N.B. I'd been struggling since early, early this morning to write today's homily for the 5.30pm Mass. Tossed two drafts. Finally, just decided to type out my thoughts w/o any polish and let the Holy Spirit take it from there.
7th Week OT (R)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Joseph Church, Ponchatula
When we make moral choices we can usually depend on two ways of doing so. There's the Law and Order method and the Virtue method. The Law and Order method is simple: obey the law in everything you do, or suffer the consequences. The Virtue method is much, much more difficult b/c rather than focusing you on your behavior, this method demands that you look at yourself as a whole person—behavior and intention—and it demands that you ask a question few of us have the time to consider: what sort of person do I want to be? The L/O method says, “Don't lie. Don't steal. Don't kill.” Easy. The Virtue method wants you to contemplate your motivations, your circumstances. It wants you to spend precious time thinking hard about whether or not you want to be a liar, a thief, or a killer.
Jesus tells us that it is better to mutilate ourselves than it is to sin. Is this part of the LO or the Virtue method? Maybe a little of both? No doubt sin is something to avoid. Not only b/c it violates God law but also b/c sin makes us sinners. Jesus seems to be saying here that it is better to suffer bodily pain now than it is to suffer eternal pain later. That's true. He also seems to be saying that what we choose to do, to say, to think here and now has eternal consequences. That's true too. But we have to remember that we are called to a life of holiness. This doesn't exclude a life of legalistic purity, but holiness is far more difficult, far more substantial than simply being obedient to the law.
Over and over again, you choose to obey the law and you never sin b/c you follow all the moral rules. You keep both your hands, both your feet, and both eyes. Excellent. But do you love God? Neighbor? Self? Why are you following the rules? Are you obedient b/c you fear punishment? Or are you obedient b/c you hope never to disappoint the Father who loves you? Are you obedient b/c you get anxious even thinking about breaking a rule? Or b/c there's no room in your heart for disobedience? No room of even thinking about anything that isn't of God?
Jesus tells the disciples, “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor?” Salt was thrown on a temple sacrifice as it burned on the altar. He's reminding his friends that salt purifies and preserves. Salt seasons, adds character. All to the good. But we will be salted—purified, preserved, seasoned—with fire. We will be tested. B/c of our professed love for Christ, we will be tested. When the test finds you, will you rely on your own ability to follow the rules? Or will you throw yourself on God's love and mercy? Will you call on the strength you have gained as a follower of the law? Or will you cry out for God to use His strength to rescue you?
Make a habit of calling on God's love and strength. Make a habit of falling back on His promise to never abandon you. Make a habit of not sinning b/c you know that Christ died for your sins, and that you are forgiven. Virtue is just a good habit. And faith is the good habit of depending on God's infinite mercy every time that test comes around.
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