Monday, August 11, 2008

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”.


At 4:36 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

The reflection and discussion about suffering at Friday’s Adoration, and this weekend’s homily on Romans 9, for some reason made me think about those who have risked their lives for others, such as my brother-in-law.

About a decade ago, my sister’s father-in-law was in end-stage liver disease due to a hepatitis infection he’d received from a blood transfusion years earlier. Because of his age he was not a priority on the list to receive a transplant, and it was determined that his best option would be a donation of a partial organ from a family member. To my sister’s great distress, her husband’s family decided it would be he that would undergo this risky procedure. I confess that my admiration of my brother-in-law was tempered by knowing how much my sister dreaded the possibility that she might spend her life without him, and having the uncharitable thought that a parent who would risk his child’s life for the sake of his own survival was perhaps a little selfish. [Live-donor liver transplants were then so new that the procedure involving my brother-in-law and his father was only the second that the facility had performed.] My sister’s husband and her father-in-law both had extremely difficult recoveries. Fortunately my brother-in-law is now none the worse for wear from the surgery, and his father, although not in as robust health as had been hoped, has had ten years (and counting) that he otherwise would not have had.

There is a part of us that admires those who risk their lives for others, and a perhaps larger part that thinks that such people are out of their minds. We can’t imagine being able to overcome our sense of self-preservation, and we think that one’s life isn’t wholly one’s own to risk. We are thankful for those who serve in the military, law enforcement, and fire & rescue, but we are distressed when a family member announces that he plans to pursue a career in one of those fields. We have a short list of those for whom we’d make the ultimate sacrifice: those whom we care about, whom we deem worthy, who will appreciate what we did for them.

If we can’t wrap our minds around risking an earthly life that we know will end sooner or later, how can we possibly comprehend risking separation from Christ, and thus from the Father, even if only on a temporary basis? The very notion should fill us with a terror like that felt by young child who has become separated from his parent in an unfamiliar place. It seems to me that the only way one could stand to be separated from God would be if God had given strength. But how can one have strength from God, if one is separated from God?

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Would I go to Hell for others to go to Heaven? I would. I would go to Hell for you to go to Heaven."

Thank you.

At 8:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The homily posted here wasn’t the entire homily that Fr. Greg gave on Sunday at the p.m. Mass. That was more than this, and it was beautiful. He spoke directly to the kids who will be going off to college. He talked about the fact that he loved them. He talked about how their parish would be praying for them. He spoke to a sense of belonging they would realize no matter where they were in the world. I was close with a nun from my high school who spoke like this. I remember thinking that my parents HAD to love me, support me and want the best for me. No one else did. The simple fact that this one little woman wanted more for me than I understood to want for myself changed me.

Thanks, FG, for caring about our kids so much. It never goes unnoticed, unappreciated and without impact.


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