Monthly Archives: October 2015

Homily, Sunday OT 28 B – The Call to Radical Discipleship

Wis 7:7-11
Ps 90   R/. Fill us with your love. O Lord, that we may rejoice and be glad.
Heb 4:12-13
Mk 10:17-27(30)

Today’s Gospel passage ties well to our Gospel from a couple weeks ago, about cutting off that which leads us to sin, but it takes a slightly different approach. It’s a simple and short story, a very human story, but it’s also very profound and moving.

Hoffman-ChristAndTheRichYoungRulerFor me, it’s one of the sad moments in the Gospels. Here’s a young man, who by all accounts was a good man: he sought to please God, followed well the Commandments and sought to do good, and earnestly desired eternal life. He wouldn’t have asked the question if he weren’t genuinely interested in holiness. And he demonstrates this thirst for holiness by asking what more he could do, what he still lacked. He knew that even though he was living a good life, he wasn’t yet holy.

And his question also tells us that he knew he was capable of doing more. He did indeed thirst for holiness, for righteousness, for spiritual perfection. That’s why I think we can so easily identify ourselves with him. And Jesus saw this willingness in him, that’s why He loved him (v. 21), and offered him what his heart desired.

The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mt 26:41). How it must have saddened Jesus that the young man turned away. If only he’d known that God wouldn’t ask more than we can handle; that He would’ve been there to help him; that He would’ve fulfilled his every desire a hundredfold and that he would indeed inherit eternal life. If only the young man would’ve stayed a few minutes longer, he could’ve heard about the riches he would’ve received for his sacrifice of love. Who knows, maybe he would’ve been an Apostle.

But instead, he only heard that he’d have to give up his material wealth, that treasure which moth and rust consume (cf. Mt 6:19). He saw the pearl in the field, but didn’t see its value; the one he held in his pocket seemed bigger to him. How it must have saddened Jesus that the young man turned away.

Many have accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, to become His disciples; but many, because of their selfishness and materialism, have also gone away grieving (v. 22). And what grief it must be! Because the rich young man’s heart was divided: he desired eternal life, but his desire for his riches was stronger. His heart was indeed with his treasure (cf. Lk 12:34). How many times do we do the same? But only in God do we find peace, joy, and life.

All of us experience the struggle of this division in our lives. The life discipleship, the life of following Christ, is a life of self-sacrifice, a life of self-giving, a life given in love. (That’s why we often compare it to Marriage.)

As disciples, we’re all called to let go of our material possessions, of our earthly desires, so as to be free to follow Christ and seek holiness. It’s not that riches are bad in themselves; it’s our attachment to them that’s sinful, because such attachments are egocentric: they’re an obstacle to love; an obstacle to following Christ.

But all of us are called to be ready to sacrifice all things for the sake Christ, for the sake of eternal life. Whether Jesus asks this of us or not is a whole other question, but we need to be ready and willing to do so if He does. This is part of what is means to take up our cross (cf. Lk 9:23). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (no. 2015). This is a normal part of our life in Christ. There should be nothing more important to us than our salvation, because in the end, it’s either eternal life or eternal damnation — there’s no other option.

So let’s place ourselves in the shoes of the rich young man: What is God asking of me? Where is He asking me to go in my spiritual life? What’s my next step toward holiness? Is there anything holding me back? Do I have attachments I need to let go of in order to follow Christ more closely?

These are questions need to be constantly in our hearts and minds, because they help us discern God’s will, and they help purify our desires. And then we need to pray more, asking God to help us embrace this invitation, to help us say ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ, and to boldly follow Him, letting go of anything that keeps us away from Him. And so personal prayer and the Sacraments — especially Confession and the Eucharist — are key tools in our spiritual life.

Jesus gave Himself to us completely and without reservation, and He asks us to give ourselves to Him in return, completely and without reservation. This is the mutual exchange of love, the divine Marriage to which He calls us, and He won’t settle for less!

