A homily for the third Sunday of Lent
One phrase that has been thrown around recently in the Church regarding her moral teaching on life, sex, and marriage is “paradigm shift.” Blaise Cardinal Cupich of Chicago used this phrase when he described the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia as a “paradigm shift in moral teaching” in the light of the new situation facing the family today.
He opined that, by this document, “The core goal of formal teaching on marriage is accompaniment, not the pursuit of an abstract, isolated set of truths…This represents a major shift in our ministerial approach that is nothing short of revolutionary.”
These words left me scratching my head in confusion. If we take paradigm shift to mean a change in a person’s fundamental perspective or framework through which everything is viewed and interpreted, is a paradigm shift really what we need today? Can we have endless and random paradigm shifts in Church teaching, sacramental discipline, and pastoral care regarding married and civilly divorced, homosexuality, etc.? Besides, who supplies the new paradigm in the first place? When does the paradigm cease to shift or does it continue to shift endlessly? Who determines the direction and duration of the shift in paradigm? What is the direction of this “accompaniment” when moral truth is considered “abstract and disjointed”? Isn’t such “accompaniment” without the guidance of objective truth the case of a blind guide leading the clueless blind into mutual destruction, something that Jesus warned us about, “If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”(Mt 15:14)
Today’s scripture readings point us to the right attitude that we should have today in a world of ever shifting perspectives – zealous love for God. In this zealous love, we are so filled with love for God that we are ready to risk anything to make Him better known and loved by others. We allow the revealed truth to sink so deeply into our minds and hearts that we cannot but express and give witness to others about that truth with a self-sacrificing love in a way that is attentive to the signs of the times.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus Christ cleanses the temple because “zeal for His Father’s house has consumed Him.” He does not cleanse the temple simply because of His personal taste but to make them see the temple the way that God has always intended it to be seen and cherished, “Stop making my Father’s house a market place.” This action will be the basis for some of the hateful speech that Jesus would hear as He hung on the cross on Calvary, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”(Mt 27:40)
Why didn’t Jesus buy into their own messianic and just come down from the cross? He remained on that cross because of His desire to communicate to us that same zealous love for the Father that filled His own heart even in the time of suffering. Jesus Christ came into this world, suffered, died, rose from the dead, founded a Church and imbued it with the Holy Spirit so that He can make present to us the divine perspective in every aspect of human life and relationships and help us to live accordingly. He assured us that His words will triumph over the world’s constantly changing perspectives, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”(Lk 21:33) He has so enabled us to respond with the same zealous love for the Father before others that we would be judged by how zealous our love is: “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when He come in His glory and the glory of the Father and the angels.”(LK 9:26)
How do we begin to show this zealous love for God? The first sign of our zeal is our obedience to His commandments out of love for God. In Today’s First Reading, God offers His people the commandments only after He has showed them His love for them in setting them free from the bondage of Egypt, “I, the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” Likewise, our obedience to all the commandments is our first and primary response to God’s love, “He has mercy…on those who love Him and keep His commandments.” To see the truths of the commandments as “abstract and isolated,” or unattainable, is a failure to grasp that the God of love cannot demand from us that which remains impossible for us with the help of His grace.
Jesus’ zealous love for the Father did not begin with His cleansing of the temple. No, His zeal began in His loving obedience to the Father, from His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary and throughout His entire life, “He was obedient even to death on the cross.” We resist the temptation to appeal to a shift in paradigm regarding the commandments or Church teaching based on scripture and tradition when we realize that the divine law-giver has freely chosen to love us and to be one of us so that we too lovingly obey His Father’s commandments. Jesus has come not to “abolish but to fulfill the law,”(Mt 5:17) and He does so in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As attested to in today’s Gospel, Jesus “knows them (and us) well…He himself understood it (human nature) well.” As our Creator, He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, our courage and our cowardice, and our ability to be faithful and to be self-deceptive. And yes, He knows our ability to appeal to a paradigm shift regarding His teaching.
Jesus restored the divine perspective on marriage and divorce which the Jews had lost because of the hardness of their hearts, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mt 19:8) Jesus alone heals and transforms our hearts so that we can act with zealous love for the Father no matter the prevailing perspectives in our world today.
St. Paul lived in a time when people of Corinth had different perspectives on what matters most in life. The Jews endlessly longed for signs while the Greeks sought for wisdom. The Christians rather steadfastly “proclaimed Christ crucified,” because He is the “power of God and the wisdom of God.” The Christian life and worship was viewed through the lens (another word for paradigm) of the Crucified and Risen Savior. They saw in His commandments the power, wisdom, and love of God and they depended on His grace alone to live just like He intended them to live. They kept the divine perspective intact and gave witness to it without surrendering to the prevailing numerous perspectives of their time.
About four years ago, Japanese Olympian skater, Miki Ando, was at the peak of her preparation for the Sochi games. She became pregnant out of wedlock just a few weeks before the games began. She had to deal with the cultural shame of having a child outside wedlock. Her thoughts, the expectations of others, and everything else seemed to point her in the direction of having an abortion to preserve her figure skating career in a culture where figure skating is very popular. In her words, “I could not make up my mind all the way, but I hate[d] to make a decision to say goodbye to the baby.” But she chose to have the baby. She now has a 5 year old daughter and she is a two-time Olympic gold medalist today!
She felt the pressure to abort her child in our world where there were many perspectives about human life, sex, and marriage. In the midst of all those contrary and contradicting perspectives, she chose to follow the divine perspective on the inviolable sanctity of all human life, from conception to natural death as expressed in the commandment, “You shall not kill.” She narrated her final decision, “I have chosen the baby’s life over skating.” She shows us that we can respect and defend the life of others at great costs to us no matter how strong the contrary perspectives may be.
Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel that if we choose to live by the divine perspective in all things, nothing will ever destroy us. He was speaking of His body when He said to the Jews, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Filled with a zealous love for the Father, He knew that death and the grave will not have the final say but that the Father will raise Him up.
We have received His own zealous love in our hearts in baptism along with the truth that sets us free. What we need is a divine overhauling of our hearts and its priorities and not a paradigm shift. Rather than appeal to a vague and nebulous shift in paradigm in the Church’s teaching regarding faith and morals, let us show our zeal by adhering to God’s commandments faithfully and seeking to proclaim the power and the wisdom of God behind these commandments. Even as we struggle with our own sinfulness, let our striving for loving obedience to God bear witness to the freedom that Jesus has won for us as well as the power of His grace in us today.
There is also a price to be paid too if we are zealous for the Lord too, filled with His love and striving to make Him better known and loved by others. We will be called names, ostracized, and even persecuted. We will be labelled “judgmental,” “rigid,” “bookish,” “haters,” “bigots,” “insensitive,” etc. But let us be rest assured that, like Jesus, nothing will destroy us if we maintain our zeal for the Lord in such moments.
Our Eucharist is a communion with the body of Jesus Christ, that body that cannot be destroyed, that body that is the power of God and the wisdom of God. We are brought into the divine perspective – the only perspective that matters and endures forever – by His wisdom and strengthened by His power to be zealous for God in a world of endlessly changing perspectives. There is a world out there in need of our zealous witness to God’s love for us all in Jesus Christ even if they do not realize it. Let us not disappoint or betray them by claiming a paradigm shift in how we interpret what Christ and His Church teaches today.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!
Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations’ Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.