Tag Archives: grace

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 18 A

Is 55:1-3
Ps 145       R/. You open your hand to feed us, Lord, and satisfy our needs.
Rom 8:35, 37-39
Mt 14:13-21
 

In our Gospel passage today, Jesus puts the Apostles to the test: you give them something to eat (Mt 14:16), He tells them, before a crowd of more than five thousand. Jesus challenges His disciples to trust in Him, and to use the small amount of food they have to feed the multitude.

Sometime around the 1980’s, many sceptics began to dismiss the miracles of multiplication that Jesus did. It was just a ‘miracle’ of sharing, they said; when people saw how the disciples were ready to share the little they had, others began to share their lunches too.

Well, if it were just a nice story about people being kind to one another, then it really has no place in the Bible! Because the Bible isn’t about ‘nice’, it’s about Christ! And Christ is God among us (cf. Mt 1:13), and all things are possible for God (cf. Mt 19:26).

Just over twenty years ago, my parents decided to move to the Edmonton area, and so we came to look for a house. We weren’t sure about our real needs or in which neighbourhood we wanted to live, so my parents were looking to rent. But our search for a decent rental was quite disappointing — even depressing (!) —, and we soon realised we had to buy. But putting together an unplanned down payment was going need a miracle.

Looking for some direction and some hope, early one morning my Dad turned to the Bible, as he often does, and began to read and pray. He came upon this passage of the multiplication of the loaves and was really struck by God’s overwhelming generosity in providing for His people. So after breakfast and sharing his prayers with Mom, Dad called us all to the table for a family prayer meeting. He read us the passage and shared with us how he felt God was asking us to give Him our ‘loaves and fishes’ so that God could multiply them.

So Dad emptied his pockets and put money on the table as a symbol of his loaves, and spontaneously we all followed suit, offering whatever we had. On an inspiration Dad also decided to include the family car, so he added the keys to the little pile. And with this we prayed, offering to God our loaves a fishes, asking Him to multiply them so that we might be able to buy a house.

That afternoon we went to visit a house. When we got there, the elderly man who owned it said he couldn’t let us in because the realtor, who had the keys, was in Toronto. As it turns out, the man was a developer, and so as not to waste our trip to St. Albert he insisted we come to see his new homes, even though they were far beyond our finances. And so we went.

The houses were beautiful, just the size we needed, and they were in a great location. It became clear to us that God had brought us here, and we began to feel that we had found the house the Lord wanted to give us. But we still didn’t know how the finances were going to work out. However, we trusted that God wouldn’t disappoint.

So Mom and Dad went to the bank, but the developer — who had great compassion on my parents with five teens — had already made arrangements with the manager. He was vouching for the down payment so we didn’t have to put one down, and since his daughter was a lawyer, she drafted up the papers, and there were almost no closing costs either. We moved into our new home in late August, a week before school began. But because the paperwork was slow, we ended up living in the house payment-free for two months, which gave us enough money to buy a second car, as my parents were teaching in opposite ends of the city. The Lord is gracious and merciful… His compassion is over all that He has made (Ps 145:8, 9)… He opens His hands to give us our food in due season (cf. Ps 145:16, 15).

Just like the loaves and fishes, God multiplied our little pile of change and keys. The Lord does indeed work miracles! And we need to ask and expect them from Him. But we first need to trust in Him, and we need to offer ourselves to Him along with our loaves and fishes, whatever these might be, however little, however few.

We must never think that it’s not enough, because God isn’t concerned with quantity; He’s concerned about us. Notice how in the Gospel the multiplication took place because Jesus had compassion for them (Mt 14:14). Whatever we might offer to God is grossly insufficient, and Jesus knows that better than we do, but He nonetheless says, Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters (Is 55:1). Come, because He will make it sufficient; He will multiply our offering, our love, so that we’ll even have lots left over. We need only trust in Him, love Him, and give ourselves over to Him. God wants to bless us, and not just in material ways! God wants to fill us with His spiritual gifts, His grace — and in abundance! He wants to make us holy and perfect in His sight (cf. 1 Thes 5:23); will we allow Him to do so? Will we offer ourselves to Him so that He might multiply in us His grace? Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 33 C


Mal 4:1-2
Ps 98   R/.  The Lord is coming to judge the peoples with equity.
2 Thes 3:7-128
Lk 21:5-19

As the Liturgical Year comes to a close — we have two weeks left —, the Church, every year, invites us to ponder on the ‘four last things’: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.  Already last week we began to talk about the importance of the resurrection for our faith.  And you’ll notice, that from now until Advent, our readings will focus more and more on death and the ‘end of the world’, or the ‘judgement of the world’.

