Tag Archives: holiness

Homily – Sunday OT 27B – The Bond of Marriage

This is a repeat of my homily from 2015, but I felt it was worth republishing.

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.

But, 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 – Sunday OT 20 B

Pv 9:1-4
Ps 34   R/.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Eph 5:15-20
Jn 6:51-58

It’s been a difficult month in the Church in North America, especially this past week, as we’ve been hearing about clergy sex abuse and how deep the historical cover-up has been. I don’t know any Priest who’s not shaken up or even angered by all of this, as I’m sure you are. These reports have shown us a Church culture that hasn’t been concerned with the pastoral care of people or of helping victims to heal and recover, but rather with self-protection and hiding the sins of shepherds.

And I can’t say that it completely surprises me. This is a fruit of a maintenance culture, a culture that has abandoned mission and seeks only to maintain privilege and status. It pains me to say that in our day this is the prevalent culture in the Church –– and not just in the U.S..

But this isn’t anything new. Throughout history, we see that every time the Church gets comfortable, every time her members feel as though they’re ‘okay’, things go awry. Luxury and comfort kick in; power, prestige and politics become the objectives; and abuse and debauchery of all different sorts rear their ugly heads. And this isn’t just with the clergy. Look at the world around us! If clergy do it, it’s because it’s found in society; and if the clergy do it, the laity is also sure to follow. It’s truly a vicious circle. That’s why the Church always needs to be vigilant about herself and seek to always reform, renew and refocus herself on Christ. And again, this isn’t just for the clergy, it’s for all of the baptised.

A difference we see today is how sick it’s gotten, and how deeply hurtful it’s become for victims and for all members of the Church. I don’t think anyone is left untouched by this in some way or other. And, as odd as it sounds, that’s a good thing! Because it’s only by being disturbed that change will come about. By noticing how far we’ve fallen, we can then turn back to Jesus, seek His mercy and His grace, and ask the Holy Spirit to bring about healing and transformation in our hearts, in our lives and in the Church. And I think it’s precisely because He desires this transformation that God has made all these horrible things to come to light. Healing can only begin when we know what the problem is, and the disease must be eradicated if the patient is to recover.

When we look at the reports, we see that a great part of the problem has been complacency: clergy and laity alike have stopped seeking holiness, have stopped growing in faith, have stopped trying to be like Jesus. And yet, as we hear in the Gospel today this is exactly why Jesus gave us the Eucharist. He’s given us His Body and Blood –– and continues to do so –– so that we might have life. And not just any life, but His life, so that we might become like Him: He living in us and we in Him.

I hope and pray that history will one day show that this great scandal today will be the catalyst for a renewal in the Church, not a death of faith but a renewal; a refocussing on Jesus and a renewed desire for holiness. Because that’s why Jesus created the Church. That’s why He gave us Priests: to lead us to Him and to bring us His transforming grace. This is what St. Paul reminds us in the second reading: be careful how you live, … making the most of the time… do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is(Eph 5:15, 16-17).

This is a wake-up call to all disciples of Jesus that we need to turn back to Him, that we need to allow Him to change our hearts and our lives and become imitators of Him. And not just a little bit, but increasingly, so that His holiness may be revealed in us.

This is also a reminder to the whole Church of the importance of letting go of “the way things have always been” so as to rediscover our mission. We’re not meant for maintenance but for mission! We’re called as a Church –– clergy and laity alike –– to focus our work on making disciples; on bringing people to Jesus so that they can find in Him healing, forgiveness and life; on working for the salvation of souls –– not simply for our own, and certainly not for power and prestige.

This is why it’s so important for us to spend time in prayer every day. While we may not become predators if we don’t, we certainly will become too comfortable and too complacent to do anything to change the mess we’re in. Rather than be discouraged or withdrawing amid this scandal, we need to recommit ourselves to Jesus, to the Church, to our Parish, so that the life Christ wants to give will take hold of us, and by renewing us, renew the whole Church. It really does depend on each of us turning more intently to Jesus.

I ask also that you pray in a particular way for victims of clergy abuse. Not only are they still hurting from the grievous wounds of abuse, the retelling of stories and events in these days is also reopening their wounds and renewing their hurt. And know that these victims are not in distant Parishes; they’re among us, even in our own Parish, and they need our love, our help and our prayers. This must never happen again.

May God have mercy on us, and through the gift of His grace, bring about in each of our lives and in the whole Church, lasting transformation that will lead to the holiness of her members and to the rewards of eternal life. Amen.

