Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mortuorum Ambulantum

Mortuorum Ambulantum

Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts,
And be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of
God in true righteousness and holiness.[1]

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
31st of August- 1st of Sunday

St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish (Union Street)
Rev. Michael Taylor

            If you will pardon me for doing so, I would like to take a step back from our lectionary readings and talk about a subject which I have found to be reoccurring in many conversations I’ve had in the past couple of weeks. It has to deal with the topic of sin and what exactly we mean when we speak of sin. The reason I am talking about this is because if Christ saves us from sin, then it would seem important for us to understand what exactly sin is.[2] I think all too often, we think of sin as purely a juridical reality, one in which there are a series of rules and laws, and if you break one of these laws, there is a corresponding, legal, punishment. Yet there is much more to sin than this. There is what some theologians would call an ontic event, but what I will try to explain by talking about zombies.
            Now first, I must confess, I find the reality of horror films fascinating, because I believe they tell us much more about ourselves than the monsters on the screen. A couple of years ago, Bravo networks came out with a series on the One Hundred scariest movies of all time. They had the usual actors, producers, and directors on talking about various films. More interesting though were the psychologists and sociologists that were also interviewed, because they spoke to the great fears of a society expressed in these movies. Scary movies basically reveal to primordial fears of humanity, a fear of the destruction of the body or a fear of the corruption of the mind and soul. When you think about the movie Jaws, there is the fear that a giant shark will eat your body. I’ve met people who still will not go into the ocean because of that movie. Yet the great fear seems to lie with the loss of our soul, our mind, and our humanity. I think that’s why the past decade has seen a dramatic increase in zombie and demonic possession movies. We’re afraid we are losing our humanity. This is not a new fear though. Recall the words of Jesus, do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.[3] So this is a very ancient fear.
            And that’s why I want to talk about zombies. So first, let us talk about exactly how zombies come to be. In the latest round of movies, some virus or other disease causes human beings to go from normal to zombie. This disease then spreads rapidly causing widespread chaos within society. This has a theological counterpoint, that which we call original sin.[4] Saint Paul speaks of this in Romans when he writes, Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men have sinned.[5] Sin becomes the zombie virus.
Now note what happens in a zombie movie. A zombie looks human, moves like a human, eats like a human. Yet these things have become corrupted. What was good has been turned towards evil, namely, the eating of brains. The same thing can be said of original sin. Again, St. Paul in Romans 1, writes therefore, God gave them up to the lusts in their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.[6] We, through faith, know that humanity was created in the image and likeness of God.[7] Yet in sin, we became less than the human being we were supposed to be. We look human, walk and talk like humans, yet our appetites, our passions, have become corrupted. As it is written, Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[8]
Let us return to the topics of zombies. In the zombie film, they usually are trying to find a cure. Yet in order for them to know if the cure is effective, they need someone who has been untainted by the zombie virus. They need someone who’s blood can show if the cure works. Again, there is a theological connection. When we say that Jesus is the lamb without blemish, the one who has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.[9] You see, we can understand medically what Jesus sought to explain spiritually. We need an antidote. This is why Jesus is necessary for salvation.[10] Only in him can be found the antidote to the disease of sin. Let me put it to you this way. If you have a zombie standing in front of you, well, you should run. But let us say, for arguments sake, that they’re in a cage. Let us say you forgive that zombie for every zombie thing it has ever done in its past. At the end of the day, you still have a zombie standing in front of you. You need a healing, a transformation, to occur. Likewise in the spiritual life. We need a new nature. This is what Paul is saying Ephesians 4 when he says put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts[11] or in Galatians 2 when he says it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.[12]
Now, let’s take a step back for a moment. If any of you have ever had a serious illness or a serious injury, you know that the time of recovery can be quite significant. It can require months or even years of physical therapy. It is the same in the spiritual life. Even though baptism has cured us of the disease of original sin,[13] if you will, the effects of this disease are so profound that they affect us for the rest of our life. This is what the Church calls concupiscence.[14] Saint Paul talks about this in Romans 7; For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.[15] That is a battle that everyone can recognize. I would like to bring to your attention for further proof exhibit A: deep-fried Oreos. I go to the fair and I see them. I know they’re not good for me. I know that they are indeed very bad for me. But the next thing I know, I have a dozen in my hand. And the next thing I know after that is that they are mysteriously all gone. It is the same in the spiritual life. We know that the way of Christ is good, yet we find ourselves still stumbling and, at times, falling.
This brings me to the next point of a zombie. What happens if you get bit by a zombie? You become a zombie. It seems like in almost every zombie movie, one of the characters gets bit. They’ll try to hide it from the others, like they’re going to be able to walk it off. Eventually though, they become a zombie, because that’s what happens in a zombie movie. It is the same in the spiritual life. Think about what we call a mortal or grave sin. Sure, we can go about our lives looking like everything is normal. Yet the death of sin is already in us, and eventually we can die in that sin, being cut off from God. This is the kind of sin St. John talks about in his first epistle; there is sin which is mortal…All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.[16] That is why we have confession. It restores in us the antidote that is lost when we commit a mortal sin. So if you’ve missed mass on Sunday or a holy day of obligation without a good reason, or perhaps used the Lord’s name in vain, or maybe shanked someone because they took the last piece of pie. The Church requires us to go to confession at least once a year.[17] Think of it as a yearly booster shot, and make sure you’re not cut off from God’s grace. Our gift of life has been bought for us with too great a price to allow ourselves to fall back in among the walking dead.
That being said, it brings us back to my last zombie point. In any zombie movie, there is a fear among the survivors of being around zombies. They don’t want to become zombies. They don’t want to lose our humanity. With this fear deep in their hearts, they form fortifications, and try with all their might to avoid the near occasion of zombie. Likewise it should be for us in the spiritual life. We should not spend all our time with those not concerned with spiritual life. Now there are limitations to this analogy. I am not saying we can never be around sinners. Were this the case we could never evangelize. Yet there is something to be said about the kind of friends we keep. As Saint Paul says, Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals.[18] If you hang around zombies all the time, eventually you will become a zombie. If you hang around people who are angry all the time, you eventually become angry. If you hang around people who gossip all the time, eventually you will find yourself gossiping. We need to surround ourselves with good, holy people who are striving to grow closer to Christ.
We are in the midst of a spiritual battle, and it needs to concern us in our day to day lives more than if we were characters in a zombie film. We need to realize that there is work to be done, and that the struggle to overcome original sin’s effects on us is a process that requires great diligence. As Saint Jose Maria Escriva noted, “Every day be conscious of your duty to be a saint.[19] A saint![20] And that doesn’t mean doing strange things. It means a daily struggle in the interior life and in heroically fulfilling your duty right through to the end.” [21]

