By Fr. David Hottinger, PES - Pastor
From the bulletin for the Thirty-Third Week in Ordinary Time (November 19, 2023)
MercyWorks: It’s Both-And
For Catholics today, there is danger of falling into the false dichotomy of conservative/progressive. As the PES Superior likes to say, here as well we Catholics need to be both/and. What is more progressive than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone can bring about true human flourishing? Yet how can the Church escape from being essentially “traditional” or “conservative” if the Gospel is not something we invent, but a tradition received from those who hand it on to us, something we must conserve intact as we hand it on to others? But too often, what is taken for “progress” is to no longer abide in the teaching of Jesus Christ (2 Jn 1:9), and what passes for “traditionalism” is oftentimes a greater adherence to the “traditions of men” (Mark 7:8) than the “weightier things” in the Gospel of God.
We fall into this way of thinking when we accept that some Catholic parishes are “social justice” parishes, and others are “orthodox” or “reverent liturgy” parishes, and we have to choose one or the other. Here again, the dichotomy is unacceptable. It attempts to divide what God Himself has united. When asked which was the greatest commandment, Our Lord responded by citing two commandments: to love the Lord with all our being (and this is first), but also to love our neighbor as our very self (and this is “like” the first). “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments" (Matt 22:37-40).
This is why St. John is able to say, “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Nor can we really love our neighbor until we come to know ourselves as loved by the God who is Himself Love. Working for social justice, of course, does not exhaust the possibilities of charity towards one’s neighbor. In fact, it is possible to care passionately about justice in society and still fail to love your actual neighbor. But insofar as it implies a desire for the right ordering of society grounded in concern for each human being, it is certainly not unrelated from the right worship and belief. On the contrary, it flows from it. Likewise, right belief without corresponding works of charity is, as St. James puts it, dead (Ja 2:26).
In the history of our parish--at least in the faith lives of the individuals who comprise it--there may have been periods in which the pendulum has swung to one extreme of this dichotomy or the other. Perhaps there have been those who said, “I live out my faith by serving the poor; I’m not really an ‘adoration’ guy or an ‘every-Sunday’ kind of Catholic.” Or others who believe “my service to the needy around me is a Rosary well said.” Surely, in any era, cases like these would hopefully be rare. In this era, since we are blessed with a reverent liturgical culture and worship in a relatively affluent neighborhood, if both mentalities are a temptation, perhaps the latter is the greater. Therefore, we ought to remember these words of St. John as well:
“If any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18).
MercyWorks, whichyou heard about at the Masses this weekend, has been “in the works” for over a year now, and is coming from a need recognized in our most recent process of strategic planning for ministries. On the one hand, the need is simply internal and structural: works of mercy are being done by our community members, but parish leadership did not have a stable team dedicated to administrating those works and helping parishioners get connected with them. On the other hand, however, there was also the recognition that in the parish’s efforts to recover a reverent liturgy and prioritize the “vertical” dimension of our Catholic life--efforts that I think have been largely successful--it was time to give due focus to the horizontal (love of neighbor, especially the needy) lest it become divided from the love and worship given to God at St. Mark’s. I am very grateful for the dedication of those parishioners who have been involved in its development and roll-out; I encourage everyone to make a space for this organ of our parish life in their mental maps, that we might be sure we are not closing our hearts to God or our neighbor, but loving both “in deed and in truth.”