Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
[1Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-25; Psalm 103; 1Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38]
In the last two weeks I made a trip to Rome for some meetings there. Of course, that meant air travel. As we all know, one cannot board a plane without first undergoing an identity check. Agents at the gate need to be sure I am who I claim to be. I’d like to reflect on that experience with you this morning, because what the Scripture passages offer us is an opportunity to do an identity check. Are we really who we claim to be as Christians?
Before boarding a plane, passengers must present a government-issued photo-ID, so that the agents can compare the image in the photo with the person standing in front of them. As we contemplate the biblical texts, they present us with a God-issued photo, if you will, of how the Christian life looks. The point is to compare the reality of our lives with that image.
The picture comes into focus as we listen to the words of Jesus. “Love your enemies … pray for those who abuse you … offer the other cheek … give to those who beg from you … be kind to the ungrateful and wicked … do not judge … do not condemn … be merciful … forgive.” These are the hallmarks of the Christian life. If the way we actually live were to be compared with this Christian image, how would we fare? Would we be recognized as authentic disciples of Jesus Christ? Would it be clear that we are who we claim to be?
Let’s take our reflection some steps further by considering recent developments in the identity check process occasioned by the pandemic. All passengers these days are wearing protective masks, which partially conceal their identity. This means that the mask must be lowered briefly to reveal the passenger’s whole face to the agent so that the comparison can be made with the photo on the ID card. The teaching of our Lord in today’s Gospel is an invitation to ask ourselves how we mask our Christian identity, and are we willing to lower the mask in order to stand forth clearly as a follower of Jesus Christ?
We don the mask whenever we do the opposite of what Jesus tells us to do. Hatred of the enemy, standing in judgment of another, refusal to forgive, readiness to accuse and condemn, hitting back in anger, indifference to the plight of the needy who approach us, loving and doing good only to those who do the same for us, and so on. Actions and attitudes such as these mask our Christian identity and render it impossible to be identified as authentic followers of the Lord.
In this province, it would appear that the lifting of masking requirements is imminent. I think it is fair to say that we’ve grown tired of the masks and look forward to taking them off. Are we prepared to remove the masks that hide our Christian identity? While many people may be eager to jettison the face mask, we may not be so ready to cast aside the attitudes, behaviours or thought patterns that prevent others from identifying us as followers of the Lord and members of his Church.
There are a number of reasons for this reticence. The fundamental one, in theological terms, is our fallen human nature. Due to the abiding effects of original sin, we are constantly struggling between the desire to follow Christ and our tendency to sin. To borrow from the other readings this morning, we can say that we move back and forth between following the example of Saul, the man of jealous vengeance, and that of David, the one ready to forgive; or, as St. Paul puts it, Christian life is a striving no longer to live in the image of Adam, held fast by the things of this world, so as to live in the image of Christ, the one of heaven, set free by him to grow in holiness. The path of conversion is a long one, a real struggle, often marked by masks that are difficult to doff.
There can be other reasons, too, why we prefer to leave the mask on and hide our Christian identity. These come to light when we consider one final aspect of the current process of ID checks. What I am referring to here is testing. If one wants admission to the boarding area for an overseas flight, a PCR or rapid antigen test result needs to show negative for COVID. A positive result bars one from entry. With respect to entry into society today, what happens if I show positive for Christianity?
As society grows increasingly allergic to the Gospel and closed to the teaching of the Church, the witness of an authentic Christian life is often not appreciated or even welcomed in daily social discourse. In this context, the insights offered by Christian faith into the dignity of human life and the necessary conditions for a just and peaceful world order are regularly excluded from public policy development and marginalized as being of purely private consequence. In such a situation, the desire to belong and be part of things can lead to a strong temptation to test negative, that is, not to be identified as a follower of Christ. The desire to gain entry, to get on board with common opinion, might even tempt us to falsify the test results by denying our baptismal identity.
Today, let’s welcome the ID check offered by God’s Word. It is a good opportunity to examine our lives and get them back in order as necessary. The Christian life is beautiful, leading to profound happiness in this life and endless joy in the next. Furthermore, it presents to a world currently riven by division, acrimony and discord the way forward to unity and peace. Love of the enemy, mercy, forgiveness – the only way forward is that of Christ Jesus himself, mirrored in the lives of his disciples. With the help of the grace we receive today in the sacrament of the Eucharist, let’s take off whatever masks hide our identity as followers of the Lord, and strive always to test positive for a Christian way of life.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
February 20th, 2022