20 August 2018

Homily - The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 19 August 2018

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The counsel of Saint Paul, which we heard just a few moments ago, seems particularly timely in light of the dreadfully demoralizing and heart-rending news of these past few days (I will speak only generalities so the young ones can stay). “Watch carefully how you live,” he says, “not as foolish people but as wise, making the most of the opportunity because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). We are learning in greater detail what we already learned many years ago, namely, how foolish those who were supposed to be wise have been and how those who should have been attentive shepherds did not watch carefully even over their own lives.

In these evil days, we are reminded once again of the pitiful condition of fallen humanity and of the reality of pride and sin. Even those consecrated to God through the Sacrament of Holy Orders are not immune from sin – not even from mortal sin – and must strive each day to “understand what is the will of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:17).

We know that through the grace of Baptism every sin committed until the moment the water passes over the head are forgiven. But we also know that

certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weakness of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin;” since concupiscence is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ. Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (II Timothy 2:5).[1]

In a time when many people – both within and without the Church – deny the reality of sin, the reality of sin now stares us in the face and we see, once again, the need for confession, a firm amendment of life, and of penance.

Each Sunday, we profess our belief in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Given what many churchmen have been involved in, how can we continue to make this profession? We can do so because Christ Jesus “loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her” and “joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.”[2] It is his love and her union with him that makes the Church holy. At the same time, however, “in her members perfect holiness is yet to be acquired.”[3] We know this even in our own daily lives; we fail to love as fully as we should and every sin is a failure to love; we are not all saints, though we are called to be.

What is more, although our Lord “knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of the people,” the Church is always “clasping sinners to her bosom” and so is “at once holy and always in need of purification” and “follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.”[4] In all of this, we cannot forget that

The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace. If they live her life, her members are sanctified; if they move away from her life, they fall into sin and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity. This is why she suffers and does penance for those offenses, of which she has the power to free her children through the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.[5]

Those who enter fully into the life of the Church understand this.

None of this is said to excuse what has been done by some within the Church. The acts committed are heinous and mortally sinful, and place the souls of those who committed then in grave peril without a sincere repentance.

Because of our different personalities, each of us will respond to such news in different ways. Some will be spurred to more frequent prayer and penance; others will be justifiably angered and work towards reform; still others will become despondent and consider leaving the Church.

Facing a different set of difficulties in his own day, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote of his reaction to scandal within the Church to one of his sons. He said:

I think I am as sensitive as you (or any other Christian) to the scandals, both of clergy and laity. I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe anymore, even if I had never met anyone in [holy] orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call our Lord a fraud to His face.[6]

Now is not the time to abandon the Church, but to entrust ourselves all the more to the merciful love of God and to beg him to make a saint of each one of us. Where else could we go? Where else can we receive the Bread of Life? Where else can we live the full life of grace?

What, then, is the will of the Lord for us in all of this? How can we make the most of the opportunity that confronts us? It is for each one of us to draw near to him. It is time to heed the admonition of Saint Augustine to “cry to him in such a way that even if you have possessions, you do not trust in your own resources, [to] cry to him in a frame of mind that understands your need, [to] cry to him in the knowledge that you will always be a pauper as you do not possess him who makes you rich.”[7]

Anger and sadness are the correct response to the travesty of sin and a negligence of true pastoral care. This we see in the life of Jesus himself. His anger and sadness led him to intense prayer so that he might sanctify us and make us holy. Let us today, then, offer our anger and sadness to the Lord and ask him to purify his Church again, as he has done throughout the centuries. Let us watch carefully over how we live and beg the Lord to make us a community of saints. Amen.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1264.
[2] Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 825.
[4] Lumen Gentium, 8 §3.
[5] Blessed Pope Paul VI, Credo of the People of God, 19.
[6] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, 1 November 1963.
[7] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Expositions of the Psalms, 34.11.

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