Don’t Follow the Crowd

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Beloved in the Lord, one of the great saints that I like to read, is St. Alphonsus Liguori. But his path to sainthood was not so easy.[i] Growing up, he had a keen intellect, and his parents were proud that he studied and became a lawyer; his father was very glad that he was making a name for their family, Alphonsus would be a success.
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But God was working on the heart of that young man in another way, calling him to a different path. Alphonsus lost an important case in court. He was upset. He stopped his law practice, and began to pray – really pray. Daily Mass – devotion. Instead of associating with his law friends, he visited the incurably ill in the hospital. His father asked him to take another legal case, but he told him he was done with Law. He stared at his son and would not accept this.
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But Alphonsus strongly felt that God was calling him in a different way. Over the days his father argued with him, pleaded with him, one day, in a rage, his father said: ‘I pray that God would take one of us out of this world; I cannot stand the sight of you.’ —
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Friends in Christ, today in the gospel Jesus says: ‘Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, division. From now on a household will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father against his son and a son against his father, mother against daughter and a daughter against her mother.’
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Jesus is warning us against giving in to human respect. He is urging us not to seek after the opinion of others more than that of God. To do God’s will, and not be swayed by the desire to be accepted or to ‘fit in’ or follow the crowd. Seeking human respect is a temptation that is very great, for young and old alike. We want to fit in. We want to be liked. And so sometimes we throw God overboard, in order to be accepted or to avoid conflict, but this is disloyalty.
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There are many weak and spineless people, who in order to escape derision or contempt, betray the Lord in a heartbeat. ‘If you are ashamed of me before men, says the Lord, I will be ashamed of you before the Father and the Holy Angels.’ To me, there is no sadder scene in the gospels, than that night when a little girl asked Peter if he was not one of Jesus disciples. Peter was afraid of speaking out. He said’ – – I never knew the man.’ And then it says, Jesus turned and looked at him. And Peter wept.
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We are often tempted to betray Christ by giving in to human respect. But what Jesus really is seeking, is some disciples who will be loyal; Father Scupoli says, our lukewarm spirit contains much self-seeking, yearning to be praised and valued by the world. —and this is really it: a desire to be valued by the world.
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Speaking to other priests, we agree on one thing: the Church here in America will only recover its strength, when one thing happens: When Catholics finally accept the fact that we live and believe differently than society. Until Catholic families understand, that you cannot just send your kids to any school, or any movie, or watch just any tv program, or date just any person – until we start to see that – as my mother always said: ‘We don’t do what everybody else does!’ – until we stop seeking human respect, that desire to fit in – we won’t faithful, and we won’t be happy either.
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Sometimes Catholics, giving in to human respect and wishing to be accepted by their peers – sometimes they end up entirely loosing their faith, because they would rather be popular in this life, even if it means hell in the next life. Those who make it the most difficult for us are oftentimes ex-Catholics who seethe with a guilty conscience at believers. St. Agathoclia was a slave owned by people who had once been Catholic. They subjected her to terrible abuse and were forever striking her on the head with sharp stones. But she refused to give up her devotion to Christ, and for that reason they whipped her and cut out her tongue – because they wished to hear no more about God.
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Thousands of people have lost God’s grace in order to meet the approval of friends. No loyalty to their Savior. Many a person in the office or factory, has closed their lips tight, and betrayed Christ in order to avoid the scoff of a co-worker. Many unworthy Communions are due to human respect.
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Catholics seem unable to raise their hand to make the sign of the cross in a restaurant, for fear of what others might think. Fear for human respect is the fear of shame. Scripture says: ‘There is a shame that brings sin, but there is a shame that brings glory and grace.’ Have we ever stopped to consider how many times a day our thoughts and actions are influenced by a concern for what others may think of us?
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Jesus Christ is our model; he was recognized even by his enemies for not caring what others think. About Him they said: ‘We know that you are true and teach the way of God, for you are not swayed by others’ opinions.’ Matt 22:16
Jesus therefore asks His disciples – he asks us – to not be concerned with what other think, but to be loyal. Father Fernandez says, overcoming human respect is part of the virtue of fortitude – of courage. It is possible the Lord will ask of us the sacrifice of our good name, or to accept discrimination at work, or the loss of superficial friendships or even one’s job because of our faith. I know a man, out of work a long time, whose union finally offered him good work, finally – but it was work on a Planned Parenthood building. He said, ‘I won’t do it.’ He suffered for it. But many took notice of his action; his Christian witness had a wide effect on his co-workers.
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For the person who says he wants to serve God, St. John Vianney says, for such a person, the devil’s first temptation is human respect, to be liked by others. This weakness has surely been always part of the human race. Yet today it seems to have a drug-like power over people. People today are deathly afraid of being seen in an unpopular light.
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So desperately do people want their children to like them, they are unable warn them about their sinful lifestyle, or immoral decisions: ‘Son, this lifestyle of yours, it’s not right, it’s not what God wants;’ ‘You can’t just move in with someone, it displeases God.’ Often, we are even afraid to be known as a Christian.
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One clear mark of the saints, is that they never sought human respect. Mary Magdalene had to overcome all the murmurings and scoffs, when in the presence of so many persons she cast herself at the feet of Christ to wash them with her tears. But her courage won the love of the heart of Jesus.
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Let us conclude by going to Our Lady; let us ask the Blessed Virgin to pray for us to overcome this concern of what others might think. Mary, help us to be faithful and loyal to Thy Son, and become worthy of the promises of Christ.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Nicholas]

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[i] Never Stop Walking – life of Alphonsus, page 12?

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