NB. Normally, I'm off on Tuesday's. Fr. Mike and I switched days-off, so here's today's homily from 2010.
8th Week OT (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
There's a bumper sticker popular among our older citizens: “Gettin' old ain't for sissies!” Aging is a long haul. It's hard work. It take courage, perseverance, and strength. Chances are that those who lack the required virtues for “gettin' old” never make it past retirement age. They falter long before the really tough stuff begins. Catholics, never shy about using what we're given to preach the gospel, should take this bumper sticker and revise it to teach another ancient truth: “Gettin' holy ain't for sissies!” All the virtues required for enduring old age come in quite handy for traveling the way of holiness. Standing up to the rulers of this world; confronting one's own demons; and coming out victorious, requires courage, perseverance, and strength. Despite the dangers of aging, many manage to do well enough without ever receiving all that God has to give them. No such thing is possible in our travels toward holiness. Peter writes, “. . .as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, Be holy because I am holy.”
The saints and doctors of the Church teach us that we are made to be holy. We are designed in such a way that we are not only capable of being holy but are, in fact, compelled to seek out holiness. Why then do we find being holy so difficult? Why do we expend so much time and energy fighting against who we were made to be? Peter gives us a hint when he teaches us how to be holy: “. . .gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” If these are the things we must do to grow in holiness, then it makes sense that our resistance to being holy rests in our failure to follow through with this admonition. The creativity and productivity of our minds is scattered, loose, unfocused. Our daily lives show us to be immoderate, irrational, anxious. And we have set our hopes on the fleeting goodness of people, ideas, and institutions who are in themselves incapable of making us Good. If we fail to understand that God is the only source of holiness, then we are doomed to falter long before the way before us gets really tough. God says, “Be holy because I am holy.”
Being holy, like growing old, is hard. We have to grow old. No choice in that. But do we have to be holy? If it's so difficult, why bother? First, we are called to it. Drawn to God by His love for us, we are seduced into wanting to be perfect as He Himself is perfect. Without the desire for holiness, we are just animals, creatures eating, breeding, and dying without a purpose larger than our biology. Second, by accepting the graces of baptism and the Holy Spirit, we are shown who we are (sinners) and who we can be (saints). To endure the difference between the two without seeking to close the gap is unbearable. Third, as St Augustine says, we are restless—agitated, unhappy, aimless—until we rest in Him. Seeing that we are capable of being like God, can we ever be truly satisfied with being like anything less than God?
Peter says to Christ, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Surrender is the first step and the last step. But the steps in between must also follow Christ. With hearts and minds focused on Christ; our lives lived in the sobriety of his commandment of love; and our hope resting solely in the one revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, we can surrender everything unholy and become holy for no other reason than that He is holy. For those who love him, this is reason enough.
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