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Homily – Assumption 2018

Today is supposed to be a great and joyful feast in honour of the glory of Mary and the triumph of God’s mercy in her life, in her very being. Mary is assumed into heaven body and soul because of her sinlessness, because of her immaculate conception.


The Assumption of the Virgin (1612-17), by Peter Paul Rubens

And yet, today the Church finds herself in mourning, covered with shame, confusion and hurt. And not because of anything that has happened to her from the outside, but because of the failings of her very own shepherds. It pains me to speak about this today on this joyful feast – it makes me cry even just to think about it –, but speak I must, because silence is what created this mess in the first place. I’m speaking here, of course, of the newest wave of clerical sexual abuse and misconduct that is being revealed in these days. And it’s not just an isolated case or even many, but the systematic nature of these abuses and the depth to which they were rampant. And I fear that we’ve only just touched the tip of the iceberg in this matter. What a contrast to the very nature of our feast today.

You see, Mary’s glory is that she, in her person, reveals the very destiny for which every person has been created. We’ve been created not for sin and depravity, but for holiness and righteousness; we’ve been created to reflect the very holiness and perfection of God, and the reward for that holiness is the beatific vision, union with God in heaven for eternity. Mary’s assumption into heaven is what God created each one of us to experience. Now, as children of Adam, we lost that gift through original and personal sin.

But as St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, Jesus has restored this gift (albeit in a modified form) by bringing us the gift of mercy, forgiveness and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: since death came through a man; for all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:21-22). But Christ’s gift of grace isn’t magic; we aren’t restored unless we repent, and we aren’t made holy unless we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, to change our hearts and our lives. We must do the works of the Father in order to inherit the Kingdom of God; we must be holy for God is holy.

We must allow the Holy Spirit to put to death the sin that lies in our hearts, or else it will reign there, and we will be lost. This is exactly what we’re seeing again in these days, what happens when people allow sin to reign in their hearts. This is all the more painful and devastating when Priests – men who have been consecrated to God, for His service, for His people – allow sin to take hold of their hearts.

In our first reading from the Book of Revelation, we hear that the great Dragon swept a third of the stars down and waited to devour the son of the Woman (Rev 12:4). If we continued reading the vision, St. John tells us that after being defeated, the Dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus (Rev 12:17). We’ve seen and experienced these attacks since the beginning of the Church, but almost always from the outside. As Jesus said, ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you (Jn 15:18-19).

But now we’re seeing very clearly that the Dragon has entered the Church and is pursuing God’s children from within. And it’s important for us to realise that these crimes are attacks on the Church and attempts to destroy her from within. In many cases cited in recent reports, strange demonic rituals often accompanied the abuse perpetrated. And notice how it’s always an attack on the innocent. The evil one relishes the destruction of innocence, because innocence is a glimpse into God’s holiness. This is heartbreaking on so many levels.

But our second reading from St. Paul also continues with some good news: Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet(1 Cor 15:24-25). While it’s painful for us to hear the stories of these abuses, and it rightly angers and sickens us, it is in fact good news, because it means that God is purifying His Church: He is showing the strength of His arm; He is pulling out the weeds and scattering the proud of heart; He is casting out the demons that lay hidden within her, and bringing down the powerful from their thrones. And this, too, is only the tip of the iceberg!

As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind – yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish (5:25-27).

Jesus is now purifying His Church so as to make her holy, and not just by getting rid of the evil that’s hidden in her, but by using these events also to remind us of why it’s so important for us to seek holiness. This cleansing of the Temple is a call to holiness! We’ve created this mess – and let’s be honest, it’s not just the Priests’ and Bishops’ fault –, we’ve created this mess because we’ve abandoned God’s call to be holy as He is holy; we’ve abandoned His call to hear the word of God and do it; we’ve forsaken a life of prayer for a life of comfort. In other words, we’ve allowed the world to lead us, and not the Holy Spirit. And this is as true for each of us as it is for those who committed these horrendous crimes.

As we walk through this time of desolation – and it isn’t over yet –, may we hear the voice of God calling us to a deeper conversion, to a return to prayer and fasting, to renew our efforts to be holy, by allowing His grace and the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and our lives. God is indeed mindful of His promise to our fathers and is using this difficult time to bring us His mercy. May we hear His voice and follow after Him, for the victory is already His and is being fulfilled before us right now. The only question that remains is, where will we be found? Among the fruit, or among the weeds?

