Sisters and brothers. I mention sisters first not because of some outdated chivalry. Rather I do so as a small protest against centuries of oppression. Women want to be treated as equals, not placed on a pedestal, not stepped on, but sharing the same dignity as us men. Women have grown tired of favored treatment which really is an indirect way of putting them down, all the things some men used to do: opening doors, carrying bags, giving flowers, writing little notes, all that belongs to the past. It's time we stop thinking of women as delicate creatures needing our protection. Instead what we men need to do is get in touch with our own feminine side. Where are the men anyway? If they came, I could help them become sensitive, to liberate themselves.
Today's Gospel teaches us just that. We can sum up the Gospel by saying that Jesus came to tell us how good we are. The reason we have so many problems is because of our lack of self-esteem. Take for example, Adolf Hitler. His low self-esteem caused him to look down on Jews, Slavs, gypsies and homosexuals. If only someone would have affirmed him, shown him real unconditional acceptance, World War II might have been averted. That same low self-esteem causes teen pregnancy, gang violence, even suicide. We Christians need to remind people how good they really are.
Many people just do not understand this. Their minds are closed like the scribes and Pharisees. They prefer rules and regulations to unconditional love. Quite frankly, they make me sick. They are always saying "do this" and "don't do that." All their "shoulds" and "musts" actually drive others to promiscuity, drug use and addictive behavior like overconsumption of coffee. It all comes from lack of self-esteem.
The most important rule is to not put one person above another. We are all equal. That is the great revelation. We must stop judging. Instead we should accept each person no matter what their race, creed, gender or sexual orientation. We Catholics used to consider ourselves superior to Protestants, even think we were the only ones who would go to heaven! We don't have any corner on God's love. God loves us all, no matter what we believe, what we do. If only we could learn to be tolerant, to celebrate diversity. Imagine what it would be like: Catholics and Protestants, blacks and whites, gays and straights, men and women, all of us loving each other. When you look below the surface, there is no difference between any of us.
We need to learn tolerance, to respect the beliefs of every person. Do you think God is going to reject someone because they are a Buddhist or Jew? Every person's belief deserves respect - unless they try to impose it on someone else. Unfortunately, some people act like they have cornered the truth - for example, Jehovah Witnesses and Fundamentalists - and, I am sorry to say, certain conservative Catholics. Don't get me wrong, I am conservative in the best sense of the word. I want to conserve the good things in our Catholic Christian tradition, but not put it above any other. It happens it is what I am most comfortable with at this stage in my life. At an earlier stage I thought it was all true, but I've grown beyond that. However, there are still some people who continue to hold their beliefs seriously. They think they are better than other people's. That kind of intolerance has to stop. It is what is behind so much violence in our country. I could give you plenty of examples. Intolerant people are a little scary. If I can put it this way, it is the one thing we cannot tolerate.
The Spirit of Vatican II has taught us that all religions are good and each one is a valid path to God. We should never proselytize, that is, try to convert someone. What we should do is live such kind, unselfish lives that people will see us and ask, How did he become so perfect? Only then can you talk to them about religion. But if someone does notice an imperfection in you, be ready to defend yourself. I know this sounds like what the Pharisees did, but it is actually the new way of drawing people.
In the same spirit of Vatican II we know that God does not care about what we believe, but what we do for others. At the end of the day he will ask us whether or not we showed compassion, I mean real compassion, like when we saw some person or even animal suffering, did we feel sorry for them and want to help? I know a man who others judged because he left his wife and children for a younger woman. She eventually left him because she could not tolerate his drinking lifestyle. But when that man was down and out, he saw this poor stray cat, limping. He tried to help, but the ungrateful animal scratched him. The important thing is that he showed compassion. Do you think God will hold him to some man-made, er human made, set of rules? Do you think it will matter whether or not he came to Mass?
Sisters and brothers, this is the Good News: We do not need to worry about a laundry list of sins. Jesus came to show us what really matters is how you feel inside. The important thing is to get in touch with yourself, get comfortable with and accept yourself just the way you are. When Jesus said to repent, he meant to stop all that negative thinking. As today's Gospel states, "Then I will say to myself,'relax, my soul, you have things stored up for years to come; eat, drink and do not worry.'" (Luke 12, 19)
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