Tag Archives: Conversion

Homily – The Flesh vs. The Spirit (Sunday OT 14 A)

Zech 9:9-10
Ps 145       R/. I will bless your name for ever, my king and my God.
Rom 8:9, 11-13
Mt 11:25-30


In our second reading today, St. Paul reminds us: Brothers and sisters: You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit (Rom 8:9). Flesh and Spirit — St. Paul uses these images to symbolise the internal struggle of the Christian: the battle against our tendency to sin. This is a major theme in Paul’s letters.

But he’s not using this to make a commentary on the body, as if to say that the body — or material reality — is bad and only the spiritual is good. He’s using these words to symbolise deeper realities. For Paul, the flesh symbolises the life of sin (elsewhere he calls it the ‘spirit of the world’), and the Spirit symbolises the life of grace.

St. Paul is trying to help us understand the spiritual struggle that lies in each of our hearts. Deep within us, due to original sin, is the tendency to sin — what we call, concupiscence —, and if we look closely at this tendency and where it points, it becomes easy for us to see why St. Paul clumps it all in together under the name the flesh. Our tendency to sin is always directly to pleasure: be it lust, gluttony, greed, pride, anger, sloth or envy, each of these deals with a certain sense of the pleasures of the body. That’s pretty obvious when it comes to lust, gluttony and sloth, but it’s also true of the others. Greed, for example, is really just a lust for money or material things. And pride is really about puffing one’s own ego to make ourselves bigger than we really are. That’s why we give it bodily terms? (i.e., ‘You’re so full of yourself’, or ‘What a fat head’, etc.). These sinful attractions are what St. Paul means by the flesh, and they’re something toward which each of us leans because of original sin.

But St. Paul seeks to remind the Romans (and us, too!), that we’re not slaves to these fleshly desires. No, we’ve been redeemed by Christ! In Baptism, our fleshliness (these sinful tendencies) was put to death on the Cross so that we could receive new life in Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is why St. Paul tells us, You are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit.

We’ve been claimed by Christ, and it’s His Spirit that now dwells in us. We’re no longer ‘fleshly’ beings, but born of the Spirit. And it’s this life in the Holy Spirit that ought to direct our lives, not our base inclinations to sin, our concupiscence. That’s why we need to do battle with our tendency to sin, so that the life of grace we received in Baptism can continue and grow even stronger. Because, as St. Paul rightly says, if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom 8:13).

Jesus has redeemed us by His Death, and He continues to save us through the forgiveness of sins in Confession, not so that we might continue to die according to the desires of the flesh, but so that we might live according to the grace of the Holy Spirit.

That’s why in the spiritual life we often speak of ‘dying to self’. To die to self doesn’t mean that we become disinterested in ourselves and allow ourselves to be victimised by the sinfulness of others. Rather, it means that we struggle against our desire for sin so that we can truly live according to God’s love as His sons and daughters. It means that we must chose to abandon certain practices, certain likes, certain ways of living — that’s the dying part — so that we can remain faithful to God’s commandments.

We have to let go of our sinful habits, and even grow to hate them, so that we can choose to act in love instead of selfishness. And we call it dying because it’s not easy and often feels like we’re dying when we change our ways. It costs us something. In order to receive the grace God has in store for us, we first have to let go of what we’re already holding. That’s why Jesus said in last Sunday’s Gospel, those who lose their life for my sake will find it (Mt 10:39).

This, my brothers and sisters, is what God has hidden from the wise and the intelligent but has revealed to little infants (cf. Mt 11:25). We are called to die to sin, to die to self, so as to live for and with Christ. That’s why it’s so important for us to be constantly examining our hearts: are we living according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit? And this is why it’s so important for us to be constantly repenting of our sinfulness and clinging to God’s mercy and grace. Because we can’t win this battle for ourselves, we can only win if we allow the Holy Spirit to take over, to heal and to lead us in the ways of God. No, we are not of the flesh; we are of the Spirit, and therefore we must live by the Holy Spirit.