As we celebrate this solemn feast today, let us take refuge in Mary and seek her intercession for the Church, for victims of abuse, for ourselves.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. 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 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 Lent I A

Gen 2:7-9, 16-18, 25; 3:1-7
Ps 51   R/. Have mercy, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Rm 5:12-19
Mt 4:1-11

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Lucas Cranach, 1530)

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Lucas Cranach, 1530)

In the beginning, when God created man and woman, He created them to be in communion with Himself, and as we hear from the second creation account in Genesis, we notice that Adam and Eve walked with the Lord and talked with Him in the Garden; they lived in His presence, they lived in His peace. And they were able to do that because they were created in His image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-27). This image and likeness, this imago Dei (image of God), is what gave them the capacity to be in a personal relationship with God, and what differentiated them from all the other creatures created by God.

Sadly, the imago Dei was distorted by sin when the serpent seduced Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. By being led into disobedience  — which, in this context, I think, is quite severe since they were only given one commandment: not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17) —, by being led into disobedience, Adam and Eve turned away from God because they turned away from His will; they turned away from His Word.

Now this isn’t some parental punishment for breaking the house rules!  As if God said, ‘If you don’t obey my rules, you’re out!’. By disobeying the Word of God, by turning away from His commandment, Adam and Eve turned away from God Himself, because God identifies Himself with His Word; His Word is an extension of Himself.

It isn’t like our words, which we formulate in our heads (hopefully!) and then speak with our mouths, releasing them to give joy, sadness or hurt. Once our words have been spoken, they’re no longer present, and they fade away. At best, our words create a memory; at worst, a wound; either way, they’re gone.

But God’s Word is alive and active, says the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 4:12); it’s a creative Word, the Word from which the universe was created. The Bible begins by saying:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…
God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’  And it was so.
And God said, …  ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind…  And it was so.
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…  And it was so
(Gen 1:1-26).

And again in the Psalms: By His word the heavens were made, by the breath of his mouth all the stars (Ps 33:6).

God’s Word is alive and active (Heb 4:12): it doesn’t fade away like ours, rather it lives and it brings into being, and because it lives in God, it’s eternal like Him — Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away, says Jesus (Mt 24:35). And St. Peter said, ‘[T]he word of the Lord endures for ever’, and that living and abiding word of God … is the good news that was announced to you (see 1 Pt 1:23-25).

So what is this good news that was announced to us?  St. John tells us: We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands (I Jn 1:1).

And what was from the beginning?  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. […]  And the Word became flesh and lived among us (Jn 1:1-3, 14).

Jesus, Jesus is the Word of God (!), the eternal and creative Word made flesh. What we’ve come to call the written Word of God, Scripture, is the revelation of Jesus Christ. Scripture is the Word of God made known to humanity, which reveals to us the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and the actions of the Trinity. God reveals Himself to us through His Word, and He transmits Himself to us through His Word.

That’s why to reject the Word of God is to reject God Himself, because, for God there is no distinction between Himself and His Word, they are One: The Father and I are one, said Jesus (Jn 10:30). But that’s what Adam and Eve did in the Garden: when they turned away from God’s one commandment, when they turned away from His Word, they turned away from Him.

But notice how Jesus, while being tempted in the desert, responded to the devil by quoting Scripture. As the second reading tells us, we received the free gift of salvation through the obedience of Jesus. And Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father, to restore in us the imago Dei that Adam and Eve had distorted. By the obedience of Christ we are saved!

Jesus restores us to obedience, through Himself, by being obedient to the Word of God; this is why He quotes Scripture to turn the devil away. Three times the devil tries to lure Him into sin, and he even tries to use Scripture against Jesus: If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written… (Mt 4:6). But Jesus was able to avoid this manipulation because He knew the Word of God in His heart: He understood the Word of God, because He Himself is the Word of God.

My brothers and sisters, we too, need to come to know the Word of God in our hearts, because the Word of God leads us to the Father, teaches us Truth, feeds our soul, and strengthens us against temptation.

Because the Word of God reveals God to us, and because we’re created in His image and likeness and given the command to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48; cf. Lev 20:7), we necessarily need to come to know who God is, and how we’re to imitate Him. This way, Jesus will abide in us, and we will be one with Him, and through Him, one with the Father and the Spirit (cf. Jn 17:21).

Just as Jesus, the Word made flesh is the Bread of Life in the Eucharist, so too, is Scripture, the Word of God, food for us. May we feast on this food, and come to meet and know the God who loves us, the God who saves us, the God who calls us to imitate Him, the God who calls us to be one with Him. And may our meditation upon the creative Word of God recreate us in His image and likeness. Amen.

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