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Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

My dear encountered couples:

Mildred, the church gossip and self-appointed arbiter of the church's morals, kept sticking her nose in the other members' private lives. Church members were unappreciative of her activities, but feared her enough to maintain their silence.

She made a mistake, however, when she accused George, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his pickup truck parked in front of the town's only bar one afternoon. She commented to George and others that everyone seeing it there would know what he was doing.

George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just walked away. He didn't explain, defend, or deny; he said nothing. Later that evening, George quietly parked his pickup in front of Mildred's house ... and left it there all night.

Jesus tells us that soon all secrets will be made public. He even seems to encourage us to take part in the process. “What you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” (Mt 10:27)

We Americans, more than any other society, have fulfilled these words. A few years back, a government agency spent forty million dollars to investigate and publish intimate details about a former president. Locally, the Los Angeles and San Bernardino newspapers printed a priest's picture, along with prurient accounts of his failings some two or three decades ago.

Dark secrets have been exposed to all, including small children. But is that really what Jesus had in mind? I think not – for at least two reasons.

First, they missed these men’s greatest sins. As much as their crimes repulse us, there are worse things to report. Now, I am not claiming inside knowledge about Bill Clinton or the pedophile priest. I know this because, for forty years, people have told me their miseries in the sacrament of reconciliation. Everyone has worse things in their account than what a newspaper can summarize.

Second, we might wonder why the spotlight has been focused on these men? For sure, their acts were reckless and imprudent. They have no one to blame but themselves. And yet… And yet, someday, all of us – accusers and accused – will have our lives exposed to such a searching light.

I am not trying to promote relativism here. No, if we could see our smallest sin for what it truly is, we would feel more revulsion for it than we presently do for the horrible acts of betrayal we have read about in recent years. Perhaps because of all these, we can begin to glimpse the duplicity and cruelty involved in every sin.

Jennifer Morse had an excellent column entitled “Let the Sexual Counter-Revolution Begin” which was published in the National Catholic Register, June 16, 2002). She said: “The scandals of priests not living their vows of celibacy provide an opportunity to revisit some of the long-held assumptions of the sexual revolution.” Among the myths she examined were: “Sex is just a natural bodily function.” “Sex is purely private.”

I know that many want to say, “all this is really not about sex, but something else”: betrayal of trust, unequal power, dishonesty. But those are the very things which make every use of sex outside of marriage wrong.

Jesus warns that the whole world will know what we have done. But he adds, twice, “Do not be afraid.” Condemnation, public shame, might bring a good result: repentance, humility. Don’t be afraid of what other sinful men might say or think about you – or do to you. “Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Mt 10:28)

Both the Jerome Biblical Commentary and the Navarre Bible concur that “the one” is God. We should only fear God – not in some cringing sense, but because separation from him would involve such misery that any physical pain would seem small by comparison.

That horrendous possibility has a flip side. You were made for God. Only he can satisfy your relentless longings. You possess a worth “more than many sparrows.” So, now is the time to acknowledge Jesus before others so he will acknowledge you before the Father.

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