The scholar of the law knew the words of the law, but he didn’t want to live it. Instead, he wanted to justify himself and his half-hearted approach to following God.
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
In the first reading today, we hear about the teachings of this Pharisee named Gamaliel. He was a very respected teacher of the law, the most distinguished in all of Israel. The apostle Paul was one of Gamaliel’s finest students. What Gamaliel says is about how to know if the Apostles were from God or not. If they are from God, they will last. If they are not, they will fade out and disappear. The Jews didn’t need to persecute the Apostles: they will stay or go depending on God’s will.
Gamaliel was right. The Apostles eventually formed the church, which has never stopped existing since Jesus founded it. One of the things that the Church does is help us understand what God wants us to do with our lives. One of the ways she does this is by canonizing saints, who live their lives in a way that can teach us. Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Louis de Montfort. St. Louis de Montfort is known for his tireless devotion to preaching about Mary. He wrote many books explaining how to pray the rosary and other topics. Perhaps his most famous book is called True Devotion to Mary. Many Popes have commented on how excellent the book is, and I personally think it is one of the best books I’ve ever read, because it teaches us how to devote ourselves to Mary so that she can bring us to Jesus.
Mary always leads us to Jesus. We can never love Mary too much, because she takes the love we have for her and gives it to Jesus. Mary is always responding to God with love. This is one of the great things that Mary teaches us: always respond to God with love. If Mary had not responded “yes” to the angel Gabriel, or had half-heartedly responded, God would not have become man. We would not be able to go to Heaven, because Jesus had to become man so that we can go to Heaven! Our human responses matter.
In the Gospel today, Jesus desires to feed a crowd of 5000. All the disciples come up with are 5 loaves and 2 fish that one boy had brought. The boy must have thought, “what an insignificant answer to Jesus.” Jesus, though, took the response of the boy, and turned it into so much food that the crowd couldn’t finish it all! You see, in our response to God, we use what is called our free will. Our free will is the most special gift God gave us when he made us. It is how we choose right from wrong. It is how we decide when and how to respond when someone speaks to us.
With this freedom, though, we are also given a responsibility. (CCC 1734) We have a responsibility to participate in our society. (CCC 1914) We have a responsibility to help others, to be good examples, and to obey instructions given to us by our parents and those who are in charge of us. For example, one of my responsibilities is to listen to what my pastor asks me to do, and then to do it. By responding to my pastor and doing what he asks me, I contribute to society.
One of the most important things that we, as Catholics, do in society is worship God. Because God made everything, including us, we have a responsibility to thank him. The best way to do this is through the Celebration of the Eucharist. The word Eucharist even comes from the Greek word that means “thanksgiving.” By participating in the celebration of the Eucharist—the Mass—we are participating in the most perfect way possible in society. We are doing the best thing we can do with ourselves.
How we act while we are at Mass is just as important as showing up to Mass. If I am sitting through Mass, not paying attention, not responding, not participating in the singing, it is not actually a good thing to do. It is as if am coming to Mass, where God really comes to be with us in the Eucharist, and saying, “I want to get what you’re giving me God, but I don’t want to thank you or give anything back to you.” It would be like going to a friend’s house for dinner, and instead of saying “thank you” you came in, swallowed the food really fast, and then left without saying anything. We know that’s not right, so we shouldn’t do it when we come to Mass, which is a special sort of meal where God is actually there with us in a very special way in the Eucharist.
So we must always remember that it matters how we respond, both at Mass and at all other times. If how we respond matters, then let’s try to always respond to Jesus with our whole hearts. We should never be embarrassed to love Jesus by showing him reverence with our voice or actions. If we have trouble with these things, St. Louis de Montfort reminds us that we can ask Mary to teach us how to love and respond to Jesus.
Finally, let us thank God that he sent his Son to save us, and that Mary was given the grace to say yes to him with her whole heart. May we have the courage to respond to God with such whole-heartedness.
Today’s Readings have two options.
- For the regular weekday cycle, they are: Acts 5:34-42; Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14; Jn 6:1-15 (The reflection assumes these readings are read.)
- For St. Louis de Montfort’s feast, they are: 1 Cor 1:18-25; Ps 40: 2& 4, 7-8a, 8b-9, 10; Mt 28:16-20.