26th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
If given the choice between amputating a limb and losing your immortal soul, ask for a bone saw and get busy! Jesus says, “It is better for you to enter into life maimed than to go into the unquenchable fire of Gehenna with two hands.” Is he being literal, or is he exaggerating? The idea is literal. It is better to go through life without a limb than it is to choose hell for your after-life. But he is also exaggerating; that is, he is not urging us to actually chop off body parts. The point here is that there is nothing worse than living in the here and now without God. . .except, of course, living after death without Him. Since sin is voluntary, the consequences of sin are deliberately chosen. For example, lead a member of God's family into sin and the millstone you will wear to the bottom of the sea is your choice. Does this sound cruel? Unusual? Maybe even a little vindictive? Think about it: by choosing to sin and leading another into sin, you are willfully putting your immortal soul and the soul of another in danger of experiencing first-hand the unquenchable fires of Gehenna. It is far better that Jesus sound somewhat cruel and vindictive than it is for him to soft-pedal the consequences of choosing to live w/o God.
The Good News here is that sin is a choice. Going to Gehenna is a choice. Holiness is a choice. So is the Beatific Vision. Christ on the Cross fulfilled our obligations under the Covenant. And we are free! We are free to receive God's graces. We are free to petition God directly for all that we need. We are free to do good works in His name and for His glory. We are free to find perfection in Christ and – come the end of our days – we are free to enter into His presence and see Him face-to-face. There is nothing stopping you from doing exactly everything you have already vowed to do – except you. When it comes to growing in holiness I am my own worst enemy. And I bet you are yours. We would like to blame our failures on the Devil and the fallen angels. We blame our family members, friends, co-workers, even strangers. But the hard, unyielding truth is this: my sin is my choice. Your sin is your choice. By sinning we are deliberately choosing to deny ourselves the benefits of God's grace and choose instead to “have it our way.” In other words, we are saying to God, “Thanks but no thanks. I've got this. I'll let you know when I need a little help.” And since God loves us and the freedom He won for us through Christ, He honors our choice. He honors our choices even if those choices land us among the burning trash heaps of Gehenna.
James tells us that there is a corrosion in each one of us and among us that will devour our flesh like a fire. He says that this “corrosion will be a testimony against [us].” What is this corrosion? Well, it is many things. It's the love of money and power. Pride crowding out humility. Lust suffocating love. Foolish ambition stepping on humble service. It's jealousy and wrath and deceit. It's everything that Christ is not, everything vile and devious that leads us away from the perfection that God wills for us all. James is specifically castigating the rich who have become rich by cheating the poor. But his admonition to them applies to us as well. When we sin against God's little ones – our brothers and sisters in Christ – we often do so to get an advantage over them, a leg up on them – some way of cheating them out of what is justly theirs. We could think of money or property here. But remember that we can be cheated out of our good name, our reputation. Gossip, detraction, rumor-mongering are all forms of theft and work to corrode the Body of Christ. No earthly treasure gained by lying, cheating, or stealing is worth an eternity w/o God. Better to grow in perfection by witnessing to the truth.
And that's how the Church will survive this century – by witnessing to the truth. We already see the rotten fruit of trying to appease the world, trying to accommodate the Gospel to the spirit of the age. We toned down our talk of sin. We softened our opposition on this or that social issue. We loosened sacramental discipline; blurred doctrines; set “pastoral practice” over against “dogmatic truth.” All in an effort to maintain the fiction that we belong to this world: Look at us! We're just like you! No, we're not. We are not here to get along. We're here to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel. And though we are always in this world, we are never of it. We are heirs to the Kingdom of the Father and our end is His banquet table in heaven. While we are here, we bear witness to the truth, choose to grow in holiness, work toward our perfection in Christ, and never tire of giving testimony to His boundless mercy. The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church – the Church that bears witness to the truth.
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