21 September 2014

Magnify Christ with your generosity!

25th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
Without a bit of pride, Paul proclaims: “Christ will be magnified in my body.” He sounds very much like Mary saying YES to the Lord’s angel at the Annunciation. Christ will be made larger, brighter, sharper, louder, and more skilled in Paul’s body. Paul says without fear, “Christ will be magnified in my body whether by life or by death.” Whether alive or dead, Christ will be magnified. Like Mary at the feet of the angel, Paul turns his life and his death over to the Lord—and to the work of the Lord—and confesses to his brothers and sisters in Philippi that his life as a worker for the Lord will be larger, brighter, sharper, and more skilled precisely b/c the work he does will be done for the greater glory of the God. And this is just the work of his life! Death is no obstacle for Paul b/c “life is Christ, and death is gain.” Live in Christ and magnify God's work on earth. Die in Christ, be with God eternally, and still magnify His work in His presence. Our commitment to Christ is life and death; in life and in death, we serve the mighty works of God!

Notice this about Paul's commitment to Christ: he doesn't donate his time, talent, and treasure out of any excess of these gifts. He doesn’t give over to the work of the Lord the overflow of his riches. The leftovers. Paul does not say “Christ will be magnified in my checkbook.” “Christ will be magnified in my volunteer hours.” “Christ will be magnified in my talent.” He says that Christ will be magnified in his body. His very flesh and bone. And whether he lives or dies the work he does for the Lord will bear abundant fruit for others. Paul doesn't parcel his life (or his death) into discreet packages addressed to different and equally worthy recipients: his family, his career, his friends, and, oh, one for the Lord too here on the bottom somewhere. Paul’s whole life—the first fruits, the abundant works, the failures and misgivings, and, finally, his last breath—all of it, his whole life is given to Christ for the enlargement of Christ and his mission of mercy on earth.

But what does it mean for Christ to be magnified in the body? We are being admonished to pull ourselves out of the habit of abstraction, the all-too-devilish temptation to lift our religious obligations to one another into the heavens where we can keep them separate from any real duty to perform them here on earth. So long as the obligation to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned remain abstracted moral imperatives far, far away Up There, we are tempted to honor them in the abstract – neglect to perform them – and remain confident that the work of the Lord is getting done. Paul’s insistence that Christ will be magnified in his body is the clearest indication we have that the work of the Lord is to be done. Not just thought about or prayed over. Not just written about. Not just preached about. And certainly not abstracted and lifted up and placed a spiritualized “to do” list. The work of Christ is to be done. And done first for and only God’s greater glory.

Now. I know what you’re thinking! “Wow, Father is wound up tonight. He must think we’re all lazy bums laying around thinking about the good works of mercy, but watching Wheel of Fortune instead!” Not quite. I know the generosity of this community, and I know that you are motivated to be instruments of the Lord in the world. There is a hunger here for others to see and hear what God has done in your lives. There is an eagerness here, a tangible need to draw others to God and to bear witness to them the power of Christ’s mercy—to forgive, to heal, to bless. I’m not wagging my finger at you tonight, but merely reminding us all where we come from, where we are, and where we are going. We were sent by Christ. We are with Christ. And we will be with Christ – in life and in death.

There is, however, a temptation waiting for us. An eager little devil waiting to pounce on our witness to the Lord. It is an opportunity for us to sin and delight the Liar. What is this temptation? It is the temptation to believe that we work for God out of our own generosity, out of our own time, out of our own resources, and we are therefore entitled to a greater reward when we outwork our neighbors in doing good deeds.

This is pretty much what the parable of the whiny workers is all about, a parable about our salvation and our growth in holiness. The whiny workers begrudge the landowner’s generosity when he pays full wages to the laborers who hadn't work as long as they had. Why? For some reason they feel that their own labor and their own wages are diminished by the generosity of the vineyard owner. Somehow their day’s labor is dirtied. Their dollar is devalued. They worked harder and longer under the fiery sun, so they deserve more than those who sauntered in at the last hour and barely broke a sweat! These guys are upset b/c they are working out of a worldly notion of justice – compensation is earned; you should get what is owed you, what you deserve. All true. . .in the world. But remember, this is a parable about salvation and holiness not a lesson on capitalist economics.

Think about applying a worldly notion of justice to your spiritual life. Do you want God to compensate you for your life’s work in Christ using this world's idea of what's just? Do we really want our lives judged by a worldly standard? Do we want to live forever with what we deserve? What we’ve earned in this life? The whole point of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is that we won’t be given what we deserve; we won’t receive from the Father what is owed to us. Before the coming of the Christ, God's people had to earn His justice. Good works, holiness, purity, obedience kept you in the Covenant and entitled you to His just rewards. Failure to live up to the Covenant earned you His just punishments. But with the coming of the Christ, we no longer need to earn or even fear His justice b/c He has given us – just freely handed over – His mercy in the person of Christ Jesus.

On the Altar of the Cross our Final Wage is offered once for all. Unearned by us. Yet freely given to us. Whether you came to your salvation as an infant sixty years ago or as a teenager ten years ago or as an adult three hours ago, your Final Wage comes from the bottomless cache of the Father’s generosity. Salvation is free. Holiness—the living out of that salvation morning, afternoon, and night—is hard, sweaty work. But even that labor is graced by a loving God Who would see us with Him for eternity. That grace, His gifts are more than sufficient to help us magnify the Lord – in our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies.

THEREFORE, make Christ larger, brighter, louder, sharper, sweeter, stronger, kinder, truer, more beautiful, more loving, more faithful, more humble, more generous, and make Christ bigger, and bigger, and bigger in your life. Magnify the Lord 'til your knees buckle. Magnify the Lord 'til your back hurts. Magnify the Lord in your body 'til there is no room for sin. And when the Lord asks, “Are you jealous b/c I am generous to sinners?” Be able to say with all honesty, “No, Lord! I am grateful in life and death, and I live and die to magnify you.”

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  1. Anonymous7:57 PM

    "Vintage" treatment of a famous gospel...great, Fr.!

  2. I finally found time to read this homily, and I almost couldn't finish it because you had me in tears in the first paragraph. That is your goal in life, right? "How quickly can my homilies make Shelly cry?" Halfway through paragraph 1 - must be a record!! :-)

    1. Shelly, could you please count the number of tears this homily caused? I'm starting a chart to see if I'm getting more or less Tear-Inducing over time.


    2. Actual number of discrete tears? Or volume measured in mL's? ... or volume measured in dB's?

    3. Discreet numbers, please.