The Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (A)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Joined together as we are through our common baptism into Christ Jesus, we are called to live as one. Indeed, through Baptism, we are incorporated into the one mystical Body of Christ, with Christ himself as our head.
We know that the head of a physical body governs and directs the actions – both voluntary and involuntary – of the rest of the body. So must it be with us who make up the Body of Christ: he must govern and direct our thoughts and actions. Only by allowing ourselves to be governed by Christ will we find true fulfillment, happiness and peace.
Every person yearns for these vital fruits from a life well lived, and the Lord himself wants nothing less than for these fruits to bear out in our lives. How, then, are we to find the seeds of fulfillment, of happiness and of peace so that they might be planted in us and bear great fruit? Saint Paul shows us the way: “Have in you,” he says, “the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
The attitude, the mind, of Christ is humble. It is he who leaps to his feet, who abandons the glory of heaven and who takes us upon his shoulders and carries us all the way to Cross. It is Jesus who did not think of himself, but thought of our true and lasting good (cf. Philippians 2:4). It is he who “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). It is this same attitude of self-emptying and sacrificial love that each of us must have.
Society today is governed not by the attitude of self-sacrifice, but by the attitude of self-centeredness. While Christ Jesus demonstrated the attitude of self-sacrifice, it is perhaps Herodias, the false wife of King Herod, who best – or, rather, worst - demonstrates in the Scriptures the attitude of self-centeredness.
Herod lived in sin with Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and John the Baptist publicly rebuked him for his public sin. For this reason, for speaking the truth of the moral law and for defending the honor and dignity of true marriage, “Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias” (Matthew 14:3). Whereas Herodias hated John and wanted him dead, Herod gladly listened to his words, even if he refused to follow them (cf. Mark 6:19-20).
When the opportunity presented itself, Herodias told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist as a gift in token of a pleasing dance because John stood in the way of her happily enjoying her adultery (cf. Matthew 14:8). John, your heavenly patron, lost his head in humble service of the truth.
This attitude of Herodias is prevalent today. We are told in many different corners that we should do whatever makes us happy, regardless of what it may do to others or even what it may do to us. A simple walk down most sidewalks will demonstrate this well enough. Day after day I greet fellow walkers on the sidewalk, and the greeting is seldom returned. A small thing, maybe, but it is symptomatic of a self-absorbed society on a path that leads to death.
The majority of American people today claim to be Christian, yet so many fail to live an authentically Christian life. Caught up in their own self-gratification they willingly partake of gossip and racist speech; they consider political gain as the greatest good and forget the common good; they engage in immoral sexual activity, from premarital sex to contraception to adulterous relationships to pornography; they over indulge in drink or in food or in entertainment; they diminish their faculties with drugs and place their lives in danger; they spend little time each week in prayer to God; and they give little thought to their neighbors, even to those who live in their own homes. They will not allow Christ their head to govern their thoughts and actions. All the while they wonder why they have not yet found a happiness that lasts, the happiness they long to have and deserve.
Too many today – even some here – have forgotten the full reality of the words of the Lord spoken through his prophet Ezekiel:
When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die (Ezekiel 18:26-28).
True and lasting happiness is found only in doing what is right and just; it is found in having the same attitude that is in Christ Jesus and in allowing him to govern our lives.
Have you been living in self-absorption? Have you neglected God and your neighbor? I urge you, spend time in prayer, examine your conscience and confess your sins to receive absolution. There is no sin beyond God’s mercy. In the confessional, the burden of your sins will be lifted from you and you will preserve your life in Christ, in him who dies no more, and you will experience authentic happiness.
What the world and society needs today more than anything else are faithful witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ. We, my brothers and sisters, you and I, are needed to live lives of fidelity to Jesus Christ by asking him each day to rule over our hearts and minds. We need to train our ears to hear his voice and to follow where he calls (cf. John 10:27). Only in this way will we have in us the attitude that is in Christ Jesus. Only in this way will we have the happiness we desire and the happiness the Lord longs for us to have.
We know that Jesus was obedient to the Father even to the point of death, saying, “but not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). We must be willing to say with him, “But not my will but yours be done.” With the Apostles who left everyone behind at the sound of his voice, and with Saint John the Baptist who gave his life in witness to the truth, we, too, must yield to him and allow ourselves to be conquered by his love.