[1] Ephesians 4.22-24
[2] The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines sin (§1849) as “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law’ (St. Augustine. Contra Faustum 22; St Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II Q71a6).”
[3] Matthew 10.28
[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, §407: “The doctrine of original sin, closely connected with that of redemption by Christ, provides lucid discernment of man’s situation and activity in the world. By our first parents’ sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free. Original sin entails “captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Council of Trent; cf. Heb 2.14). Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals.”
[5] Romans 5.12
[6] Romans 1.24-25
[7] cf. Genesis 1.26a, 27: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.
[8] Ephesians 2.3
[9] Hebrews 4.15
[10] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Dominus Iesus, 2000. §13: “The thesis which denies the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ is also put forward. Such a position has no biblical foundation. In fact, the truth of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Lord and only Saviour, who through the event of his incarnation, death and resurrection has brought the history of salvation to fulfilment, and which has in him its fullness and centre, must be firmly believed as a constant element of the Church's faith.

The New Testament attests to this fact with clarity: “The Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world” (1 Jn 4:14); “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). In his discourse before the Sanhedrin, Peter, in order to justify the healing of a man who was crippled from birth, which was done in the name of Jesus (cf. Acts 3:1-8), proclaims: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). St. Paul adds, moreover, that Jesus Christ “is Lord of all”, “judge of the living and the dead”, and thus “whoever believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10: 36,42,43).”
[11] Ephesians 4.22
[12] Galatians 2.20
[13] Catechism of the Catholic Church §1263: “By baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin (see Council of Trent). In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of Heaven; neither Adam’s sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequence of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.”
[14] Catechism of the Catholic Church §405-406: Although it is proper to each individual (cf Council of Trent DS 1513), original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural power proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin- an inclination to evil that is called “concupiscence.” Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

The Church’s teaching on the transmission of original sin was articulated more precisely in the fifth century, especially under the impulse of St. Augustine’s reflections against Pelagiansim, and in the sixteenth century, in opposition to the Protestant Reformation. Pelagius held that man could, by the natural powers of free will and without the necessary help of God’s grace, lead a morally good life; he thus reduced the influence of Adam’s fault to bad example. The first Protestant reformers, on the contrary, taught that original sin had radically perverted man and destroyed his freedom; they identified sin inherited by each man with the tendency to evil (concupiscentia), which would be insurmountable. The Church pronounced on the meaning of the data of Revelation on original sin especially at the second Council of Orange (529) (DS 371-372) and at the Council of Trent (1546) (cf DS 1510-1516).
[15] Romans 7.19
[16] I John 5.16,17
[17] Code of Canon Law, canon 989: “After having reached the age of discretion, each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year.” SEE ALSO can. 988 §2: It is also recommended to the Christian faithful that they also confess venial sins.
[18] I Corinthians 15.33
[19] cf. Leviticus 20.26: You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you may be mine. SEE ALSO: I Peter 1.15-16: but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’
[20] Cf. II Vatican Council. Lumen gentium §39: “The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and everyone of His disciples of every condition.”
[21] St. Josemaria Escriva. The Forge. Ch.2: Struggle, §60

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