Breathe into us, Holy Spirit, that our thoughts may all be holy.
Move in us, Holy Spirit, that our work, too, may be holy.
Attract our hearts, Holy Spirit, that we may love only what is holy.
Strengthen us, Holy Spirit, that we may defend all that is holy.
Protect us, Holy Spirit, that we may always be holy (cf. St. Augustine).

Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 14 C


Is 66:10-14
Ps 66         R/. Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth.
Gal 6:14-18
Lk 10:1-12, 17-20


In our Gospel today, Luke recounts the second of three times Jesus sent His disciples on a missions to evangelise. The first was to the Apostles (Lk 9); the third will be during the Last supper (Lk 22).

In each sending out, Jesus uses almost exactly the same language, and He focuses their task on the same object: to make disciples by proclaiming the Good News.

When we examine today’s Gospel text in correlation to the other two commissions, we begin to notice a few key things.

First, we notice that Jesus sends the disciples to prepare His way: [He] sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go (Lk 10:1). The mission of the disciples was to go ahead of Jesus and open the hearts of the people so that when Jesus arrived, they would be ready to hear Him and encounter Him. [C]ure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Lk 10:9). This almost echoes the role John the Baptist had in preparing the way of the Lord.

Second, we notice that Jesus wants His message proclaimed to everyone, no exceptions. In Genesis 10, we hear that there were 70 nations in the world besides Israel. Choosing 70 missionaries is symbolic of their going out to all nations, which Jesus will make explicit in His last words to the disciples before He ascends to the Father (Lk 24:47). The harvest is plentiful (Lk 10:2), and the disciples are to go to everyone who will welcome their words and listen.

Third, we notice that this mission is urgent: greet no one on the road (Lk 10:4). Focus on your mission, Jesus was saying; don’t get distracted. This is also part of why Jesus tells them not to bring anything with them. Don’t worry about your needs, they will only distract you from your work; I will take care of all your needs. This mission was also a lesson in Divine Providence.

Lastly, but most importantly, we notice that disciples are called to progress in the faith. When Jesus first began to preach, many people gathered around Him to listen. As He continued, some began to believe in Him and live according to His words; some even began to follow Him around. The word ‘disciple’ means student, and well describes the beginning of the Christian life. Disciples are called to listen to Jesus, to learn from Him and to follow in His ways.

But in this second mission, Jesus is calling out some of the disciples to advance in their relationship with Him. He calls them to move from being ‘students’ to become teachers themselves, as He gives them a mission to go out and preach the Good News. That’s because there’s a necessary progression in the life of faith to move from merely following Jesus (being a student) to one of announcing Jesus to others (being a missionary).

As disciples we’re called to learn from Jesus, allowing Him to change our hearts and minds. But once transformed, we’re called to grow from being a ‘disciple’ to being a ‘missionary disciple’. Each and every baptised person is called to be a missionary, to go out and help others to know and experience the love of Jesus; this is the basic mission of every Christian! Jesus calls us to Himself so that we might go out!

My brothers and sisters, the sending out of the 70 is our sending out; their mission is our mission. Are we ready to go out and preach Jesus to others? Do we know Him well enough to do that? Do we trust Him enough?

This is what Pope Francis keeps telling us. But in order to embrace this mission, in order to grow from being a disciple to being a missionary disciple, we ourselves must first be transformed by the love and grace of Jesus.

As we ponder this mission today, may we turn to Jesus asking for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that we might grow in faith and in our experience of His love and be faithful to the mission He gives us. Amen.PopeFrancis_Missionaries

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Homily Sunday OT 13 C – Confessions of a Band Geek


1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21
Ps 16   R/. You are my chosen portion, O Lord.
Gal 5:1, 13-18
Lk 9:51-62


Audio.

As a teenager, I was different than the other kids: I was a ‘band geek’.

Roger_ECMB

Me, May 1994.