Now, this isn’t meant to scare us: the Church is not a prophet of doom.  Rather, the Church is a prophet of hope, because in reminding us of these things — especially death and judgement —, she’s calling our attention to the most important aspect of our lives.

You see, today’s Gospel isn’t so much about future predictions of the ‘end of the world’, or about the various famines and plagues and dreadful portents that will precede it (cf. v. 9, 11).  Rather, by using what we call ‘apocalyptic language’ — an ancient Jewish literary device that uses images of the end of the world (cf. Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Nahum, Zephaniah, Matthew 24, Mark 13, Revelation) —, Jesus is actually calling our attention to the present.

The key phrases to understand today’s Gospel passage are verse 6 and the first part of verse 9.  The whole talk about persecution and war is rooted in Jesus’ line about the Temple; it’s almost a kind of sidebar or distraction: by asking questions about the timing of the destruction, the listeners seem to have missed the point.  Jesus’ point rather, was that the external beauty of the Temple, its decorations, adornments and stones — which are not wrong; beautiful churches are important —, needs to be secondary to the internal beauty of the temple of our soul.

You see, today’s scene follows the widow’s mite: the scene where a poor widow, out of her love for God, put all that she had (two small copper coins) in the Temple offering; a stark contrast to the rich, who only put some of their extra money in the offering (Lk 21: 1-4).

In connecting the two — the example of the widow’s generous offering and trusting abandonment to God, and the fleeting beauty of the Temple —, Jesus is calling us to be vigilant that salvation is what’s important in our life.  That’s why He tells us in verse 9 to not be terrified: because if we focus on Him, then nothing else really matters.  Riches, physical beauty, luxury… all these things fade and come to an end when we die.  But our friendship with the Lord, our closeness to Christ, the effects of grace: these are eternal!  These are what make us truly beautiful; these are what lead us to salvation.  As such, then, these are the truly important things.  There’s no sense in building beautiful churches if we aren’t first building beautiful temples within us.  That’s why, in the second reading, Paul is calling us to be imitators of him (2 Thes 3:7), so that we might, like him, work tirelessly for our sanctification and the sanctification of others.

But, we have to be careful: salvation doesn’t ‘depend’ on us and our efforts; it depends on God’s grace.  But if we don’t actually seek out God’s grace and open our hearts to cooperate with it — that is, if we don’t make use of the Sacraments (especially Confession and the Eucharist), and if we don’t change our lives to abandon sin —, then we can’t expect God’s grace to magically change us.  It’s a an extension of Paul’s line: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat (2 Thes 3:10b).  If we don’t want to be saved, if we don’t make the changes we need to so as to receive God’s grace, then we shouldn’t be surprised that we don’t get it.  We can’t just go around pretending to follow God.  (Now, I’m not saying this is what you do, but we always have to be on guard!)  As the famous line in the movie “The Nun’s Story” (Audrey Hepburn) goes: ‘you can fool me, you might even fool yourself, but you can’t fool God’.

The Last Judgment, by Stephen Lochner (ca. 1435).

The Last Judgment, by Stephen Lochner (ca. 1435).

The Church invites us in these ‘end times’ of the Liturgical Year to ponder on death and judgment so that we might also ponder on our spiritual life to see where we stand.  Are we ready for judgment?  If I die today, where will I go: heaven or hell?  Is Christ really the focus of my life, or is there something in the way?  Do I really make efforts to live according to the love of Jesus?

Chances are we’re all missing the mark a bit; I know I am!  But this is why we need Jesus!  And this is why Jesus tells us not to be terrified, because the end isn’t immediate (cf. v. 9).  As St. Peter tells us in his third letter: …beloved, while you are waiting for these things [a new heaven and a new earth], strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation (2 Pt 3:14-15).  Jesus gives us this time — this life time — so that we might repent and turn to Him to be saved, and this is itself a gift of His mercy, because He doesn’t want the death of the sinner (cf. Ez 18:23, 32).

But none of us know how much time we have left, so it’s essential that we’re always turning back to the Lord, asking for His mercy and forgiveness, so that the grace He gives us will be fruitful and be working toward our salvation.  Because if we are faithful to Christ, not a hair of [our] head will perish (v. 18), but rather, by [our] endurance [we] will gain your souls (v. 19) and rejoice with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Amen.

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