Matthew 10: 37-42Thirteen Sunday in Ordinary Time. July 2nd, 2017
Most times homilies given at Holy Mass are based on the Gospel, but today I want to base this homily on our Second reading. In today’s second reading we have heard from St. Paul from the letter to the Romans. This past week we celebrated the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul; and so, it would be good to talk about St. Paul today.
In this letter St. Paul gives us advice about common struggles in our lives of faith. The Baptized Romans in Paul’s time were struggling with living out their faith just like we do. They found themselves struggling with a culture literally immersed in sin; especially the sin of hedonism--hedonism is the enjoyment of pleasure, entertainment and comfort in a way that is in opposition to the Holy Will of God. It’s not that God never wants us to enjoy pleasure, comfort or entertainment but that we must do so in a moral way, never placing our own will before His Will; in other words, To order our loves properly, never placing pleasure, comfort or entertainment, love of self before love of God and neighbor-to love God even more than our parents, spouses ect.
Pleasure, comfort and entertainment in Paul’s time had become the peoples’ god. While God, the true God was merely paid lip service, if even that. The people of God had become weak. Excessive pleasure and comfort had actually dulled their consciences. Some so much so that they had lost even a sense of sin thinking themselves good enough; theirs became a religion without sacrifice. But even for those who were still aware of their sinfulness, those who were still struggling to leave sin behind so as to conform themselves to the Gospel, that is to Christ, the hedonism of the day had infected them as well. And so they struggled to understand why was it, that if they had received the powerful life transforming grace of baptism, they weren’t making any progress in overcoming sin so as to be more conformed to Christ. They had begun to lose faith that the real power in this world is in the Sacraments of the Church; and so that effect of that power had been weakened in their lives and so in the world in their times.
In this we discover that St. Paul’s time is much like our own time. Even though St. Paul wrote close to 2,000 years ago, his inspired writings still of course have great relevance in our lives today, maybe more than ever. The constant struggle between good and evil played out in our own lives, within our own selves, is the same as in Paul’s day. It is a struggle, better yet, a war being waged between our souls and our bodies, between the Spirit of God and the disordered desires of the flesh, that is our passions and our fallen human nature; it is a battle between selfishness and selflessnes; it is a battle within
For us who are trying to follow God faithfully, our soul or spirit desires to do good, to follow the Gospel; it desires to be kind and considerate to our neighbor, to our family and even to share with them the truth of our faith courageously and with confidence. But instead, we often are short tempered or fearful, or just plain rude because we are in a bad mood. Many of us truly do desire to repent from our sinfulness and convert to truth in order to draw closer in intimacy with Jesus. Yet, sin is so attractive that it seems we will never be able to turn away from it; it seems that following Jesus is just too hard and demanding for us, and we love our own will. Comfort is much easier. As Saint Paul himself says, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. In his letter, St. Paul addresses people who are perhaps down on themselves in their struggles and failures; perhaps he addresses me and you.
St. Paul first reminds them and us that we were baptized and so have received the Holy Spirit. He says, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also.” St. Paul reminds us that our baptism is a baptism into Jesus own death and resurrection. Through our own baptism, we have all then died to that spirit of the world that opposes the Spirit of God. The death that works within us, that being the death of sin, is now reborn with the grace of Christ, who defeated death-sin on the cross. As Jesus was resurrected, so too are we resurrected or born again in the life of grace; and so in part, we share already in Christ’s victory of sin and death. The grace we have received in baptism has the power to give us all of the strength, courage, perseverance we need to finally win in our struggle with sin within ourselves. But first we must first have faith in this Divine Power, call upon it, trust in it and in Charity use it and cooperate with it in our lives, persevering to the end of our lives on earth no matter the effort needed.
The problem is that too often we don’t call upon and so use the grace of our baptism; instead, we can be so lazy, spiritually speaking. We too often, really don’t put up a big enough struggle to resist sin in order to practice virtue, and so we weaken or even lose our Baptismal Grace. St. Paul puts it this way, “you have not yet resisted (agains sin) to the shedding of your blood,” so in other words we need to keep trying harder with the help of God’s grace. So many times we extend so much effort in the other activities of our life, but yet when it comes to our external salvation we don’t seem to think it’s worth the effort that is needed. Many there are who work hard for a crown that withers and fades, so work harder for the crown that never perishes, the crown of eternal life... Many don’t think that an effort even needs to be made, after all everyone goes to heaven. St. Paul says instead, “Work out your Salvation with fear and trembling”. He knew that even he could have lost eternal life; if so St. Paul, what about us?
St. Paul today encourages us that we are not debtors of the flesh, to live according to the flesh and its desires. If we live according to the flesh and its desires, we will die (everlastingly); this is the truth, plain and simple. But, if by the Power of the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body we will live; this also is the truth plain and simple. We have that Spirit available to us because we have been baptized into Christ death and resurrection; and so, what hope we possess within us.
All of this, of course, (as we know) doesn’t remove us from the struggle against sin. And Sacramental grace doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it possible for us to overcome sin, if we only but desire it and make the effort…we have to be determined. If we are not yet saints the problem isn’t with the grace of our baptism or the power of the other Sacraments; no, the problem is with us, its that we don’t desire enough to be saints; perhaps we too, as the Christians of Paul’s day, have becoming lovers of comfort and ease. However, in our struggle, Paul reminds us, we to have the Holy Spirit which is the Power and the Love of God, given to us mainly though the sacraments; it is the will power in this world, the divine Power to change our hearts, to make us Saints, that is one with God in the image of Christ Jesus. As the saying goes, “we just gotta want it”…after all we’re talking about eternity here and our eternal happiness; as well as the eternal happiness of other souls. The Holy Spirit wants to help us to want it more than anything or anyone else; and so He leads us to the Sacraments of the Church in order to accomplish His work and bring the grace of our baptism to its completion in the perfection of love.
The Sacraments are intimate encounters with Christ, where we can take the burden of our sins and our labor to resist them, and give them to Christ’s redeeming Power. If we have lost the grace of our baptism or it’s power has become weak in our lives because of our failure to cooperate with it in order to resist the temptations of our flesh; as a result, if we have given into our passions in a disordered and moral way, then all is not lost, we can turn to Christ in Confession and have the heavy burden of our guilt taken away and our weaken state healed and strengthened.
And if we need to nourish our soul because it has become thirsty for Christ’s love we can come to Holy Mass and give ourselves to Christ in order for Him to quench our thirst in Holy Communion. Feeding on His true flesh and blood nourishes our soul, increases our love and so makes us stronger to overcome the disordered desires of our flesh and blood, to overcome our in ordinate love of comfort and so to overcome our disordered loves. May we today, in receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, the fullness of Jesus Christ and His grace and power and love, beg our Lord for grace for this coming week and everyday of our remaining life to struggle and to never give up hope in our struggle against the one thing that keeps us from God’s love and union with Him—sin. Oh Mary conceived without original sin, pray for us sinners who have recourse to thee. Amen.