict his mercy to Ash Wednesday.  This is where sinners belong not just one day, but all 366 days a year.  (Don’t forget it’s a leap year!)

Like St. Paul, I come before you on this Ash Wednesday as an ambassador for Christ, and I appeal to you: Be reconciled to God!  Now, indeed is a very acceptable time!  Now is the day of salvation!  But every day, in fact, can be a day of salvation, if we only turn our hearts back to God.

Ashes to Ashes

Let us correct our faults which we have committed in ignorance,
let us not be taken unawares by the day of our death,
looking in vain for leisure to repent.
Hear us, O Lord, and show us your mercy,
for we have sinned against you.
Help us, O God our Savior;
for the sake of your name, O Lord, set us free. 
Responsory for the Distribution of Ashes
Roman Missal, 3rd ed. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Can't have one without the other

Fr. Stitt brought a recent YouTube phenomenon to my attention the other night: Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus...

The fellow's engaging enough, and the "vibe" is cutting edge...but there are an awful lot of holes in his arguments for those who pay close attention.  (Jesus sure spent a surprising amount of time in synagogues on the sabbath and at the temple for festivals for a guy who "hated" religion.)

Which is why I'm so glad there are some great and thoughtful responses floating around out there to this on-beat but off-base message.

American Magazine has posted a great piece on one of its blogs, making it clear you can't really accept Christ without also embracing his Bride.

And then there's this priest who--to my mind--pretty much says, "Checkmate"...

For the record: I'm pretty much in love with 'em both.

Hail to the Chief

Sunday, February 19, 2012

In the Red

It's been a joy these last few days--even at a distance--to catch bits of the consistory in which Pope Benedict XVI created 22 new Cardinals for the Holy Roman Church, prominently including among them Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the constantly smiling Archbishop of New York.

Asked to address no less than the Holy Father himself and this new cardinalatial class, Dolan delivered an address on Friday that took me right back to my days at the Pontifical North American College, when Monsignor Dolan would deliver a monthly "Rector's Conference" on a theme of his choosing.  Yes, the Pope got a classic Rector's Conference!

Cardinal Dolan's remarks on the "new evangelization" deserve a wide reading:

Fit for a King (Cake)

As you can gather from the dining room décor, Friday night's gathering with young adults from our parishes wasn't completely a "dinner meeting" ...and tomorrow night's get-together with a few priests from the neighborhood won't exactly be one, either.

Lent is fast a-comin'

Happy Mardi Gras, everybody!

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Through the Roof

   Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

I spent this past week on a little vacation,
We had dinner at the rectory the other night
with several young adults from our parishes,
trying to brainstorm ideas for future projects and programs.
In the course of our conversation,
Fr. Stitt shared an old comic strip that he remembered…

A priest gets into a taxi.
The fun-loving, fast-living cabbie, asks,
“So, Padre—I been kinda wondrin’ 
about this Jesus feller.
What can ya tell me ’bout ’em.”
“Well,” the priest answers, 
“Jesus is a pretty amazing guy.
Get to know him, and it changes your whole life.”
“Ev’ryting?” the cabbie asks.
“Well, in that case,” the cabbie says, “never mind.”

Imagine what it was like being that paralytic man in Capernaum.
Exciting, no doubt, but also pretty terrifying.
Sure, he had to be afraid that the ropes would snap,
that this friends would slip or lose their grip
as they lower him down through the roof to Jesus.
But he must have been apprehensive on a much deeper level, too.
If Jesus actually did what this man’s friends hoped Jesus would do,
his life would be changed completely and changed forever.
His paralysis had become more than a physical affliction.
It was his way of life.
True—it probably wasn’t the life he’d have chosen for himself,
but it’s the only one he’s known.
What would it be like to walk? jump? run? dance?
How would he find a job?
How would his role in his family,
his place in the community be different?
He was on the brink of going from impossible dream to reality.
And that prospect is always daunting, always scary.  (cf. R. Veras)

Getting close to Jesus—really getting to know him—
has that effect on everybody.
It changes everything.

I read an interesting article this past week
on why Catholics in their 20’s and 30’s
are so often missing from our churches.
(And I’m not talking about the general exodus of local families
during this week’s Winter Break!)
Amy—a long-time campus minister at a Catholic university—
told this story of a time when she was leading a prayer exercise
for some college students,
inviting them to imagine Jesus right there in front of them.