The call of the rich young man was an invitation to be united to the Saviour, to be conformed more perfectly to the image and likeness of Christ. Jesus makes that same invitation to each one of us: may we not turn away from it like the rich young man, but instead trust in God, and not let anything distract us from eternal life.

And since October is the month of the Rosary, may we entrust ourselves to our Blessed Mother, asking her to guide us along this path to eternal life; to say ‘yes’ to Jesus with our whole heart, with our whole life Amen.

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Homily, Sunday OT 27 B – The Bond of Marriage

Gn 2:7, 15, 28-24
Ps 128       R. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
Heb 2:9-11
Mk 10:2-16

Once again, in today’s Gospel, we find the Pharisees placing their trust in their education and intelligence, and trying to trick Jesus. You see, the question they put to Jesus — Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? — was a trick, a double edged sword.

If Jesus said no, then He’d be disagreeing with what Moses taught, and that would make Him a blasphemer. If He said yes, then He’d have to choose His interpretation. That’s because the Pharisees themselves were divided on the matter. Some taught that a man could divorce his wife only for reasons of adultery; others that he could divorce his wife if she angered him (say, if she burned supper or broken something); and still others that he could divorce her simply because he didn’t want her any more. If Jesus answered yes, He’d have to choose one camp and have the other two as enemies. The Pharisees thought they had Jesus in a corner.

marriage-indissolubleBut, like in all other attempts to trick Him, Jesus outsmarts them. Instead of answering their question about divorce, Jesus speaks to them about Marriage: But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mk 10:6-9).

Instead of debating whether divorce was lawful or not, Jesus teaches about the meaning and reality of Marriage, and though His answer was short, He makes some very important points.

In making reference to the text of Genesis we heard in the first reading today, Jesus roots His answer in the will of God. God created man and woman, and He created them not for divorce but for partnership and union: This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Gn 2:23, 24).

By creating Eve from the rib of Adam, God created her as an equal: a partner not merely because she is of the same nature and being as Adam, but because she is his equal in matter and dignity. She comes from the same piece of clay, and the rib, being close to the heart, places them side by side, and not one above the other. Therefore, Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the dignity God gave women, and that women aren’t property that can be dismissed when no longer wanted.

In creating man and woman as equals and for partnership, their union as husband and wife isn’t a mere human experience: it’s God’s plan. Therefore, He is the one who binds them to one another in the union of Marriage.

The Church has always understood that in the exchange of vows to each other, a bride and groom give themselves to each other as gifts. They offer each other as a mutual exchange of persons: ‘I give myself to you as husband, and I receive you as wife’, and vice versa. And it’s this mutual gift of self to the other that makes Marriage a sacred covenant, because it’s done in totality: total self for life. The Council Fathers of Vatican II put it in this way:

The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by divine will … is a lasting one. ~

Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them (Cf. Pius XI, Casti Connubii) (GS, 48 – emphasis added).

By making appeal to God’s plan in creation, this is what Jesus brings into the discussion. Just like Jesus can’t separate His humanity from His divinity, nor can I separate myself into two people, neither can husband and wife break the union they have established through their mutual gift of self. That’s why Jesus concludes, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mk 10:8). And why He insists that anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery (Mk 10:11-12).

Now over the years (and even in our own day!) many have misunderstood this truth about Marriage. Some have used it to keep people in abuse. The Church has never taught that someone has stay in an abusive relationship. In our Gospel passage, Jesus didn’t condemn separation; He condemned remarriage after divorce. Sometimes it may be necessary for someone in an abusive Marriage to live apart from their spouse. This is a sad and painful reality of our sinfulness. But such a separation doesn’t break the marital bond between the two; separated spouses are to continue to understand themselves as married, and to not attempt remarriage. And nor does legal divorce break the bond between husband and wife.

