Note: this homily was given on June 30, but not published until July 5. Sorry about the delay.
The readings today present two seemingly opposite ideas to us. St. Paul calls on us to break free of the yoke of slavery; meanwhile, Elijah and Jesus demand an immediate and drastic response to God’s call. It isn’t too much of a mental leap to hear what Jesus and Elijah are calling us to do and thinking that they are asking us to put on a yoke of slavery. Two questions come to mind. The first question is, simply, “which is it? Do we yoke ourselves or not?” The second question that some of us might be asking is, “What in the world is a yoke?!” The second question is a little easier to answer: a yoke is a piece of wood that goes across your neck and shoulders, and it allows you to carry pails and things. On animals such as horses, the yoke is fastened around their necks, and it allows them to pull carts. That first question, though, is the much more important question. The answer is the classic Catholic “both-and.” We must both throw off the yoke of slavery as St. Paul said, and take on the yoke of Christ. This doesn’t make sense until we realize that they are two different yokes.
St. Paul tells us to cast off our yoke of slavery to the flesh. This is St. Paul-speak for a very simple idea: stop sinning! Sin does not come from God, and only in God will we find true freedom. By casting sin out of our lives, we can be free to truly love God. By casting sin out of our lives, we can be free to be truly happy. Because we are flesh-and-bone, every time we do something, we become just a little bit better at it. If we do something many times, it slowly develops into a habit. When something is a habit, we don’t even think about doing it. The problem is that we can develop bad habits—we call these vices—which can take control of our lives. Addictions live in the realm of vice. Addiction is not just something that users of drugs have to fight. We all have things which we are drawn to despite our will. The internet has made these addictions even easier to feed. This is what St. Paul is calling us to cast off. St. Paul is telling us to cast off these “desires of the flesh,” so that instead of letting addictions and vices and bad habits and temptation and sin rule us, we can rule ourselves.
When Jesus offers us his yoke, he tells us it is light and easy. He is not talking about the yoke of sin, but the yoke of freedom. Christ calls us to follow him immediately and without reserve, because following him means getting out of our slavery to sin and living in the freedom and joy of God. Christ is calling us to live with him, to allow his Spirit to guide us toward him. As we do this, we will train ourselves in new ways to live. We will develop good habits if we follow Christ. We will grow in that wonderful thing called virtue. When we do that, it becomes easy to do the right thing without even thinking. This allows us to grow closer and closer to God. This allows us to love God more and more and to experience his love more and more.
We are creatures made of flesh and of spirit. Because of original sin, the two parts of us are often at war with one another. We get to decide which part of us is driving: the flesh or the spirit. If we let the flesh-blood-and-bone part of us drive, we cannot follow God and grow farther away from him. We will become slaves to our vices and addictions, and ultimately, that route leads to eternal damnation. Nobody wants that. If we let the spirit drive, we can follow God. We can grow closer to him every day and every moment of our lives on this earth. We will become truly free to love God, and ultimately, we will hear God say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into my joy.”
June 30, 2019
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62