“Look Jesus in the eye,” she counseled. 
After the prayer time,
Amy invited the members of the group
to share their experience. 
One described what happened 
but studiously ignored
the “looking Jesus in the eye” part.
 Amy asked, “What was it like
to look at Jesus face to face?”
“Oh, I couldn’t do it.”
“Why not?” gently asked Amy.
Pause. Shuffle of feet. A glance at the floor.
“Oh, I’m not worthy.” …
“And I’m looking around the group,” [Amy adds]
“and all the heads were nodding.
They all felt that way.” (America, 2/13/12)
Though the feeling is not-at-all limited to this age bracket,
many younger Catholics—
for a wide variety of reasons—
find themselves living in ways
which—deep down—the know they oughtn’t.
And they feel stuck there: paralyzed.
How could God—or anybody else—
want me with all my faults and flaws?
I can’t be perfect, so why even try?
And what if I screw up again?
I’ve been gone too long.
So I’ll drink some more 
or take another drug to forget.
I’ll keep “hooking up” to avoid the risks 
of a long-term relationship.
The cycle of self-destructive behavior continues,
since acceptance and transformation—
things we all really, truly want—
just seem too good to be true…
...or, at least, too good for me.

And there’s another sort of paralysis at work here.

Have you ever come upon someone who’s just been seriously hurt?
Maybe it’s a terrible car crash.
Maybe it’s a screaming child with an injury
that requires more than a kiss to make it go away.
Unless you’ve been trained to do otherwise, most of us freeze.
It’s quite clear that something needs to be done,
but we’re not sure what’s best to do.
We doubt our ability to make a difference,
frightened that we don’t have what it takes.
So instead of doing what we can,
we stand by silent, or turn away, doing nothing.
We end up paralyzed. (cf. J. Welte)

What’s true when we find people suffering physical injuries
is even more the case when it comes to sin.

The four friends in the gospel
show us an altogether different way.

We’re right to realize
that we cannot change the lives of those around us
who seem stuck in their old ways.
But we don’t have to…because Jesus can.
All we have to do is bring them to him,
to extend an invitation, to make the introduction.
We might have to use some unconventional methods—
when you can’t get through the door,
why not go through the roof?
But all we need is the complete confidence
that getting to know Jesus
can—will—make all the difference.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians
that Jesus is God’s resounding “yes.”
From all eternity, the Son’s very being
has been an unwavering “yes” 
to the Father’s will.
Become flesh?  Sure! 
Die on a cross? You bet!
Christ was—and is—
willing to do whatever it takes
to accomplish God’s plan.
And so we see that Christ 
is also God’s “yes” to humanity.
In Jesus, God says to us—
to the whole human race
and to each of us as members of it—
You’re worth it.  You’re worth everything!
No one is ever too far gone.
I love you, and nothing can change that!

Despite perceptions to the contrary,
the Church is meant to be a general hospital for sinners,
not some sort of exclusive club for the saints.
None of us are here because we’re worthy…
…but because God determined that we’re worth it.

Do I believe this for myself?
Do I believe it enough to share it with somebody else?

As that hapless cabbie quickly picked up,
getting to know Jesus changes everything.
Admittedly, that can be more than a little bit intimidating.
But if we can bring ourselves to take that first hesitating step—
whether for ourselves
or for another fearful paralytic clinging to his mat—
—the Lord will take it from there.
“See,” he lovingly repeats.  “I am doing something new!”

The late Fr. Pedro Arrupe
(international head of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983)
once made this keen observation while giving a retreat:
Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you will spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Whither Winter's Weather?

For those of us who make peace with winter by having fun with it, this has been kind of a rough one.  The lack of snow has curtailed most of my outdoor activities.  My snowshoes haven't yet left the house; the one time I considered it, we ended up just taking a walk in the woods instead.  My snowmobile gear got its first (and, likely, only) use last week during a brief ride in my old haunt of Old Forge.  And today was just the second time I took my XC skis for a spin.  I headed out to the Paul Smiths VIC (one of the only spots around where trails are open) and for the most part followed the same path I hiked back in October.  Conditions weren't tops (alternately sticky because of the temperature and slick because of all the ice beneath), but it was just good--really good--to get out in the woods.  I know it's liturgical color is purple, but maybe--just maybe--we can have white Lent?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Not over yet...

...not even close.

