Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Una Pretiosa Margarita.[1]

Homily for the 17th Sunday of Ordered Time
24th of July, 2011 Ano Domini

Parish of Corpus Christi
Round Lake, NY
Rev. Mr. Michael Taylor

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like to a merchant seeking good pearls. Who when he had found one pearl of great price, went his way, and sold all he had, and bought it. [2]

            How many of you believe in heaven? How many of you believe in hell? Hell seems to be the great stumbling block of our society today. Oh sure, there are some people that we are sure are going to hell. Hitler is in hell. Stalin is in hell. That guy who cut us off on our way to work is going to hell. These are all perfect candidates for hell bound hellions. But if we were to really get down to it, the concept of hell troubles us. And yet, there it is, right in today’s gospel. Jesus warns that the angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.[3] How could a loving God do this? How could a good God send someone to hell? Do not the scriptures tell us that God is love?[4]
            I would say that it is precisely because God is love that hell is a possibility. This would seem to be a contradiction, but the truth of this reality speaks to the eloquence of what love truly is. One cannot force anyone to love. It must be freely given and freely received.[5] God loves us, but it is exactly because He hopes that we will love Him in return that He gives us free will.[6] Yet it is this free will which also allows the possibility and reality of sin. We were created in the image of God,[7] created to live with God for all eternity. Yet man has turned away from the Creator so that he might worship the creature. And this was and is a choice, a freely willed act to move away from God. And because man rejected God, who is the source of all life,[8] we found ourselves enslaved to the reign of death[9] through our own fault.[10] Now throughout salvation history, God has continually laid out the path of redemption, the chance to live with Him in glory. Our faith is about decision, about which path we will walk on. Did not Moses tell the Israelites, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore, choose life, that you and your descendents may live? [11] Is it not written in Proverbs, My son, do not walk in the way [of the wicked], hold back your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil? [12] Does not the Prophet Jeremiah warn, Thus says the Lord, “Stand by the roads and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” But they said, “we will not walk in it.”? [13] Even Jesus advised His disciples to Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the path is easy which leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow, and the path hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.[14]
            Now we see that we have a decision before us. The guiding principle of our life must be to find Jesus. Where He is, I want to be. In our life, everything is subject to change, and we are left to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.[15] If we seek money, we can find ourselves the lost in a market meltdown. If we seek love, we can find ourselves spurned. Yet if we seek Christ Jesus, we find our bedrock, for it is written that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.[16] Find Jesus. Where He is, I want to be. Every decisions we do then either gets us closer to Him or farther. Every sin turns us away from God, and towards ourselves. See again the decision is yours. Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.[17]
However, for many, the choice of the Christian life seems too hard. It seems too difficult. Indeed, the world tells us, that we’re fine just the way we are, that we were born this way, and that we have nothing to be ashamed of.[18] We just need to accept everyone the way they are. Now it would seem that this is a message of great mercy. But what are we actually saying when we say this? It is actually a message of greatest despair. When the world says, you’re fine just the way you are, what it’s really saying is don’t worry trying to be better, cause you can’t do it. When it says you were born this way, it’s really saying that you’ll never be any better than you are. When it says accept everyone as they are, it’s really saying you’ll always be chained to your failures and weaknesses. But that is not the Christian message. The Christian message is that I am not my failures, that my sins of yesterday will not be my sins of tomorrow, that with the grace of God almighty tomorrow’s rising sun will find be a better person than today’s setting sun left me.  Did not our second reading tell us this? Did not Paul write that those whom [Christ] predestined He also called; and those whom He called He also justified; and those whom He justified He also glorified? [19] We cannot remain in sin, for Jesus has said, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.[20] But we know that we are freed from sin, as Saint Paul says, Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life.[21]
So, we come to our decision again. Do we want the things of this world, the pleasures of this life, which are here today and gone tomorrow? Or do we want the pearl of great price, Jesus Christ? To do this, we must submit ourselves to the commandments of Christ, the teachings of the scriptures. You see, in sin, we find our will is weakened, and our intellect is darkened. So we find ourselves unable to find the right path on our own. Sometimes, the laws do not make sense to us. Yet we must be obedient to the will of the Father. Jesus shows us how to do this in His agony in the Garden.
Jesus says, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Thy will be done.[22] Jesus, being fully divine, knew what He must suffer. Jesus, being fully human, did not want to die, for man was not meant for death, and all human beings recoil at the thought of their mortality. But Jesus also knew that He came to do the will of the Father.[23] He was willing to do the will of the Father, because the will of the Father was to glorify the Son[24] and that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life.[25] And so in Christ’s obedience to the Father, the Son is glorified, and in His name we are saved.[26] For thus did the Apostle write, that Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God, something to be grasped, but rather emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was found to be of human form, and thus He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even death upon a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed upon Him the name above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father, that Jesus Christ is Lord.[27]
So let us be obedient. Let us put on the new nature, created after the [image and] likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.[28] Do not yield your bodies to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your bodies to God as instruments of righteousness.[29] We must remember the high price that was paid for our salvation. For Peter wrote, You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.[30] And now here is the great mystery of our faith.
We know that for us, Jesus is the pearl of great price, the great treasure which is worth selling all we have so that we might be close to Him. But have you ever stopped to consider that you are His pearl of great price. On the cross, Jesus gave up everything He had so that you might be saved from your sins. Jesus would rather die for you than live without you. You are His pearl of great price. You are the lost sheep that the Good Shepherd goes out into the cold of night to find.[31] You are the lost coin the owner turns their house inside out to find.[32] You are His pearl of great price. Turn to Him and He will run to you.[33] Reach out to Him and He will pull you out from the depths.[34] Call His name and He will proclaim your name to the highest heavens.[35] This is our call. This is our glory. This, our dignity. Christian, remember your dignity! [36]
Let us now cast off the chains of mediocrity which have dulled our faith. Let us spurn the tepidness with which our hearts have become enamored. Rather, let us stoke the embers within our soul, to have our faith be as a burning fire set upon the hill as a light to the world! [37] Let all you meet see the joy that is the life in Christ. Let all who know you see the freedom which is found in service to God. Let everyone know the source of our happiness. “You were baptized into His name; confess His name!” [38] For if we do not spread the source of joy to those around us, then for them who have lost this pearl of great price, this treasure of great worth, the agony of what has been lost will be for them an everlasting torment.[39]

