Sunday, January 27, 2013

An Accurate, Orderly and Certain Gospel

Homily from the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

"The Incredulity of St. Thomas" by Caravaggio
I have here before us a painting.  Without me offering any explanation of it, you can tell me a number of things about it.  You can tell me what you see.

You can tell me who is in the picture.  The man on the left is obviously Jesus.  He has the usual Jesus haircut and beard, the white robe, and you see the wounds of his crucifixion: the holes in his hands and his pierced side.  The man on the right is obviously Thomas.  His finger enters the pierced side of Christ.  And he is amazed by what he sees indicated by the exaggerated furrrowing of his brow.

You can tell me about other things that you see: the other men in the painting, the color of their clothing, or the stark black background.

But there other things you can tell me about this painting.  You can tell me things about this painting you don’t see, but nevertheless can be certain about.

For instance, on the back of the painting is a well worn hanging wire.  Even though you’ve never seen this picture hanging on a wall, you can certain though logical deduction that it has hung on a wall somewhere.

Another thing: this painting is matted and framed.  Even though you’ve never seen the act of this painting being matted and framed, you can be certain through logical deduction that at some point in the past someone chose a matte, frame and glass, cut them all and fitted the painting within it.

Lastly, and quite simply, it is a painting.  Meaning that it has a painter.  This painting didn’t just come into existence on its own.  Even though you’ve never seen him face to face, you know that this creation has a creator.  He’s one of my favorite painters and his name is Caravaggio.

The beginning of today’s Gospel reading are the very first words of the Gospel of Luke.  Listen again to St. Luke’s words, particularly the claims, the bold claims he makes: “I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.” (Lk 1:3-4)

What are the bold claims Luke makes at the beginning of his Gospel?  Three words in particular stand out:  That he has investigated everything accurately.  That he has written down his findings in an orderly manner.  And that we may be certain of it.  Luke claims that what we read in his Gospel is accurate, orderly, and certain.  In other words, it’s true.

How Do We Know?  How Can We Be Certain?  Like a painting, we can be certain that Luke tells us, not only by what we see or hear, such as the words of his Gospel which he pledge is accurate and orderly, but we can also be certain about the claims of Luke, the claims of the other Gospel writers, Saint Paul, and the Church by what we can deduce, by those things we can know without seeing.  Because there are effects of the truth of the Gospel.  There is evidence of the truth of the Gospel.

We as Christians believe that there is a God.  But how can we be certain?  Well, consider His effects, His creatures.  Everywhere you look, you see something; you see creation.  You see trees, little rivers, mountains Gandalf, mountains!  We’re looking at God’s painting.  Just as we can say with confidence that this painting has a painter, likewise, we can say with confidence that creation must have a creator.

St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas called this his argument for the existence of God based on contingency.  In it, he says that all things come into being and pass out of being.  In his documentary series, Catholicism, Fr. Robert Barron uses the example of a summer cloud to illustrate the point.  A summer cloud will come into being in the sky and just as easily pass away.
So you ask yourself, where did it come from?  How did it get there?

Now, someone who is a skeptic of God’s existence might say that the cloud was formed by moisture, the wind and the atmosphere.  But these too are contingent.  Where did they come from?  Well, someone may argue that they come from the jet stream and the movement of the planet.  But likewise the planet is contingent.  Where did it come from?  Someone might argue that the earth came into existence by the great events and structures of the universe.
But still, scientists say that even the universe came into existence 13 billion years ago.  Where did it come from?

Eventually, St. Thomas says, you must finally admit to a reality that does exist through itself.  We must come to some necessary being whose very nature is to be.  This is what people mean by God.  This is what God Himself says He is, when Moses asks Him HIs name: “I am who I am.”

When we look at the world, when we read the Sacred Scriptures (the Bible), when we see the witness of the martyrs, we are looking upon the effects, the evidence, of a God who really exists.  We are looking upon a painting that has a real painter behind it.
"The Conversion of St. Paul" by Caravaggio
Consider just one of the effects of God.  This past Friday was the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  You’re all familiar with the story: before he was known by the name Paul, the man named Saul was a devout Jew.  And being a devout Jew, he thought this new religion known as Christianity was gross blasphemy.  And so he made it his mission in life to put Christianity to death by throwing its members in prison and standing by while others were stoned to death.

Then, all of a sudden, his life does a complete 180.  He becomes a Christian and it’s greatest promoter traveling the known world; proclaiming the Good News and establishing Churches in the name of Christ.

How?  Why?  We’re told, in St. Luke’s sequel to his Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, that Saul met Christ on the road to Damascus, was blinded by Christ’s light and heard the voice of Jesus which asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (cf. Acts 22:6-9)

Well, that’s what Paul says anyway.  How can we be certain that Luke’s investigation is accurate and orderly?

Well, if Jesus doesn’t really exist and if Paul made it all up, it doesn’t make sense.  Because Paul was not looking for Jesus.  Paul hated Jesus. He hated the followers of Jesus.  He hated the Christian Church.  He was a Jew and also a Roman citizen who enjoyed all the privilege of that citizenship.  His life was great before he met Jesus.  And from an earthly point of view, his life got incredibly worse after meeting Jesus.  Five times at the hands of the Jews he was whipped 39 times, three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, 
three times he was shipwrecked.  Finally, he was beheaded with a sword.

Why would Paul leave his former life and choose this new one?  Because he met someone he wasn’t even trying to find.  He met Christ.  And Christ was real.  And meeting him changed Paul’s life forever.  Paul is just one corner of the great painting of Christianity.  And God is the painter.  No man could make this up.  No man would make this up.  Paul wouldn’t choose his life on his own.  He chose it because Christ is real.

God is real.  Just look at the world around you.  Christ is real.  Just look at his Church, his martyrs, his Saints.  The Eucharist you are about to receive is real.  Just look within your own heart and your own faith.

What St. Luke tells us today, and what he will continue to tell us all year long is real.  God has sent us His Son. “to bring glad tidings to the poor” “to proclaim liberty to captives” to give “sight to the blind” “to let the oppressed go free” “and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (cf Lk 4:18-19)

It is accurate.  It is orderly.  It is certain.  It is true.

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