The heated debate over the January 20th HHS Contraceptive coverage mandate goes on.  The "compromise" offered by the Obama administration last Friday (which invokes some of the cloudiest thinking I've encountered in a long, long time) doesn't seem to be satisfying anyone.  Our Catholic Bishops have renewed their opposition to what they still see as a violation of constitutionally protected religious liberty.  And in an interesting piece on NPR this morning, it seems that even the insurance industry is feeling a bit put out by this most recent policy adjustment.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, you can call it a swan all you want...but no one will believe you.

As I tried to highlight on Sunday, what's at stake here is much, much more than who's going to pay for a few pills and prophylactics used in the privacy of one's bedroom.  (Of course, I can't help but question just what sickness contraceptives--as essential "health care"--are prescribed to cure.  When did fertility become a disease?)  The working definition of "religion" behind these policies wants to limit it's sphere of influence to what happens within the cozy confines of four church walls.  That, however, is not at all how I read the Gospels.

A petition has been posted on the White House website, asking that the mandate be rescinded.  (An earlier one drew nearly 30,000 signatures--more than another which supported the opposing view.)  Send a message to President Obama and sign it.  (I'm #1,338.)  And if you haven't already, be sure to contact your representatives in Congress, too.  Make your voice heard!

The Caesars of old believed themselves divine, and thus deserving of unquestioning allegiance.  The first Christians gave their lives because they saw things differently.  Might history be repeating itself?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Look Carefully


Out of the mouths of babes...

At our youth group's spaghetti supper last night, two young parishioners shared their opinions of my beard. The preschooler told me it's "handsome," while her 3rd grade sister said it makes me look "sophisticated." (Guess who's gonna be my Valentine this year?)

And then today, at a luncheon following a baptism, the grandmother shared that one of her other granddaughters (4-years-old, I'd guess) said she'd taken a nap during my homily because "God was talking too loud." (Anytime you get mistaken for the Lord it's a good thing, no?)

   Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

I spent this past week on a little vacation,
visiting friends and relatives around northern New York.
A couple of observations from my travels
seem pertinent this Sunday morning.

The first.
In the four homes in which I stayed,
I found myself surrounded by children—toddlers, in particular.
And I loved it.
(Fr. Stitt is not nearly as much fun to play with!)
But one particular encounter with little folks stands out.
I ran into a group of preschoolers
who were wrapping up a hard day of coloring, snack- and nap-time,
all bunched up together and giggling
as 3- and 4-year-olds are wont to do.
I instantly noticed that one of the boys
had a rather misshapen face and head.
It was not at all grotesque, but nonetheless quite startling.
I tried my best not to stare,
but observed the scene long enough to realize
that none of his peers seemed to notice anything different about him.
It’s amazing—isn’t it—how children don’t make distinctions?
For our first few years on this earth,
we don’t seem to care much about differences
of gender, age, skin color, or disability.
But how very quickly and dramatically that all changes!
By junior high, much of our time and attention is consumed
by what’s cool and what’s not, who’s in and who’s out:
ready to change our looks or change our behavior—
whatever it takes to fit in, to feel like we belong.

And the second observation.
Driving more than 500 miles over the course of the week
gave me a lot of time to listen to the radio in my car.
And switching between stations as I traveled along,
I noticed a lot of discussion about the Catholic reaction
to the recent U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ruling
on contraceptives and abortion inducing drugs
as mandated health care services.
Interspersed with sound bites from Catholic Bishops and politicians
speaking in passionate defense of religious liberty,
I heard survey results which claim to show
that 98% of sexually active American Catholic women today
use artificial birth control,
and that nearly half of American Catholics
think abortion should be legal in most circumstances—
regardless of what their Church teaches.
Such data—the pundits argued—show the U.S. Bishops
to be grossly out of touch with the people in the pew.
Why, then, all this fuss over insurance coverage?
The majority of American Catholics are just like everybody else.

So…what’s the connection between these two observations?
The way I see it, in our desire to be accepted, to belong, to “fit in,”
we Catholics in America have—unwittingly—gone too far.
Not wanting to stand out as different from the rest,
we’ve been too willing to compromise.

In order to better understand out current situation,
I want to take you back—way back—
to the second half of the second century.
Among the Church’s ancient treasures is the text of a letter—
known as the Epistle to Diognetus*—
written not much more than 100 years
after the death and resurrection of Jesus. 
We’re not sure who wrote it,
though the author was certainly a Christian.
And we’re not sure to whom it was written,
though it’s certainly addressed to a non-believer.
It comes from a time when Christianity was not well understood,
and the predominant culture was increasingly suspicious of it—
a time not unlike today.

