19th Sunday - homily
‘I would go to Hell for you to go to Heaven’. Is this what St. Paul is saying in the second reading? In his letter to the Romans (chapter 9), he writes: “I could wish that I were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren”. Most scholars think that he is not referring to eternal separation from Christ, but some do. I have thought about this for many years - ever since I first heard this line. Would I go to Hell for others to go to Heaven? I would. I would go to Hell for you to go to Heaven. Now, it’s an exaggerated point that St. Paul and I are making: that we would do anything for your salvation, for your conversion, for your faith in Christ.
Why is faith in Christ so important to St. Paul that he would give up everything for his people to have it? Why is it so paramount? I think that it’s on a couple of levels that he sees the immense value of a life in Christ and wants his people to enjoy it. The first is on a personal level. In his own life, St. Paul found happiness, peace, and joy in Christ – that’s definitely true. But, on a deeper level, he found the meaning of his life in Christ. We always talk about finding ‘the meaning of life’ – it is found in Christ.
St. Paul found his identity in Christ. The more we get to know Christ, the more we get to ourselves – our true identity. St. Paul found his true identity in Christ. He found life itself in Christ. This point, though, about the importance of identity is played out whenever we go to a funeral. We don’t primarily hear about the person’s accomplishments or possessions; we hear much more about their identity – who they were. Our identity is paramount; we find our true identity in Christ.
St. Paul also wanted his people to experience life in Christ for its general value – it is AWE-SOME! It is awesome!! We hear that word so much these days – “that movie was awesome”…”my new car is awesome”. GOD is awesome! We are in awe of God’s power. We are in awe of his love. We are in awe of his presence. This was the experience of St. Paul. This was the experience of the Apostles in the boat. This was the experience of Elijah in the first reading.
It may not have been what they expected, but they were in awe to see God’s power and presence. The Apostle didn’t expect to see Jesus walking on water on quieting the storm. Elijah didn’t expect to find the Lord in a small, quiet way. And yet, they were in awe when they experienced God’s presence. They were in awe when they experienced his power.
We come to the Eucharist – talk about a way we wouldn’t expect God to come us! In a few moments, He will be among us in a way we wouldn’t expect – small and unspectacular. And yet, He will be among us. He will be with us amid our storms. Just like when the Apostles saw Jesus walking on water and said, ‘it’s a ghost’, so do some people look at Jesus in the Eucharist and say, ‘it’s only a symbol’…’it’s only a representation’. And, Jesus says to us what he said to the Apostles, “take courage, it is I. Do not be afraid”.