17th Week OT (R)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Priory, NOLA
Our contemporary sensibilities about including some and excluding others has taken a beating this week and last. It's clear from our readings that there is such a thing as a goat, a weed, and a bad fish. The “evil and unfaithful generation” is not an abstraction but a populated reality. Believing this to be true may make us uncomfortable b/c it can be a weapon against those among us whom we'd rather not have around. There's just too much temptation there for sinful man to resist. So, we are tempted instead to pretend that eternal failure is a moral myth, or we interpret it away as a culturally bound artifact of more primitive times. Enlightened now, we reassure ourselves that everyone – ultimately – is a sheep, a fruitful plant, and a good fish. But this more contemporary bit of myth-making does violence to a fundamental truth of our redeemed human nature: it robs us of our freedom and makes all of our moral acts pointless. Why be a saint if being an unrepentant sinner is an equally valid means of growing in holiness and gaining heaven? Why feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and seek justice for the oppressed, when not doing any of these things is just as spiritually effective? In fact, starving the hungry, leaving the naked to die, making people sick, and actively oppressing others is “just as good as” spending one's life in faithful service to the least among us. Jesus couldn't be clearer: “The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” We can be uncomfortable with this image. We can be embarrassed for Jesus that he said something so primitive. We can even have a Blessed Are The Cheese Makers moment, a sort of soothing “what he really means is” take on the reading. But the reality is: if we are to be truly free, we need to understand the consequences of our choices. Jesus isn't threatening us here. He's warning us. Choosing not to love now is choosing not to spend eternity with Love later.
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