Yes, I was big into band: school band, concert band, jazz band… and my favourite of all, marching band; but not the typical kind of marching band, doing parades. No, I was in a ‘hard core’ marching band, and the best part of it was the marching, or rather the drill. We would do choreography, different movements and patterns, on football fields all the while playing our instruments making music. Every summer we’d go on the road for three weeks doing tours and competitions throughout the western U.S., performing for crowds numbering even into the thousands. And we were pretty good: we always ended up in the top three of our tier. It was a blast!

But one of the key concepts I remember learning very early on was that you couldn’t just follow the person in front of you. If all you did was focus on the person in front of you, you were likely to hit them, but you were certainly going to lose the shape you were trying to show. In order to keep your instrument up straight and keep the choreography in step and in flow, you had to know the overall picture of the shapes and look down the line and out toward the boundaries of the fields. This was the only you could keep a straight line or keep the shape flowing. This meant you had to constantly check everything around you, without turning your head, and still keep playing the music. It required a lot of concentration and effort, but especially a lot of training and practice.

In our Gospel today, the Lord is giving us a very similar message: No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (Lk 9:62). In other words, if you plough looking backwards, you’re going to lose your sense of direction and have crooked rows. That’s because we go where we’re looking: our eyes fix on a point of reference, and that’s where we head. So if you’re looking backward, you can’t plough straight because you’re not looking where you want to go: you lose your proper point of reference.

This is all the more true in the spiritual life. If our life of faith isn’t focused on Christ, then we won’t reach Him. It’s the same message He tells us elsewhere: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Mt 6:21). In the spiritual life, we go toward what the eyes of our hearts and minds are fixed upon. If that’s Christ, then we’ll become holy; but if it’s the world, or distractions or sin, then we shouldn’t be surprised that that’s where we end up, very far from God and grace. With these words, Jesus is reminding us to keep the eyes of our minds and hearts fixed on Him, so as to arrive at our destination of holiness, peace and joy — the Kingdom of God.

But there’s also a second aspect to these words. No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. These words also speak of our conversion process. If we put our hands to the plough, that is, if we turn toward Jesus, we can’t look back to what we’ve left behind. How many times do we encounter Christians who lament that so-called ‘good things’ they left behind in order to follow Christ, or worse, who long to return to those things? ‘Oh, I wish I could lie and manipulate like I used to; I always got my way…’; or, ‘How I wish I could watch porn and have casual sex like others do; it looks like so much fun…’; or, ‘Why do sinners look so happy and free?’.

These questions and attitudes reveal a ‘looking back’ while still trying to plough forward. This is what St. Paul called self-indulgence and desires of the flesh (cf. Gal 5:13, 16f). Not only do they lead us off course, but they also increase our desire for these things and lead us into slavery to them.

But Christ, on the other hand, as St. Paul tells us, has made us free! He’s freed us from our base passions to lead us into the ways of holiness, but we’ll only arrive there through grace if we keep the eyes of our hearts and minds fixed on Jesus. Because, in truth, we haven’t left anything ‘good’ to follow Jesus, we’ve only left what hurt us, what enslaved us, what brought us pain and suffering. If we look beyond the veneer of the so-called happiness the world presents — wealth, pleasure, power, etc. —, we won’t find joy, but only pain, sorrow and selfishness, which lead to death. And this is precisely what the Lord Jesus has come to grant us freedom from: freedom so that we might be able to walk in His path of love. His is the only path that leads us forward to true joy, love, happiness and the Kingdom.

IMG_2710

Carolina Crown, 2004.

May we, then, as His disciples, truly put our hands to the plough of Jesus, and not look back at our old lives with envy or desire, but look forward, earnestly focusing on Christ crucified and walking toward the Kingdom of God. Anything else will leave us bitter, sad and resentful, and God knows, we already have enough people like that in the Church and in the world. What we desperately need today are joyful Christians committed to life in Christ, joyfully walking toward Him in the ways of holiness and love. Only in this way will the world be able to see the true patterns of His love and mercy, and be moved by them to join the ranks of the saints and make joyful music to the praise of God the Father. Amen.