In some cases, though, the consent upon which the mutual exchange was built can be defective; that is, one or both people didn’t truly give themselves to each other. In such cases, the union can be declared null. That’s what we call a ‘declaration of nullity’ (wrongfully called an ‘annulment’); it’s not the Catholic version of divorce, but a declaration that, after careful study of the relationship, the bond of Marriage was never established; it was invalid. If a Marriage is declared ‘null’, then both parties are free to remarry.

This is the reality of Marriage: through the exchange of vows, a man and a woman are joined to each other so as to become one, and this union is for life. This was God’s plan in creating us male and female, that the two should come together for a communion of life and love. And this is a sacred union, one that reflects the Trinity and our union with Jesus (Eph 5:32); and one that’s revealed most beautifully in the Incarnation of Christ and in His Death on the Cross.

Let us pray today, then, for all married couples, especially those experiencing difficulties; for those preparing for Marriage; and for all the Bishops participating in the Synod on the Family, which opens today. Amen.

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Homily for Sunday OT 26 B – If your hand causes you to stumble…

Num 11:25-29
Ps 19   R/. The precepts of the Lord are right, and give joy to the heart.
Jam 5:1-6
Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

In our Gospel reading for today the Lord Jesus uses very strong imagery: If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off … if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off … if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out (Mk 9:43, 45, 47).

Obviously, He isn’t calling us to mutilate ourselves — I think we’d look like a sorry bunch if He were… But rather, Jesus is using this vivid imagery to help us understand His point: we need to do whatever it takes to avoid sin and reduce temptation. This is at the very heart of the life of virtue to which we’re called as Christians: to reject evil and choose the good (cf. Is 7:15).

The Lord is telling us that, in our struggle against sin and temptation, we need to eliminate from our lives everything that leads us into sin. If the Internet is leading us into sin, then we need to cancel it; if television is leading us into sin, then we need to get rid of it; if a particular friend or group of friends is leading us into sin, then we need to let them go and find new friends…

Jesus uses this strong language to help us understand how serious and committed we need to be in our battle against sin. This is rooted in the reality of how serious and deadly sin is for us. Sin is the road to Hell, and if we allow sin to take hold of us, that’s where it’ll lead us!

That’s why Jesus says, it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell (Mk 9:43). It’s better for us to live without friends, the Internet, or whatever… than to go to Hell. Now those are just random examples; each one of us needs to ask ourselves, what are the things I have, the actions I do, the people I know, and so on… that lead me into sin? What in my life makes it harder for me to refuse temptation? These are the hands, feet, and eyes Jesus is calling us to amputate; these are the things we need to shed in order to grow in virtue and enter into Heaven!

But in order for us to successfully avoid sin and refute temptation, we also need the desire not to sin and the desire to change our lives. That’s because the true causes of sin lie not outside of us, but within our own hearts. As Jesus told us a few weeks ago, [it’s] from the human heart that evil intentions come (Mk. 7:21). The external things we’re called to shed lead us into sin because we’re weak; they awaken in our hearts the desire for sin and weaken our desire to avoid sin. Getting rid of them, then, isn’t a guarantee of not sinning, but is intended to help us grow in our desire to avoid sin and to fight temptation; it strengthens us for the good fight.

That’s why most acts of contrition include a line like, I firmly intend, with the help of your grace, to amend my life and to avoid what ever leads me to sin. Confession isn’t about allowing us to continue sinning and get away with it; Confession is the failsafe, it’s the safety net Jesus has given us in case we fall! As St. John tells us, My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 Jn 2:1). Confession is the gift of God’s mercy because He wants us to be saved. He doesn’t want us to continue sinning, but rather, with His grace, He wants us to grow in virtue and holiness.

That’s why He’s also given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help our conscience discern what is good from what is evil, and to give us the grace, courage, and fortitude to refuse evil and choose the good.

May we, then, who profess the name of Jesus and hope in His mercy, be strengthened by His grace to remove from our lives whatever leads us into sin, so as to cling to what helps us grow in virtue and holiness. Amen.


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