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Faithful engaged citizens? God's Word transforms us

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Mass for Peace and Justice Commission Annual Conference at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Alexandria.

Is there one word which could summarize both Scripture readings just proclaimed in our hearing? I would propose: “transformation.” Let us together reflect further.


Transformation sums up our first reading taken from Saint Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians. In this passage, Saint Paul continues his teaching on the resurrection of the body. He compares this future resurrection to a seed buried in the ground. What occurs is a transformation. Just as the seed planted in the ground is different than what grows from it — there is no resemblance between the two yet there is an undeniable link, so will our risen life surpass our life here. The resurrected body — Christ’s already and ours, please God, one day — is not simply the reanimation of a corpse. We will be radically changed, and in that sense, transformed, but the mechanics of this are not clear. Recall Saint Paul’s words. After referring to how the seed must die first and how what is sown does not look like what is harvested, he goes on: “So also is the resurrection of the body. It is sown corruptible, it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable, it is raised glorious. It is sown weak, it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.”


Of course, the resurrection of the body occurs through God’s transforming power revealed in His Risen Son. The last Adam — that is, Christ — is life-giving, Saint Paul reminds us. Jesus Christ is the source of eternal life. So then, we must be united with Him, so that His life can grow and deepen within us as we journey this earthly pilgrimage until it bursts forth into eternal life.


Transformation also sums up our Gospel account. Once again, Jesus Christ is teaching through the use of a parable or story. Today’s parable — the seed sown and its growth — is one of the fifty parables recorded in Saint Luke’s Gospel. The Word of God, life-giving and life-sustaining, is compared by Jesus to seeds sown in the soil. Not all the seeds produce a harvest. Some seeds fall on the footpath and are trampled; some fall on rocky ground and wither quickly; some fall among thorns and are choked by the thorns as they grow; some fall on good soil, and produce fruit a hundred-fold.


Of course, the kinds of soil represents the kinds of receptivity which God’s Word receives by each person. The seed of God’s Word can grow and produce a harvest of goodness when it is received by a person with a generous, open and willing heart, by a person who perseveres in allowing God’s Word to grow and to develop. With God’s help, we must not only receive His Word but also cultivate it, nurture it and allow it to grow. This process includes listening to the Word, prayer and penance, and perseverance. Transformation occurs only in this manner. But, as transformation takes place, we become more and more like Christ.


Transformation likewise sums up why we Catholic disciples of Christ are engaged in the political arena. We are called from Baptism to be faithful and engaged disciples within Christ’s Church and faithful and engaged citizens within this nation.


In a very real sense, we are to be transformative agents, because more and more we are seeking to be transformed disciples, able to bring the truth into every sphere of our culture and society, the truth which Jesus proclaims and the truth which He is. His truth brings light, strength and freedom! As we draw ever closer to the elections in November, we must become thoroughly informed on the issues and what the candidates’ positions are; we must discern with the help of the Holy Spirit, using the truth as our guiding light; we must pray and do penance for the wisdom and fortitude to elect wisely; and we must fulfill our responsibility to cast our vote. This week, the Virginia Catholic Conference released its 2016 Presidential Voter’s Guide. You will find that online and also in our Arlington Catholic Herald. Regrettably, on probably every major issue that concerns Catholics and all people seeking the truth for the sake of the common good, either one or both candidates do not agree with the teachings of our Catholic faith, teachings which, first of all, flow from the natural moral law imbedded in every human being. Yes, we Catholic disciples have a definite role to play within the political arena.


Pope Francis stated this clearly in The Joy of the Gospel: “People in every nation enhance the social dimension of their lives by acting as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be. Let us not forget that ‘responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation’” (cf. no. 220). So, today’s theme: “Catholic and Politics: Faithful and Engaged Citizens” is so timely and necessary.


But remember, we cannot be faithful and engaged, as disciples within the Church and as citizens within this nation, unless we ourselves are seeking to be transformed more into the image of Christ. In our present culture, it is not easy to proclaim the truth. Often, we shall be misunderstood, ridiculed and even rejected. We will need the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially wisdom and fortitude. We will need the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. We will need to be absolutely convinced that on our own, we cannot be such witnesses, faithful and engaged. We need that ongoing transformation which flows from Christ’s presence, His Word and His life within us.


Yes, transformation can truly sum up what we heard in today’s Scriptures, what we are called to be and to do in our contemporary culture, and what will take place in our bodies at the end. So we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, transform us with Your Word and Your very self, so that we can be Your agents in transforming our world. Amen!”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016