 

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For a great example of what we used to do,
check out this exceptional performance and this one.

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Homily – Sunday Easter V C


Acts 14:21-27
Ps 145       R/. I will bless your name for ever, my king and my God.
Rev 21:1-5
Jn 13:1, 31-33, 34-35


One of the greatest challenges of our society today is that of selfishness. People are generally only concerned with themselves. In our Gospel this week, our Lord gives us the remedy to such egoism: Love! Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (Jn 13:34).

You see, my brothers and sisters, love is the opposite of selfishness, it opens us up to others, and it causes us to want to give of ourselves for others (cf. John Paul II, Message for the XI World Youth Day, no. 6). Love leads us out of ourselves and toward others. That’s why love is the cure for selfishness, for injustice, for poverty, for every evil. That’s why love is the way of God; that’s why love is the way to God.

But in our Gospel today, Jesus doesn’t just invite us to love, He commands us to love: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another (Jn 13:34). So what does it mean to love one another? Jesus gives us two answers to that question.

First, this commandment is given to us in the context of the Last Supper, and it’s in this event that we find our first clue to understanding Christian love. Do you remember what’s unique about the Last Supper in John’s Gospel? If you said the Washing of the Feet, you’re right. If you remember Holy Thursday, John recounts how Jesus washed the feet of the Twelve, and it’s in this context that He gives us this new commandment. And we need to keep these two parts tied together: the Washing of the Feet, and the Commandment to Love. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you (Jn 13:15). Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (Jn 13:34).

So to love as Christ loves is to wash each other’s feet, to serve each other, to care for each other. This kind of love is best called ‘charity’, the virtue of loving God and others. The theological virtue of charity is a supernatural virtue: it’s one we receive as a gift from God, not one that we achieve by effort. That means it’s rooted in prayer, and is the result of God’s grace working in our lives. This is what distinguishes Blessed Mother Teresa from, say, Bill Gates or some other philanthropist. Charity is about receiving others for the sake of our love for God, and for love of them, and sharing ourselves with them in return. It’s unconditional and unlimited.

Second, the first verse of today’s Gospel gives us another clue: Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father (Jn 13:1). John repeatedly uses this term ‘hour’ to refer to the moment of Jesus’ glorification, the Cross (cf. Jn 3:14, 12:32). So to love as Jesus loves is to embrace the Cross: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13). To love one another as Christ loves us is to lay down our lives for others. Charity isn’t just sharing with others; it’s giving ourselves to others.

To love as Christ loves, then, is a demanding love; it isn’t for the lukewarm or the half-hearted! To love as Christ loves is to die to ourselves, it’s to sacrifice our lives, it’s to serve. That’s why it’s a supernatural virtue, because it can only be the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in us. But in order for the Spirit to transform us into vessels of love, we must open our hearts to God; we must first encounter His love. That’s why prayer and the Sacraments are essential for the Christian life, because it’s through them that we open our hearts to God; it’s through them that Christ teaches us to love; it’s through them that we receive the grace that sanctifies us. This is why Jesus made charity the distinctive mark of His disciples: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:35). That’s why in the Acts of the Apostles Christianity is called ‘the Way’, because it is the way of Love.

Now this isn’t new to you. Parent’s, whether you realise it or not, you’ve been living a similar love since the day your child was born. To wake up in the middle of the night to feed or console a child, to make sure they have clothes before you do, to provide for their needs first, these are acts of love. Combined with prayer and offered as a sacrifice of love to God, they begin to take on the character of charity.

It’s because of acts like this that Catherine Dougherty, the founder of the Madonna House Apostolate, was able to coin the phrase ‘I am third’: God first, others second, me third. Or that Blessed Mother Teresa was able to challenge us to ‘give until it hurts’.

Charity, as the supernatural virtue of loving, is a way of participating in God’s action, because through charity we share in God’s act of love; we’re able to love as He loves. In fact, charity is God’s love working in and through us. That’s why St. Paul called it the greatest gift that never ends (cf. 1 Cor 13:8, 13). It’s this love that makes all things new, that transforms the world in which we live.

