This homily was delivered on a visit to St. Bonaventure Parish, Calgary.
4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Jer. 1: 4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor. 13: 4-13; Lk. 4: 21-30) #SorrynotSorry
In our modern social media communication realm, a staple of quasi-communication has become the ‘hashtag’. A hashtag is something you add to the end of a statement made in a post on social media like Twitter or Instagram which intends to add meaning or insight to whatever was just said, often in a clever or sarcastic way. It also serves to gather a collective series of comments under one heading if you search for a hashtag. The term has become so ubiquitous that I was surprised to notice as I was typing this homily that spell check doesn’t even identify this modernly fabricated word.
One of the most frequently used hashtags on Twitter, in particular, follows a statement someone has made about something he or she has either been allegedly accused of or suspects would be held in disdain by others. It is three words pushed together which reads sorry-not-sorry. It sounds rather ridiculous and could be taken in a number of ways. One way is to say, “I’m sorry that I am not sorry for having upset you”; another could be “Oh, sorry about that (but inside, I’m actually not sorry).” A great way this hashtag might be used would be to snap a picture on your phone of the last piece of pie in the pie plate and write a comment underneath it on your Instagram post saying, “This will be my second piece #sorrynotsorry”, meaning, I’m really not sorry even though I probably should be for not giving anyone else a chance to enjoy this last piece!
My rambling has either made sense to you because you are well versed in the Instagram-Twitterverse or because you have heard of such things like hashtags but had no clue what they were and didn’t feel like asking. Who would have thought a priest would take the time in his sermon to actually explain this basically useless convention of modern language? Nevertheless, there is something contained within this hashtag specifically, all sarcasm aside, that contains a disposition which must be reclaimed in contemporary discourse; particularly, discourse about matters of faith and morals in the public sphere.
With each passing day there is a growing list of things which cannot be said, opinions which cannot be held and thoughts which must not be had. To say the forbidden is now hate speech; to opine the forbidden might well disqualify you from some positions or opportunities; to even privately think the forbidden is to segregate you from what appears to be commonly held decency- even if it is numerically held by a vast minority. And the Catholic response to this cultural dynamic has, of late, tended towards silently retreating into the corner, hoping not to be asked our opinion lest we speak unfavourably by articulating our forbidden thoughts. Alternatively, some respond by shortening the hashtag to merely ‘sorry’. We apologize in advance for what our Catholic faith proposes, even if it is the objective, irrefutable truth.
Perhaps we do not apologize explicitly by stating, “I am sorry that this is what the Catholic faith holds.” In fact, were one to do that, it would actually be more honest, especially when that apologizer follows up by saying, “And this is why I refuse to remain Catholic.” The insidious apology is when we shrink back into that dark corner and resist the occasion to defend with more clarity and charity why we believe what we believe or to try and soften the blow of what we believe by watering it down, breaking it in half, leaving some of it out or entirely reframing it to be more palatable to modern tastes. When we speak the truths of our faith in these times, it is high time for more of the boldness of a #sorrynotsorry mentality. Anything less is disingenuous- either to our interlocutors whom we are effectively deceiving into believing the Church teaches something other than she does; or, to ourselves, by pretending we can remain true to our Faith by modifying the truths to our conveniences.
Our Scripture this Sunday makes this reality abundantly clear to us. The prophet Jeremiah is reminded by the Lord in no uncertain terms, “…gird up your loins; stand up and tell the people everything that I command you. Do not break down before them or I will break you before them.” The difficult fact, my dear sisters and brothers, is that we do not get out of these tight spots without being broken. We either hide or bend the truth so as not to be broken by public opinion and then we stand to be broken by God Himself; or, we let ourselves be broken down by the virulently vocal mob, but with the promise of being put back together by the One who made us in the first place.
In our Gospel, the passage opens with the observation that, after essentially declaring Himself the Anointed One of God, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” The final verses say, “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove Jesus out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill…so that they might hurl him off.” That is a dramatic change of opinion over the course of one conversation! What happened in between to provoke such a response? Jesus made reference to two objectively, true realities in Israel’s history, the implications of which offended His hearers. Times do not change all that much, my friends…
Whether it be the inviolable dignity of all human life; the indissolubility of marriage between one man and one woman; the normativity of biological sex; the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the path to eternal life; when we state these truths and many others like them, we are entering into the forbidden territory of contemporary public opinion. As we do so, we are challenged to be reminded as we were today in the second reading, “…[love] does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” It is objectively loving to proclaim these facts- which are facts and not merely our opinions. Moreover, it is incumbent upon us to do so in as subjectively a loving way as possible, which will vary according to time, place, audience, etc. Whether or not we speak them is not an option; that we carefully discern how each circumstance requires a unique presentation in order to be spoken with love is our duty.
These times in which we live are screaming for prophets. The world is listening, but the loudest voices tend only to be those who speak in opposition to the Truth. We must take heart, with great boldness and love, stand up and speak the truth- sorry, that we are not sorry.