The Sixteenth Sunday of the Year (A)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Just a few minutes ago, we collected our various intentions together and presented them to the Father, praying the Lord to “increase the gifts of [his] grace” so that, we, his servants would be “ever watchful in keeping [his] commands.” What, then, are the gifts of his grace, and what are his commands?
Though his commands are not always easy to keep, they are supremely simple. The Lord Jesus summarized them into two simple commands:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).
To love God is to honor him as is fitting for the creature to worship the Creator. To love our neighbors is to desire and to work for what is for their true and lasting good. It is as simple as that.
We might say that the gifts of his grace might also be simply summarized in one principle gift, a gift named in the final line from the first reading, the “repentance of sins” (Wisdom 12:19). The reality of sin and the consequences of sin have fallen somewhat out of fashion in recent years and some now even deny that any deed or thought could really be sinful. This is due, in no small part, to the subtlety of the Evil One – he sows while men sleep and are not paying attention - and to our own pride (cf. Matthew 13:25).
Let me illustrate the Devil’s subtlety with a personal anecdote. One warm summer day, I was returning home from a visit with a few friends (I was dressed in normal people clothes). I stopped at a gas station and, after filling up, went inside the store to pay. As soon as I walked through the door, the cashier said to me, “Will you watch the store? I need to use the restroom?” and with that was gone.
As I waited for her to return, my eyes caught sight of a Snickers ice cream bar, one of the greatest delectables known to man. A thought occurred to me: I could take that bar and nobody would ever know about it. I justified the thought in three ways: 1). I was doing her a favor and it is good to be rewarded; 2). It was a hot day and the ice cream would cool me down a bit; and, 3). I was hungry, and we all know that “Snickers really satisfies.”
Certainly it is good to be rewarded for kind acts (so long as we don’t expect it); it is good to be cooled on a hot day; and it is good to have our hunger satisfied. However, it is never good to obtain these goods by committing a sin. This is way of the Evil One: he present good things to us but tempts us to obtain through an immoral manner. I was tempted to obtain three goods by forsaking that which is fully good, the moral law. (For the record, not only did I not take the ice cream bar, but I also did not buy one as a small penance.)
The Evil One continually roams the fields of the Father sowing the seeds of his weeds. These weeds grow and seek to intertwine their roots among the roots of the wheat sowed by the Father and slowly poison the wheat. Once poisoned, the wheat produces little or no fruit and is worthless, good only to be collected with “all who cause others to sin and all evildoers” and cast into the fire (Matthew 13:41).
It sometimes happens that we give in to the subtlety of the Evil One and accept his lies and do not resist the roots of his weeds; we sometimes live, act, and think more like weeds than like wheat. The roots of his weeds have grown and spread so far that many who think themselves wheat in the Father’s fields no longer acknowledge right and wrong; they do not keep the Father’s commands or, worse yet, do not think them important. In their pride, the false wheat do not acknowledge their own sin, that in their deeds and thoughts, in what they have done and in what they have failed to do, they have fallen short and have not produced the proper fruit.
Several years ago, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger rightly warned of this danger:
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.
We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.
How, then, do we distinguish the true from the false? How do we love truly and authentically?
We do so by “be[ing] ready to preserve the grace received from the day of our Baptism, continuing to nourish faith in the Lord that prevents evil from taking root.” It was in Baptism that we rejected Satan and all his works and all his empty promises, yet this rejection must be made again and again throughout our lives. This requires a regular examination of our consciences with one simple question: When did I fail to love today, whether in what I did or in what I did not do?
When we begin to ask this question at the end of every day, our sin will be apparent to us and we will have “good ground for hope” because the Lord is “good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon [him]” (Wisdom 12:19; Psalm 86:9). Here we see that his kindness requires that we first call upon him, that we acknowledge our sin and pray, “Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give your strength to your servant” (Psalm 86:16).
All of this, of course, presupposes that we desire to be “fervent in hope, faith, and charity.” Put another way, it presupposes that the primary goal of our lives is that we grow in holiness, that we be true and faithful friends of Jesus, that we produce much fruit and yield a rich harvest (cf. John 12:24).
When we think of growing of holiness, we often grow somewhat ill at ease and uncomfortable because we think it is something beyond us and perhaps not even meant for us. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The Lord desires this for each of us. He desires that we be righteous and “shine like the sun in the kingdom of [our] Father” (Matthew 13:43)!
We should not be afraid of holiness or shy away from it; rather, we should desire it with all of our heart! It is only by continual growth in holiness that we will find the satisfaction and fulfilment of our every yearning.
Just as at the end of each day we should ask where we failed to love, at the beginning of each day we should ask for the strength to love. We should keep in mind and heart this advice of J.R.R. Tolkien: “To ourselves we must present the absolute ideal without compromise, for we do not know our own limits of natural strength (+grace), and if we do not aim at the highest we shall certainly fall short of the utmost that we could achieve.”
 Collect for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 18 April 2005.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 17 July 2011.
 Collect for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, Draft Letter to Eileen Elgar, September 1963. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: A Selection Edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the Assistance of Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 326.