Listen to how this letter describes the place of Christians
in the wider world:
Christians cannot be distinguished
from the rest of the human race
by country or language or customs.
They do not live in cities of their own;
they do not use a peculiar form of speech;
they do not follow an eccentric manner of life.
In clothing and food and other matters of daily living,
they follow the customs of whatever city
they happen to be living in…
See—you might be tempted to think—
Christians have always tried to blend in!
And yet [the letter goes on]
there is something extraordinary about their lives. …

Listen to what it says is so distinctive about the followers of Jesus:
Like everyone else, they marry and have children,
but they do not expose their offspring.
It was not only socially acceptable,
but approved and even encouraged,
for unwanted newborns (especially girls) to simply be abandoned:
left exposed to the elements to die.
Roman law actually obliged a father to do so
with a deformed infant.
Abortion—usually induced by poison—
was officially frowned upon (although frequent enough),
not out of any concern for unborn babies,
but because it violated a man’s right to dispose of his own children.

The letter continues:
            [Christians] share their table with each other,
            but not their marriage bed.
Divorce was easy and common.
Prostitution was legal and widespread.
Erotic paintings decorated the walls of many upper-class houses.
It was acceptable for men—single or married—
to have lovers of one or both sexes,
including those much younger than themselves.
In light of these, marriage and the birth rate
were in such marked decline during the reign of Caesar Augustus
that he imposed higher taxes on unwed men and women
in an effort to reverse the trend.
(Now there’s a government policy guaranteed
to make both liberal and conservative heads spin!)

Given such notable differences, the letter goes on:
Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. …
They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. …
They are reviled, and yet they bless;
when they are insulted, they still pay due respect.

So…the earliest Christians were distinguished
from the surrounding culture by:
(1) the way they treated little children,
(2) the way they treated sexuality and the institution of marriage, and
(3) the way they treated those who hated them for this.
Sounds strangely familiar, doesn’t it?  Or…at least, it ought to.
My fear—and I’m not alone here—
is that we’re quickly losing our hold on these things
which have made us rightfully different for the last 2,000 years.

Archbishop Charles Chaput has made this observation—
one I heard repeated over the car radio the other day:
The Church in the United States has done a poor job
of forming the faith and conscience of Catholics
for more than 40 years. 
And now we’re harvesting the results—
in the public square, in our families
and in the confusion of our personal lives. …  
[U]nless Catholics have a conversion of heart
that helps us see what we’ve become—
that we haven’t just “assimilated” to American culture,
but that we’ve also been absorbed
and bleached and digested by it—
then we’ll fail in our duties to a new generation… . 
And a real Catholic presence in American life
will continue to weaken and disappear.  (Toronto, 2/23/09)**

And what is this “duty”? the purpose of this “Catholic presence”?
Again, from that second century letter…
To put it simply:
Christians are to the world what the soul is to the body. …
It is by the [invisible] soul, enclosed within the body,
that the body is held together,
and similarly, it is by Christians, detained in the world…,
that the world is held together. …
It is to no less a position than this that God has appointed them,
and they must not try to escape it.

Everyone wants to belong—to be accepted, to fit in.
Little wonder the Church has a ritual—as we’ve just witnessed—
to accept and welcome those in the process of joining her ranks, 
greeting them right at the church doors.
When Jesus cured the leper,
he restored not only his health, but his human dignity
by making it possible for him to be part of the community again.
We Christians are to continue that work today:
to stretch out our hands to the untouchables,
to welcome in the outsiders,
that people from everywhere might keep coming to Jesus—
their hearts to be cleansed, their wounds to be healed.
But in our efforts to be accepting
and—as St. Paul instructs—to avoid giving offence,
we must not be afraid of being different ourselves—
true to who we are and to what we stand for.

In the vigorous debate over federal insurance mandates,
opposing voices want to characterize it
as an issue of either health care or religious liberty.
In reality, it’s both…and it’s more,
for it comes down—I believe—to a genuine desire
to be Catholic and American, and to be each without compromise.
We serve our nation best, my dear friends
by being faithful sons and daughters of the Church.
God has called us to be this world’s soul!
Which means that—sometimes—we must dare to be different,
and not just like everybody else.

* You can find the full text of the Epistle here.  
I used a few different English translations in composing this homily.

**Archbishop Chaput's complete address can be found here
Then of Denver, he's now the Archbishop of Philadelphia.