November 8, 2020 - Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
My friends in Christ, beginning at the start of October, I have ventured into a homily series, on the weekends when I am slated to preach, which will take us along a definite trajectory, toward a certain aim and end, set to conclude just before Lent begins…. On October 3rd and 4th, we reflected upon prayer, and as you might recall, we channeled our “inner Al Davis” with the exhortation, “just pray, baby – just do it.” And we considered that if we can bring ourselves to devote time for prayer each day – even just five minutes of focused and intentional prayer – then the power of prayer truly is such that it can and will save our lives and our souls. I began this homily series with that particular theme of prayer because we absolutely need to pray if the rest of this homily series…the rest of this whole “Catholic thing” for that matter…is going to work. Because if we are not even praying, then we might as well just hang it all up and go home!
And on October 10th and 11th, we considered the very fact of our creation (each of us, that is; our particular existence, our individual and personal creation)…. God has a plan for me. God has a plan for you. Certainly, God created each of us with a singular, definite purpose in mind. The fact that we were created now – in this time – also is significant and certainly is in accord with that overarching plan of Divine Providence. We were born…for this moment. As chaotic and as uncertain as this moment is at the present time. And this is the time that is given us, and we were born for this – for greatness, for glory…for this moment.
And then last weekend, our celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints, we reflected upon the fact that we were made, ultimately, for Heaven…for nothing less than sainthood itself. And even now we are already well on our way because at the very moment of our conception, we were made in the image and likeness of God. We are the imago Dei. How exactly are we like God? We have reason, to know right from wrong; we have conscience, to want the right and not the wrong; and we have free will, to choose the right and so reject the wrong. Thus are we made. And to the utter perfection of this we are called. And we actually become this more and more – we become like God more and more, like the saints themselves more and more – whenever, especially, we receive Christ in the Eucharist humbly, worthily, and well…the Bread of Angels…the Viaticum of sainthood.
So…we started with prayer. Then we considered the first part of the kerygma – the Greatest Story Ever Told: Created. Thus, we embark upon this homily series that will take us to the start of Lent such that after Easter and with these thoughts in mind regarding who we are, why we are here, what is our fundamental purpose and mission in life, and therefore what is the purpose and mission of our parish and school (which is to become a center of excellence – for every stakeholder, with any connection whatsoever with Saint Mary)…. After Easter with all of this in mind, my hope is for us to launch and conduct a pastoral planning process with the second century of Saint Mary’s existence as our overall scope.
Now…all of that said…the theme for our reflections today: Captured. We were made for greatness; we were made for sainthood and the Kingdom; thus were we Created (the first part of the kerygma). But now wait a moment! Something went wrong. Horribly – demonically – wrong. What happened? Sin. The ugly reality of sin…the awful (and inconvenient) truth – the reality – of hell.
And so, the second part of the kerygma: Captured. Captured in the snare of sin, trapped by the devil himself – lured by his lies and temptations…his vain pomp and empty promises.
We consider our Gospel text today from Saint Matthew. In these last weeks before Advent begins, we are going to be hearing a lot from the Lord Himself…about divine judgment. Judgment about what? Our sin. And the final sentence? Hell. God saying to us, “I do not know you.” The Lord banishing us to the darkness outside where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Hell.
It would be interesting to research this more thoroughly, but I have a strong suspicion that the Lord actually warns us about hell far more frequently than He makes even a passing mention of Heaven. So much for that warm-fuzzy dewy-eyed Jesus that Hallmark and Hollywood desperately would love to have! And so, if Jesus would see fit to warn us so strongly, so frequently, about the
awfulness of hell, then we dare not ignore it simply because it might scare the children or make us feel a bit squirmy in our seats because even the mere mention of hell makes us feel a bit convicted.
Sadly (frighteningly, in fact!), there are many people (many Catholics even) who deny the reality of hell…but then again, to deny hell is to deny Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life – for again, He says (many times, in fact, as I say) that there is a hell. And so, dare we to say that the Truth is, in fact, a liar when we say that there is no hell? Far be it from us to do such a thing!
Yet, so it goes. People will reason that because God is loving and merciful, there can never be such a thing as hell – not really. And so we wonder how the reality of a loving and merciful God can be reconciled with the reality of hell. The key to understanding this: free will. Those who end up in hell, in the end, actually choose to be there; their choice demonstrated by earthly lives of constant and unrepented sin…their choice ratified by death. Because the Lord will not violate our free will to force His own will upon us; He will not force us to love Him! After all, the Lord did not do so with Mother Mary, and if ever there was an occasion when maybe the Lord would have been justified to force His will, it was the Incarnation. But He did not force it, even then. And so He will not do this to us, either. For to do so effectively would be to remove our own free will from our very being as humans, as imago Dei (to destroy us, in other words, as human beings)…and the Lord will not ruin us utterly…not even to force us from freely choosing hell instead of Heaven. We are human beings, not robots! We choose to love God…or to not. We are not pre-programmed like mindless cyborgs, nor were we Created to be. And so because God did not create us like this, God will not treat us like this; rather, God will treat us like human beings, fully capable of making up our own minds, making our own choices in life…. And God will honor that and respect that…for better or for worse…for Heaven, in the end…or for hell.
So…hell is real. And unrepented sin is what sends us there (sin: our free choice to reject the good so as to choose the bad instead). And therefore, sin is real, too…. And so, it is prudent for us to consider sin as well, so to understand how temptation and sin operate in order for us better to be equipped with knowledge and grace to resist temptation and sin in the future.
But now, wait just one dag-gumb minute here! If hell is for real…and if sin is what sends us there…and if we are Captured in sin…then for crying out loud – what hope do we have? But here is where I shall conclude today with this maddening cliffhanger! I preach again on the final Sunday in Ordinary Time – the Solemnity of Christ the King. And on that occasion, we will consider in detail how temptation and sin generally seem to operate – the “seven stages of sin.” as it were…reflecting upon the Book of Genesis, Chapter Three, in a particular way. And then, we will transition toward how Jesus is the answer to that desperate question, “What hope have we?”
For now…we pray. And we remember the God-given dignity of our having been Created in the image and likeness of God, the imago Dei: born for this moment…made for sainthood…made for Heaven. And we lament that Satan has ensnared us so that, now, we are Captured in sin…but thanks be to God, there is still yet a great and glorious hope for us: Jesus Christ…proclaimed in Scripture, celebrated in Sacrament, King of all Creation…the Way, the Truth, and the Life, Who promises to remain with us always…even until the end of days.
on Tuesday, November 10, 2020 at 10:07AM