13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached July 2, 2017; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Last Sunday I spoke about the life of grace, the life of the soul, that was lost through the sin of Adam and restored to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That life of grace involves a true sharing in the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, it is the life of the children of God. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
I also spoke about how that life is seen most fully in the lives of the saints and above all in the Blessed Virgin Mary. While that life is capable of producing great and wonderful deeds, visible to all, in consists most of all in the deep interior motivation, the intensity of the love for Jesus Christ, the complete dedication to him.
In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus demanding that complete dedication on our part: Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Jesus demands – that is the only adequate word to convey the force of his words – that every other love in our life, every other motivation, be subordinated to him, without question and without reserve.
The words of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading convey pretty much the same message setting it in relation to the gift we received in our baptism.
Our baptism was a sharing in Christ’s death that gives us also to share in his life; but that sharing in his life is not simply automatic. We must collaborate; we must heed the call to walk in the newness of life. We must realize that our baptism requires that we die continually to sin, so as to live for God in Christ Jesus.
These words of St. Paul come from the 6th chapter of his letter to the Romans, while in the continuation of that chapter he develops more fully and concretely what it means to die to sin and to live to God.
He writes, Sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires. And do not present the parts of your body to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourself to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness. (Rm 6:12-13)
What does it mean to ‘obey the desire’ of sin?
Let me give first an example of the progress of temptation, from mere bad thought, to ‘obeying the desire of sin’. When the bad thought merely arises, it is like a seducer knocking at the door of a married woman while the husband is away. The woman remains faithful to her husband so long as she tells the seducer to go away and refuses to talk to him. Nevertheless, her fidelity wavers ever so slightly if she begins to converse with him through the closed door; her fidelity wavers even more when she opens the door opens a crack, but the seducer remains outside; the real infidelity begins when she invites the seducer inside. So with the bad thought: first it arises and is rejected and no sin is committed. If, however, we tarry with the bad thought for a bit, conversing with it, we have weakened in our resistance; we have committed a venial sin, but not yet given in to the deliberate mortal sin. When we invite the bad thought in and make it our own, sin gains sway over us and takes charge in the household of our soul.
Another step is taken, however, if we present the parts of our body to sin as weapons of wickedness, there the sin moves from thought and desire into action. Someone starts on the path of becoming a thief when he desires to have something that does not belong to him; at that point he has embraced the bad thought. To put that thought into action, however, he needs to make use of his bodily members, his eyes, his hands, and his feet. He gets in his car, drives to the house he is planning to rob, spends time observing the habits of the owner, comes at another time when they are not there, walks up to the house, makes use of his hands breaking in, grabs in his hands the jewelry and runs off. His eyes, his hands, and his feet have all been used as ‘weapons of wickedness’.
We might say, “Our poor bodies. Our poor eyes and ears and tongue, our poor hands and feet.” God did not make them for this. They did not choose to commit the sin; indeed they had no choice but to obey the master God set over them, our mind and will. If they could speak to us they might say, “Why do you mistreat us so? Why must you befoul us with your wicked deeds?”
That is true even when the sin takes its rise from a natural bodily desire. The bodily desire does not command us, it merely reacts according to its own nature, leaving us to decide whether to act on it or not. When we wrongly act on the desire because it is neither the right time, nor place, nor person, we abuse our own bodies through the misdirection of our mind and the wickedness of our will.
Indeed, when we offer the parts of our bodies so sin as weapons of wickedness we end up making the whole physical world in which we live to serve our wickedness, rather than God.
St. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death. (Rm 6:23) Or, we could say that even if we live in the land of the free, when we obey the desires of sin, we make ourselves to be slaves of sin.
Through our baptism we are called to die to all of this living death of sin; in our baptism God gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we would be free to disobey the impulse of sin, so that we would have the power to reject the bad thought at the very door to our soul.
Yet, instead of following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we leave the five doors of our soul, our sight, our hearing, our senses of smell, taste, and touch, wide open and unguarded. We indiscriminately listen to, look at, and watch whatever pleases us, without any second thoughts. Nor will we accept and criticism or correction in these matters.
Nevertheless, unless we stop obeying the desire of sin and presenting the parts of our body to sin as weapons of wickedness, we cannot present ourselves to God as raised from the dead and the parts of our body to him as weapons of righteousness.
What does this means to present ourselves to God?
It certainly will do us not good to render him lip service, saying, Lord, Lord, but refusing to do what he tells us. (cf. Mt 7:21-23) Rather, Jesus commands us: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. (Mt 6:33) Instead of yielding to bad thoughts, we must collaborate with the Holy Spirit by cultivating good thoughts through a life of prayer and meditation on the word of God.
The Psalmist sums it up well when he writes: Here I am … to do your will is my delight; my God, your law is in my heart! (Ps 40:8,9)
Or we could think of the 1st Psalm: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers. (Ps 1:1) That is what we do when we obey the desire of sin and present the parts of our body as weapons of wickedness. The Psalmist continues: But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Ps 1:2) To meditate on something is to turn it over repeatedly in our mind, to dwell on it, to delight to think about it and ponder it. So is the law of the Lord and the life of Jesus Christ the delight of our mind? Or is there something else that we love more than him?
As for the man who does meditate day and night on the law of the Lord, He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Ps 1:3) Or in the words of St. Paul, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rm 6:23)
So the first thing is to present ourselves to the Lord, placing ourselves at his service, without reservation. We do this not just with our minds, but also with our bodies, hence the importance of our bodily posture in prayer; we do this not just individually, but together as members of the Body of Christ, the Church, hence the necessity for our common public worship as the Body of Christ, nourished by the very Body of Christ.
After presenting ourselves to the Lord for his service, after the works of worship, then we must offer him also the service of our bodies for the works of mercy on behalf of those in need, especially those whom God himself has put into our life, and every good work. In this way the parts of our bodies themselves become weapons of righteousness, which is fitting since our very bodies have been made into temples of the Holy Spirit through baptism. (cf. 1 Cor 6:19)
Finally, worshiping God in this temple, we return to the Mass to give him thanks, bringing with us and offering all that we have done in the body. In this way we fulfill the exhortation of St. Paul, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God to offer you bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. (Rm 12:1) And, Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:17)
Our Blessed Mother, full of grace, helps us on this path of dying to self and living to God, training us to present our bodies to the Lord as weapons of righteousness, by giving us the prayer of her holy rosary. When we pray the rosary we take the beads in our bodily hands, instead of grasping what belongs to someone else, and we take the words of the precious prayers upon our lips, instead of using our tongues for gossip, back-biting, and all manner of evil speech, and above all we learn to turn over the mysteries of the Lord Jesus in our minds, meditating on them continually in company of his Mother and ours. We learn truly to feed on the blessed fruit of her womb, the true Bread of Life.