29 June 2013

The dead bury the dead

NB. Deacons preaching this weekend. So, here's a homily of mine from 2007. . .a little Vintage Fr. Philip.

13th Sunday OT 2013
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Luke’s Parish, Irving, TX (Vigil Mass) & St Paul's Hospital

Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God! I say, then: live by the Spirit! Go, follow Christ, and live by the Spirit! Well, what are you waiting for? Go! This command is like Jesus’ command to us to love one another. If I were yell at you: Go and buy me peanut butter! Or, Go, follow the bus, and visit Houston! Well, you would know what to do, right? You have some idea of what it is I’m yelling at you to do. But when Paul yells at the Galatians: “I say, then: live by the Spirit!” and Jesus says, “Go and proclaim the Kingdom of God!”—do we have any idea what they are yelling at us to do? Maybe we have some vague notions about doing good deeds and going to Mass and making sure other people know we’re Catholic. Or, maybe we think that it means to do something really strange like joining a monastery or becoming a nun or a priest or starting to have visions of Mary or St. Agnes in the shrubs. Probably not what Paul and Jesus had in mind. So, what do they want us to do when they tell us to follow Christ, live in the Spirit, and proclaim the Kingdom of God?

How easy would it be for me to let us all off the hook here and repeat the predictable? Let me pump you up with the sweet air and tasty bits of religious cliché—to follow Christ, live in the Spirit, and proclaim the Kingdom of God are all just matters of the heart—right intention, good feelings, sweetness and light, and basically, just being a swell guy or gal. Or, I could really let you off the hook and tell you that following Christ, living in the Spirit, and proclaiming the Kingdom are all big tasks that require a lot of work and time and organization; so, tell you what: let the pros worry about it—the priests and lay ministers—and you just show up here every Sunday, do your Mass-thing, and go home as if nothing happened. Sorry. Can’t do that. Paul and Jesus are teaching us something very different. . .

Paul, quoting Jesus, reminds the Galatians that “the whole of the law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Then he tells them to live in the Spirit so as to not “gratify the desire of the flesh.” What is this desire? First, “desire” is a kind of lacking; a wanting and not having, a longing for a promised completion or fulfillment. (Paul is most likely talking about inordinate sexual desire here.) He continues, “…the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh…” What is a desire of the Spirit? Most basically, this desire is a longing to be with God forever; to be brought back to Him free and whole.

Now, you might come away from this teaching believing that Paul is arguing for a kind of dualism: flesh vs. Spirit; body vs. soul. No. He doesn’t say that the flesh and Spirit oppose one another. He says that the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit oppose one another. These opposing desires prevent you from doing what you want to do. And who are you? You are body and soul, flesh and spirit. One person, undivided; one will, one intellect. And if in one person there is a battle between the disordered and well-ordered desires of both body and Spirit then that person is a slave. Thank God that “for freedom Christ set us free”!

Living in the Spirit is at once perfectly simple and immensely complex. Perfectly simple b/c all we have to do is become Christ for one another. Easy cheesy. Just become Christ! Living in the Spirit is immensely complex b/c we have to become Christ for one another. Very difficult. Becoming Christ is perfectly simple b/c we are brought to that transformation in baptism. But becoming Christ is immensely difficult b/c we must continue to cooperate with the gift of baptism all our lives. If you are consumed by a conflict between the desires of your flesh and the desires of your Spirit, how capable are you of cooperating with God’s baptismal graces? This is why Paul teaches the Galatians: “…do not use this freedom [the freedom to cooperate with God’s grace in Christ] as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.” Love being, of course, the Spirit—the Holy Spirit, the love the Father and Son have for one another, the creating and redeeming passion that made us, saves us, and feeds us.

So, if you will be guided by the Spirit, you must follow Christ! Excellent. I’ll follow Christ. What does that mean? As Jesus and the disciples were proceeding to Jerusalem, Someone says to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” To another Someone along the way, Jesus says, “Follow me.” And then Another One further along says, “I will follow you, Lord. . .” To the first Someone Jesus replies, “…the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Translation: following me ain’t easy—it’s work and hard work and long hours and rest comes only with death; there’s no “time off” or “vacation” from Becoming Christ for One Another. The second Someone answers Jesus, “I will follow, but let me go first and bury my father.” Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Translation: right now is the time to follow; there is no postponement, no hesitation; do not wait until this and that and all those things are done; the dead are dead, Become Christ for the living now! Then the last Someone promises Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord” but then he hesitates, “but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” And Jesus says to him: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom.” Translation: if you will do my work here and now, you must do my work Here and Now; leave behind what cannot or will not come with you. To those of us along the way to Jerusalem—to the cross and the empty tomb—to those of us along the Way who say, “I will follow you, Lord, but I must go and do this or that first,” Jesus says, “I am First. If you will follow me, I am First. If you will live in my Spirit, I am First. If you will proclaim my kingdom, I am First.”

Living in the Spirit is the day to day struggle to be free from the slavery of sin. To live free in Christ is to be guided by Love, that is, to be directed, constantly poked and prodded, by your redeemed desire to live with God forever—to serve each another with one heart and one mind; graciously sacrificing for friends and enemies alike; drowning in prayer, breathing God’s Word, breaking his body and drinking his blood; becoming, here and now, Christ for others. If you will say to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord” do so without regret, hesitation, without burden, or debt; do so shamelessly, eagerly, without guile or presumption; do so immediately, full-throated with arms spread, without fear or foreboding; not looking back, but falling head-long and free into the field, taking on his yoke and proclaiming first with every breath, first with every muscle and every drop of sweat: Christ is Lord! And his kingdom is at hand!

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