[1] Matthew 13.46: “A Pearl of Great Price.” In this case, Margarita comes from the Greek Μαργαριτα (literally, the same word in Greek characters) which means pearl, rather than referencing an iced fruit cocktail containing tequila popular in North America. Oddly enough, the two are more associated than people realize. The drink was named after Margaret of Austria, Queen of Spain who reigned from 1599 to 1611. The first cocktails made from local fruits with the Indian liquor now known as Tequila were named in her honor. Margaret as a name though comes from the same Margarita meaning pearl.
[2] Matthew 13.45-46 [From the Gospel Reading of the Day]
[3] Matthew 13.49-50
[4] I John 4.8
[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1033: “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him.”
[6] Saint Ephrem [Doctor of the Church]. On Admonition and Repentance. §1: “Not of compulsion is the doctrine; of free will is the word of life. Whoso is willing to hear the doctrine, let him cleanse the field of his free-will that the good seed fall not among the thorns of vain inquiries. If you would heed the word of life, cut yourself off from evil things; the hearing of the word profits nothing to the man that is busied with sins. If you will to be good, love not dissolute customs. First of all, trust in God, and then hearken to His law.”
[7] Cf. Genesis 1.25-26
[8] Cf. Psalm 36.9
[9] Cf. Romans 5.14
[10] Cf. Psalm 51.4
[11] Deuteronomy 30.19
[12] Proverbs 1.15-16; SEE ALSO Proverbs 4.14 and Psalm 139 [138].23-24
[13] Jeremiah 6.16; SEE ALSO Isaiah 35.8
[14] Matthew 7.13-14
[15] Shakespeare. Hamlet. III.i
[16] Hebrews 13.8; Ephrem. On Admonition and Repentance, §19: “Take refuge in God who passes not away nor is changed. Restrain laughter by suffering, and mirthfulness by sorrow. Console suffering by hope, and sadness by expectation. Believe and trust, you that are wise, for God is He who guides you; and if His care leaves you not, there is nothing that can harm you.”
[17] Colossians 3.17; SEE ALSO I Corinthians 10.31
[18] Cf. Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies, Book IV, ch. 28: “For as, in the New Testament, that faith of men [to be placed] in God has been increased, receiving in addition [to what was already revealed] the Son of God, that man too might be a partaker of God; so is also our walk in life required to be more circumspect, when we are directed not merely to abstain from evil actions, but even from evil thoughts, and from idle words, and empty talk, and scurrilous language: thus also the punishment of those who do not believe the Word of God, and despise His advent, and are turned away backwards, is increased; being not merely temporal, but rendered also eternal. For to whomsoever the Lord shall say, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire (Matthew 25:41) these shall be damned for ever; and to whomsoever He shall say, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you for eternity (Matthew 25:34), these do receive the kingdom for ever, and make constant advance in it; since there is one and the same God the Father, and His Word, who has been always present with the human race, by means indeed of various dispensations, and has wrought out many things, and saved from the beginning those who are saved, (for these are they who love God, and follow the Word of God according to the class to which they belong,) and has judged those who are judged, that is, those who forget God, and are blasphemous, and transgressors of His word.
[19] Romans 8.30; SEE Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1037: God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willing turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.”
[20] John 8.34
[21] Romans 6.22
[22] Matthew 26.39
[23] Cf. John 4.34: Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work.”
[24] Cf. John 8.54: Jesus answer, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you that He is your God.
[25] John 6.40
[26] Cf. Acts 2.21: And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
[27] Philippians 2.6-11
[28] Ephesians 4.24
[29] Romans 6.13
[30] I Peter 1.19
[31] Cf. Matthew 18.12-14; Luke 15.3-7
[32] Luke 15.8-10
[33] Cf. James 4.8
[34] Cf. Matthew 14.28-30; Psalm 130
[35] Cf. Matthew 10.32
[36] Cf. Saint Pope Leo the Great, Sermo 21: De Nativitas Christi: “Christian, remember your dignity! Having become a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct.”
[37] Cf. Matthew 5.14-16
[38] Saint Ephrem, On Admonition and Repentance, §2
[39] Cf. Matthew 25.31-46; Catechism of the Catholic Church §1033: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from Him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’.”

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