Saturday, July 2, 2016

How to Handle Rejection - A Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
Fourteenth Sunday of the Year
Cycle C

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
July 3, 2016

One of the most crippling fears we face throughout our lives is the fear of rejection. It begins on the playground, follows us through the corridors of high school, seeps into the workplace, and even makes its way into our neighborhoods and churches and homes and families. We fear being ignored, or mocked, or condescended to, or unwanted because rejection contradicts our deep desire to be valued, and appreciated, and accepted, and ultimately loved. We fear rejection because it hurts…in fact, the emotional pain that rejection brings can often and easily exceed most forms of physical pain. But unlike most other kinds of pain, rejection is not subject to happenstance or bad luck or poor decisions on our part…it is completely dependent upon the free will of other people. And this is what makes rejection, and our fear of it, so dangerous – it makes us completely vulnerable to the whims and thoughts of others. If somebody hates us, if somebody bullies us, if somebody thinks poorly of us, we can’t do anything about it. We fear rejection because it robs us of our control…and so we’re taught from a young age that in order to protect ourselves from the pain of rejection we must do one of two things: either learn not to care about what others think about us or completely cave in and conform to what others want us to be. But each of these approaches has dire consequences. On the one hand, if we simply stop caring about what others think about us, we’re quickly going to become hardened and cold, and probably, eventually, cruel. We’ll combat rejection with an admixture of retaliation, passive aggression, and dismissiveness, protecting ourselves by becoming the rejecter rather than the rejected. And then on the other hand, if we cave in and placate people in order to be liked and loved, we run the very great risk of losing ourselves, our principles, and our dignity. We’ll fool ourselves into thinking that we’re being considerate and open-minded and accepting, but in reality we’re manipulating people so that they’ll want to be around us. The world really only knows how to put these two options before us, albeit in modified forms, when trying to help us deal with rejection…but neither of them are helpful and both of them, ultimately, will lead to more sadness and more rejection. The good news, however, is that where the world falls short, the grace of God abounds.

In our Gospel today, we hear about the commission of the seventy-two disciples. Jesus is readying them to go ahead of Him into all the various towns and villages that He’s planning to visit in order to prepare the people there to hear the message of salvation that He will bring. We know that the message of Christ is salvific and beautiful, but we also know that it can be difficult to hear and upsetting because it challenges us out of our complacency and our sin, and we’re not always happy to hear that we’re not perfect and wonderful. In other words, the message of Christ is not a popular message, it’s not a universally accepted message, and its proclamation will thus not always be received well by others. So while the Lord is preparing His disciples to go out and pave the way for Him, He lets them know that their commission is dangerous because it will inevitably involve rejection. They will go into towns were some people hang on every word they say, but they will also go into towns where they are laughed at for being fanatics, spit upon for being absurd, and ignored for being out-of-touch. Regardless of whether they will be accepted or rejected, however, the Lord commands them to go there in peace…to go lightly clad, attached to nothing of the world, and to proclaim with sincerity, simplicity, and conviction that the Kingdom of God is at hand. If they are accepted, they are to enjoy the people’s welcome…and if they are rejected, they are to shake the dust from their feet and move on.  

Now this was their command. But were they able to do it? Were they able to face the rejection that the Lord promised they would encounter with grace? There’s no overall answer to this question…each of the seventy-two disciples would have struggled with this personally. They might have been able to externally observe the Lord’s command, remaining calm and cool and collected in the midst of rejection…but what was going on inside them? Some were probably angry and were fighting the urge to retaliate or to “tell off” the naysayers. Others were probably deeply hurt and were beginning to wonder if they could withstand it all. But whether they realized it or not, the God of Heaven and Earth, incarnate before them in the flesh, knowing full well the human struggle and anguish with rejection, was supplying for them in their need. He was offering them His unconditional, total, complete, and infinite love. Through the grace of their experience of Him, and in the unseen work of His grace at work in their souls, the only-Begotten Son of God communicated to His disciples that He valued them, that He appreciated them, that He wanted them. No failure on their part, no hidden wound, no deficiency, no sin of theirs could change the mad love that He had for them…and by simply letting going of their need to control, they would slowly be able to bask in the freedom of being loved by a God Who loves not from compulsion, or guilt, or necessity, but from His own eternal freedom. And all of this would be completely realized when, again in His own freedom, the God-man hung on the Cross. Rejected, spurned, and despised as His broken body bled on the tree of death, He would show us that God’s love – a real, enfleshed, sacrificial love – is the only way to overcome our fear of rejection. He shows us by His own rejection and death, that even the greatest acts of rejection in this world not only can, but must lead to the greatest acts of love. This is what robs rejection of its power. When we learn to love as God loves, rejection no longer has any power over us.

We are here in this church today, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, because we are the Lord’s disciples. And like the seventy-two in our Gospel today, we are sent from this place on mission to proclaim Christ and His salvation to all the world. It is a dangerous mission because we face the promise of rejection. People will think that we’re nuts when we proclaim that Jesus Christ is God, that He has died, that He is risen from the dead, and that He will return in glory. They will think that we are disillusioned fanatics when we say that He is present with us in the Holy Eucharist, that He offers us the forgiveness of our sins through the Sacrament of Penance, and that there is a Heaven to hope for and a Hell to avoid. They will call us bigots and haters when we invite them to turn away from sin, when we challenge them to use their freedom to love God above all things, and when we call them to change their lives. So what will we do? What will we do when this rejection comes our way? Will we harden our hearts so that this rejection doesn’t affect us, becoming Christian bullies? Will we cave in and preach a watered-down version of the Gospel so that people will like and accept us? Or will we look to the Cross and believe with all our hearts that ultimately God’s love for us has the power to overcome everything…our fear, our pain, our anxieties, and our failures. The key to living this Christian life well, to being the Lord’s disciples, is to learn not to simply fall back on this love when the going gets tough, but to start from it. May God’s love empower us this day and all our days. May our desire and thirst to be accepted, and wanted, and valued, and cherished and loved be found firstly and completely in Him…and then may we learn, as His disciples, to bring this love to all the world, even when it rejects us. 

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