The yoke of Christ

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.”

Today’s Readings:
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

The Faith Which Conquers Death

Death was not a part of God’s plan. God did not create us to die. He made us in his own image. He made us imperishable. He created us to live in His presence forever. Adam and Eve had this sort of life. They lived in the Garden of Eden in happiness, in the presence of God. Then, Satan got involved. The devil got involved and started whispering lies in the ears of Adam and Eve. He whispered to them that they would become powerful, like God himself. He whispered to them that they would learn all sorts of things, things that God was hiding from them. He whispered to them that they would only be happy if they disobeyed God and ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

For some reason, they listened. Adam and Eve failed to trust in God. Through Adam and Eve’s failure to trust in God, through their jealousy of God’s power and knowledge, through their pride and thinking that they knew better than God, through their first, original sin, death entered the world. God originally had “made man immortal,” free from pain and suffering, free from a tendency toward sin “and ignorance, sinless, and lord of the earth.” 1 Adam and Eve lost more than they could have ever imagined, and the shockwaves of this original sin shook the universe. God revealed to Adam and Eve the ramifications of what they had done: while they still bore the image of God, they had lost their original grace (the technical, fancy term is preternatural grace) and the ability to pass this on to their children. Humanity now had to suffer pain, sin, ignorance, and death. God, however, was not going to let this be humanity’s fate. Even though God was hurt enormously by this sin—His beloved children had turned away from Him!—He would not let this result stand. God had a plan to redeem us and to save us. In Genesis 3:15, God said:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
They will strike at your head,
while you strike at their heel.” (NABRE)

This plan culminated in the life of Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God who became one of us, a human being, for our sake. Jesus, the offspring of Mary, the New Eve, is the one who struck that mortal blow to Satan’s head. Sin and death entered the world because of Satan, but Jesus Christ conquered sin and death. Jesus Christ destroyed them through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, rendering Satan’s power over us ineffective. This was Jesus’s mission all along: to destroy death. By destroying death, He opened the pathway to Heaven.

In the Gospel today, we hear of Jairus, a synagogue official. His daughter is on her deathbed. I’m sure he tried every remedy of which he could think to save her. We also hear of a woman suffering from hemorrhages. She has spent all her wealth and tried everything, but nothing works. She is also, somewhat more slowly, dying. For her, the situation gets even worse, because her sickness makes her “unclean;” therefore, she is cut off from the worship community. She is alone and without support. Nothing has worked for her or for Jairus. They are in desperate situations. They have one last hope: a man called Jesus. They have heard that Jesus can heal them, and they seek him out. They believe that he can solve their problems. They have faith that he can do what they have heard.

Imagine: the woman reaches out to touch Jesus. There is a huge crowd of people mobbing Jesus. She somehow makes her way through the crowd to Jesus, and then is finally close enough to reach out and just brush the tassels on his clothes. Immediately, Mark says, she was healed. Her faith saved her. Jesus doesn’t stop there. He knows that she has been cast out of the community. He calls her “daughter” and tells her to “go in peace.” How much joy and peace must have been in her heart at that moment? She had encountered God’s love face to face, and was healed in body and soul.

Imagine: Jairus receives the news that his daughter has died. Jesus tells him not to fear. The mourners are already gathered at the home, and they ridicule Jesus. He casts the naysayers out, and tells Jairus’s daughter to stand up. Immediately, Mark says, she rose from bed and walked around. Jairus’s faith saved his daughter. Jesus doesn’t stop there. He told them to give her something to eat—she was most certainly hungry! God knows even our most basic physical needs. How much joy and peace must have been in Jairus’s heart? He had encountered God’s love face to face. His daughter—and he too—was healed in body and soul.

We must never be afraid to ask God for what we need: He loves us more than we can imagine. He wants us to bother him. He wants us to tell him everything. He wants us to have faith that he will answer us in the best way possible. God wants us to have a deep, personal relationship with him: a deep, personal relationship like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have; a deep, personal relationship like a husband and wife have; a deep, personal relationship like the best of friends have. We develop this relationship through prayer and through striving to live God’s will. Over time, this relationship will grow. It will result in a living faith in our hearts, a living faith which help us to reject our fear and entrust everything to God. This living faith, when it grows, can conquer death itself, and lead us into Heaven, where we will once again live in perfect happiness, peace, and joy, and where we will gaze on the glorious presence of God.

Note: This homily was posted on July 4, 2018. It was delivered on July 1, 2018, so I have modified the posting date to match the delivery date.

Today’s Readings
July 1, 2018
13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalms 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43