Sunday, December 25, 2016

"YOU WILL BE HATED BY ALL."


Homily for Dec. 26th, 2016: Acts of the Apostles 6:8-10; 7:54-59; Mt. 10:17-22.

          A priest fifteen or perhaps more years ordained, told me recently that he was concerned about the overly rosy image of priesthood being offered to today’s seminarians. The recruitment material sent out by Vocation Directors is full of success stories. All the photos on the websites of today’s seminaries show young men laughing, smiling, and joking. None of this is false. Thousands of priests testify to the joy of serving God and his holy people as a priest. You’re looking at one of them right now. The late Chicago priest-sociologist and novelist Fr. Andrew Greely said: “Priests who like being priests are among the happiest men in the world.” And he cited sociological surveys to back up this statement.

          The result of all this happy talk, my priest-friend told me, was that young priests who have a bad day, a bad week, or who encounter rejection or failure, start thinking that perhaps they have chosen the wrong vocation and should abandon priesthood. Jesus never promised his disciples that they would have only joy, success, and happiness. Both of today’s readings are about the price of discipleship. “You will be hated by all because of my name,” Jesus says at the end of today’s gospel. Only after these words warning about the cost of discipleship does he proclaim the good news: “But whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

          Christmas is a feast of joy, of course. But the day after Christmas year reminds us each year that this joy has a price. In a dispute with his enemies, the deacon Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, cries out: “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Infuriated by the supposed blasphemy in those words, his enemies take Stephen outside the city and stone him to death. Omitted from our first reading are Stephen’s dying words: “Lord, do not lay this sin to their charge.” Jesus too suffered outside the city. Among his Last Words was the prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests about the increasing secularization of our society, the late Cardinal George of Chicago said, in what he later admitted was an “overly dramatic fashion”: “I expect to die in bed; my successor will die in prison; and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” Mostly omitted by those who quote these words, is the good news which the cardinal spoke in conclusion: “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.”