In this Easter Season, as we continue to celebrate the Eucharist and receive the gift of God’s love made flesh, may we contemplate this mystery so as to learn to love as Christ loves, to grow in the virtue of charity, and to live according to God’s commandment to love one another as He loves us, so that through Him, with Him and in Him, we too, can make all things new with His love. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday Easter III C – Do You Love Me?

Audio: https://soundcloud.com/pereroger/doyouloveme (Follow me on SoundCloud!)


 

Acts 5:28-32, 40b-41 Ps 30   R/.  I will extol you, Lord, for you have raised me up. Rev 5:11-14 Jn 21:1-19


In our Gospel passage today we continue with the accounts of Jesus’ apparitions after the Resurrection. Once again, John doesn’t disappoint with his carefully worded retelling of the encounter. The whole scene ties in several previous key events the disciples experienced with Jesus.

We begin with the disciples — including Simon, James and John — fishing on the Sea of Galilee, but without catching anything throughout the night. Jesus is on the shore. This scene reminds us of their call to discipleship (Mt 4:18-22).

As Jesus tells them to cast their nets again, it recalls the miraculous catch of fish (Lk 5:1-11), when Peter made his first profession of faith — Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man! (Lk 5:8).Jn21Icon.jpg

Ashore, Jesus invites them to eat bread and fish; this brings up the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish (Jn 6:1-13), which began the discourse on the Bread of Life.

The mention of a charcoal fire (Jn 18:18) recalls Peter’s triple denial of Jesus during the Passion (Lk 22:64-62; Jn 18:15-27). The three questions that follow reinforce this connection.

Finally, Jesus speaks directly to Peter calling him Simon, son of John (v. 15), recalling Peter’s elevation as chief of the Apostles, when he’s given the keys (Mt 16:18).

I mention these things briefly because I think they’re important for us to keep in our hearts and minds as we hear the words of our Gospel today. John subtly recalls them so as to help us to understand what Jesus is saying and doing in this final encounter.

You see, the key part of our Gospel passage is precisely this interchange between Jesus and Peter; everything else serves to help us make sense of it. Having denied Jesus three times, Peter must now profess his love for Jesus three times; having run away from Jesus’ Passion, he must now embrace the passion that awaits him. And all of this Peter will do by loving Jesus to the end, and by humbly and faithfully caring for the flock of Christ — that is, the Church — now entrusted to his care.

Jesus gave Peter the keys to loose and to bind; now he’s being told about what that’ll look like: self-sacrificial love (for God and for others) — Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? (Jn 21:15); and, He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God (Jn 21:19).

This love will be expressed not merely through Peter’s death, but also in his care for the Church, by tending and feeding the sheep. Here I think John is tying-in his previous mention of the fish and loaves: Peter must feed the flock of Christ with the Eucharist and help them to follow Jesus.

But there’s another aspect here that’s lost in the English language. When Jesus questions Peter, they’re not using the same words. The details are lost in English because we only have one word for love, but the Greeks have at least four words, each describing a different kind of love or relationship.

Jesus asks Peter, do you love me?do you [agape] me? Agape is a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love (cf. DCE, 7). So Jesus is really asking Peter, ‘do you love me with your whole heart? Will you die for me as you once said you would?’ (Mt 26:33).

Peter, on the other hand, responds with another word, philia, which is a friendship kind of love: ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I [like] you’, or ‘you know that I’m your friend’. This contrast also appears in the second question and answer.

In the third question, Jesus mercifully lowers His expectations and changes His question to match Peter’s language: do you [philia] me?, that is, ‘do you like me?’ Obviously not catching on to the differences, Peter responds in a wounded manner, Lord, you know everything; you know that I [like] you.

