Leveling the Path for Others
by Rich Andre
December 11, 2018

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 2nd Sunday of Advent (Year C) on December 9, 2018, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; and Luke 3:1-6.

We usually start our Graduate and Professionals group’s Bible studies by asking what people know about the book of the Bible from which our scripture passage comes from. So, after discussing the gospels of Matthew, John, and Mark throughout the past two years, several members of the group have been studying up on the gospel of Luke, so they can shine the first time we discuss it as a group. (Part of me is thinking of waiting to discuss Luke until January, just to build up the anticipation.)

However, this weekend, we need to note that the Luke is the gospel of social justice. Both our gospel and our first reading speak about mountains being made low and valleys being raised up. That’s a beautiful image, of course, but we’re going to push on that metaphor today until it challenges us.

The job of the preacher is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. This week, my friends, even amid the messages of comfort and joy, please prepare to feel uncomfortable! Let us begin by celebrating that God showers us with mercy, and that we are called to extend that mercy to others.

Catholic Social Teaching has long been called “the best kept secret” in the Church.  So, just in case you’re not in on the secret, here are the basics. There are seven basic principles of Catholic Social Teaching. No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, you probably resonate with some of these, and you are probably uncomfortable with others. The seven principles are:

  1. Life and dignity of the human person – human life is sacred.
  2. Call to family, community, and participation – economics, politics, law, and policy must support families.
  3. Rights and responsibilities – human rights must be protected.
  4. Option for the poor and vulnerable – we must care for the least among us.
  5. The dignity of work and the rights of workers – the economy must serve the people.
  6. Solidarity – we are one human family regardless of our ethnic, national backgrounds.
  7. Care for God’s creation – we must be responsible stewards of the Earth.

All seven of these principles are essential, and they are all deeply woven into the Christian tradition. No one’s supposed to promote only the principles that align most easily with their political affiliation! If you want to learn more, it’s easy to find information. A great place to start is the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website. 

In our current debates, it seems as if many people in politics are overly simplifying the choices we have in front of us, ignoring the richness of the Catholic tradition. Can we come up with budget solutions that acknowledge both the responsibilities we have to care for ourselves and the collective bargaining rights of workers? Can we promote both human development and care for the environment? Are we in solidarity with the poor across the globe even as we acknowledge the special responsibilities we have to our own families?

Our gospel passage today – the beginning of chapter 3 – is the real beginning of Luke’s story of the ministry of Jesus. It brings together Luke’s sense of history and the call to social justice. John called the people, as Isaiah, Baruch, and others before him, to prepare the way of the Lord, by raising the valleys and lowering the mountains, so that all nations can stream towards the Lord. It seems as if most people in our political debates insist on others making sacrifices to solve our problems, not themselves. Many wealthy people are insisting that the poor just want a handout. Many poor people are insisting that the wealthy simply need to pay more taxes. And there are a lot of people in the middle who insist that this is not their problem – it is for the poor and the rich to change their ways.

But that’s to miss a whole lot of what the Bible challenges us to do. John the Baptist called everyone to what’s translated here as “repentance,” but the actual word in Greek is metanoia. Metanoia is a complete change of perspective, of values, to see and act as God calls us to see and act. And it’s clear in Luke that God’s actions are actions of social justice. When Mary offers her praise in the Magnificat, she speaks in terms of the mountains and valleys: “The Mighty one has …. thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.” In Luke’s gospel, Jesus does not teach that “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He declares, “Blessed are you who are poor. [Period.] For the kingdom of God is yours.”

Can we who are wealthy lower the mountains? Can we who are poor raise the valleys? Can we in between recognize our obligations to assist the other two groups? (And can we in between be a little more honest about how our actions and our values contribute to the problems faced by others?) 

I argue that we, the people in this room, may be among the most influential people in the state in this debate, for four reasons. Hear me out! First of all, as Catholics, we hold this treasure of Catholic Social Teaching. Second, we belong to the parish who has the most robust social justice ministry in the diocese. Third, this is probably the most educated Catholic parish in the Diocese of Austin. Fourth, we’re less than ¾ of a mile from the Texas State Capitol. 

So, friends, here we stand. Of all 28 million people in the state of Texas, we in this room are among the most able to enact the power of Catholic Social Teaching. Yes, it’s a busy season, with finals and shopping and parties, but this is also the month when many of us have some vacation days. Can we take time to pray on all seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching, and then write or call our representatives to instruct them about our values?  

As Paul proclaimed to the Philippians he loved, “This is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Can we discern that our values must include all seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching? Conversion is a life-long process.

Just in case you’d like to help our friends in GAP be ready to discuss the Gospel of Luke next month, you could start by reminding them that Luke is the gospel of social justice. Then tell them that Luke is also the gospel of food. Roughly one out of every five sentences in the Gospel of Luke is about Jesus eating a meal. These meals are signs of welcome, inclusion, and invitation. In other words, as Christians, our Eucharist is a celebration that we are equal and that we are obligated to one another.

In this season of Advent, may we live out the Eucharist in all of our actions!