Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily July 13 for the Catholic Charities Summer Institute in Little Rock.
One of the curious things about salmon and other fish that live in rivers is that they are constantly swimming against the current. If they didn’t, they’d all eventually end up in the ocean, carried away by the current.
Indeed, the life cycle of salmon has them born in fresh water upstream, floating down with the current to live and grow in the ocean, and then when the time comes for them to breed, they swim upstream against the current to lay their eggs in the same spot where they were born. Trout don’t migrate, but they still have to swim against the current just to stay in place. In both cases, the struggle against the current makes for good fish muscles and good eating that pond-raised fish can’t match. Going against the flow makes them strong.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says it is the same for his apostles. His message is counter-cultural and so following him will entail swimming against the current of public opinion. They will be like sheep in the midst of wolves, persecuted by the government — “led before governors and kings for his sake as a witness before them,” handed over even by members of their own family, “hated by all.”
No one can accuse Jesus of trying to collect followers by pretending that doing God’s will is always going to be easy, pleasant and well received. Indeed, he continually promises a cross and that what doesn’t kill them will make them strong: “whoever endures to the end will be saved.”
The same is true today. You participants in C2SI have spent a week looking at some of the social teaching of the Church, issues where we are countercultural, where we are swimming against the current. Issues of social justice and human rights. The special claims that the poor have on us, people who have no voice, whom society disregards.
We don’t usually get much push-back when we do works of charity, other than perhaps being dismissed as “do-gooders.” But people really do get their back up when we speak out about the human rights of immigrants, or the immorality of the death penalty, or the need to restructure our economy in a way that better serves the poor or the universal right to receive medical care. And a half a dozen other hot-button issues: the environment, the scandalous pay disparity between workers and management, the sanctity of marriage as the life-long union of one man and one woman. And of course the immorality of artificial contraception and sterilization and most of all, the absolute immorality of abortion which those who will be participating in the Leaders for Life Youth Conference starting today will be taking a look at.
We are countercultural and when we voice these truths, lots of people don’t like it. One reason they get so mad is that deep in their hearts they know what is right and they think that by rejecting the messenger they can silence the truth.
But in the end, the truth will prevail. “The light is stronger than the darkness.” “Whoever endures to the end will be saved.”
So if you intend to be faithful to Jesus, expect to spend your life swimming against the current. That’s what our seminarians are doing, which is what makes their witness so powerful and challenging. The Lord may well be calling some of you to follow him in this inspiring countercultural way as well. And some of you young ladies to serve him in religious life, which may be even more countercultural, given how our society currently views women.
These days we cannot expect the support of our increasingly pagan society and often not even the support of families in which many members have drifted from really living the faith, even if some are still going through the motions.
Jesus talks about persecution and rejection, but even incomprehension can be very painful. I’ve experienced it and so will you if you truly give yourself over fully to the Lord and his will for your life. After all, just as with salmon and trout, going against the flow will make you strong, in this case, strong in the Lord.
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