Jesus mercifully lowers His expectations because He sees that Peter doesn’t yet understand and can’t quite raise himself to say it, but that he will in due time. Peter wasn’t ready for agape — for a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love — on that morning by the Sea of Galilee, but he certainly was by the time he joyfully laid down his life in Rome nearly 35 years later. Jesus accepted Peter where he was at so that He could help him to grow into what he should be.

My brothers and sister, the Lord Jesus does the same for us: He consistently invites us to the high dignity of discipleship, even when He knows it often seems beyond our capacities. But He doesn’t stop inviting us if we’re not yet ready to love Him as He desires us to. Instead, like He did with Peter, Jesus is patient with us and is willing to walk with us along the path to perfection. He doesn’t give up on us, but walks with us.

We don’t need to fear that we’re not where Jesus wants us to be. We don’t need to fear we can’t do what Jesus asks us to do. He’s patient with us. But we can’t give up either: we can’t just walk away because what Jesus asks is challenging. And we can’t just sit back and expect that Jesus will accept us if we do nothing. He invites us, but we need to respond in order to receive the gifts He has in store for us. Our ‘yes’ doesn’t need to be perfect, but we do need to open the door at least a crack in order for Him to enter.

Peter didn’t stay stuck in his inability to love Jesus perfectly. Rather he loved Jesus as he could, and through that love, Jesus drew him closer, and perfected his love. When Jesus calls us to follow Him, we need to respond to the best of our capacity. We can’t just mope and wallow in self-pity because we’re not as good as He wants us to be. Rather, like Peter, we need to offer Jesus what it is we do have, what it is we can do right now, and then allow Him to lead us to a deeper love, a stronger commitment, a holier way of life.

Jesus invites us to perfection, but He accepts what we can give Him. The key is that we have to give what we have, and let Him raise us up. Are we ready to do that? Are we ready to follow Jesus with what we have? Are we able to let Him change and transform us, so that we, too, can love Him perfectly with an agape love?

Through the Sacraments, the help of the Holy Spirit, and the intercession of Mary and the Saints, may we be lifted up by the grace of Christ to become what He calls us to be: one with Him in the love of the Father. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday Lent IV C – The Joy of the Father’s Mercy

Rembrandt_FilsProdigue PS


Jos 5:9, 10-12
Ps 34         R/. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
2 Cor 5:17-21
Lk 15:1-3, 11-32


What a beautiful story our Lord shares with us today, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We’ve all heard many times in our lives; I’m sure you’re all very familiar with it, so today, I won’t give a lengthy exegesis of the parable but rather focus just on one aspect: the father’s welcome.

Let’s listen to that passage again: … while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him (Lk 15:20). What a beautiful scene! Instead of scolding his son for having rejected him — by asking for his inheritance early, the son was essentially saying, ‘You’re dead to me’ — and wasted his inheritance, the father embraces him, clothes him with the best robe, and puts a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. In other words, the father removes the signs of slavery and sin and restores his son to the fullness of the dignity of sonship that he had before.

This, my brothers and sisters, is why we rejoice today on Laetare Sunday. Because God is the compassionate and loving father who embraces us, his prodigal children, when we return to Him repenting of our sins! Like the father in the parable, God waits for our return, watching for us in the distance, and then, when He sees us, He eagerly runs out to meet us. Yes, there is indeed more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents (Lk 15:7).

And it’s this eager, joyful compassion that God extends to us that we’re called to remember in this Lenten season as we examine our hearts, repent of our sins, and turn back to the Father. That’s why we do Lenten penances, to express our sorrow: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you (Lk 15:18). And when we do this in humility and with a genuine sorrow for our sins, then the Heavenly Father embraces us just as in the parable, and He renews our sonship, clothing us with the best robe: the garment of salvation, the robe of righteousness (cf. Is 61:10).

But God’s joy in our return doesn’t stop there! He also celebrates our return with a great feast. God is generous in His love and mercy, and this, this is why today we rejoice. Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult, for God welcomes sinners (Is 66:10-11; Lk 15:2).

Through the grace of Christ, and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we also truly repent of our sins and return home to the Father to share in His joy. 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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