6th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached February 17, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable of all people.
The words of St. Paul are in agreement with the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, for Jesus pronounces blessed those who now, in this life, are poor, hungry, suffering, and hated, while warns of woe for those who now, in this life, are rich, satisfied, laughing, and respected. The reversal does not take place here in this world, but in the world to come, through the judgment of God, not by human effort. Then your reward will be great in heaven.
So also we can understand the words of the prophet Jeremiah. That man is cursed who, trusting in human strength and wisdom, whether his own or others, seeks his happiness in this life; on the contrary, that man is blessed who putting his trust and hope in the Lord, longs for eternal life.
It is time to be clear and straightforward about these matters because eternal salvation depends upon them. Time is fleeting; eternity is forever. In all that we think, say, and do in this fleeting time, eternity is at stake.
Eternity is at stake; eternal happiness is not guaranteed to anyone. There are two sins against hope. Despair, which says, “My sins are so great that God will never forgive me”, and presumption, which says, “God is merciful; I am already saved; I don’t need to do anything.”
We could apply the message of blessing and woe to human life today and say:
- Woe to those who think that eternal life is a sure and easy thing, give no thought for getting there.
- Likewise, woe to those who think that God is so merciful that he would never condemn anyone to hell.
Perhaps, for their part, some people it is enough to serve God, simply because he is so good and wonderful, without any thought for such matters and judgment and hell. Nevertheless, such people readily lead others astray; they lead others to think there is no need to turn to God or give him any thought. They think they are making God seem attractive, but instead they bring him into contempt. Their merciful God is really a God who just doesn’t care what we do. Since it doesn’t matter what we do, we may as well turn our minds, here and now, to the pursuit of an earthly happiness.
Actually, God does care what we do. God loves us so much that he takes us seriously. God loves us so much that he gives us the power to decide for or against him.
- Likewise, woe to those who have sought to turn religion into an engine for bringing about social justice. It is not justice that is the problem, but the inversion of goals. The religion of social justice tries to make God serve this world, rather than leading this world to believe and serve in God. The religion of social justice wants the worship of God to serve as an instrument for the blessing of human projects. Sometimes God’s blessing is asked upon well-meaning and idealistic projects, but more and more, in the name of social justice, God’s blessing is being demanded even for perverse projects.
- So also woe to those who have sought to turn religion and spirituality into a vehicle for psychological well-being. True religiosity and spirituality will certainly have psychological benefits, but that is not the purpose of true religion.
This is the teaching of Jesus Christ: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, then all these things given to you besides. (Mt 6:33)
Since Jesus was making a comparison to the provision of the basic human necessities of food and clothing, all other components of human well-being in this world, including physical and mental health, could be included. So even the right ordering of human society in this world is impossible unless human society first be rightly ordered towards God and the world to come.
To seek any other way is to put trust in human beings rather than trust in God who revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ.
We do not hear much about these things anymore today, but this is still the teaching of the Church, found in the Catechism. Recently one prominent Cardinal made a very clear statement, based directly on the Catechism. He declared:
“Many wonder today what purpose the Church still has in its existence, when even bishops prefer to be politicians rather than to proclaim the Gospel as teachers of the Faith. The role of the Church must not be watered down by trivialities, but its proper place must be addressed. Every human being has an immortal soul, which in death is separated from the body, hoping for the resurrection of the dead (CCC 366). Death makes man’s decision for or against God definite. Everyone has to face the particular judgement immediately after death (CCC 1021). Either a purification is necessary, or man goes directly into heavenly bliss and is allowed to see God face to face. There is also the dreadful possibility that a person will remain opposed to God to the very end, and by definitely refusing His Love, ‘condemns himself immediately and forever’ (CCC 1022). ‘God created us without us, but He did not want to save us without us’ (CCC 1847). The eternity of the punishment of hell is a terrible reality, which – according to the testimony of Holy Scripture – attracts all who ‘die in the state of mortal sin’ (CCC 1035). The Christian goes through the narrow gate, for ‘the gate is wide, and the way that leads to ruin is wide, and many are upon it’ (Mt 7:13).” (Cardinal Mueller, Manifesto 5)
Heavenly bliss consists essentially in the face to face vision of God, which is enjoyed already by the saints in heaven, but because we have a bodily nature our happiness will not be altogether complete until the resurrection of the body.
Neither of these goals, the vision of God nor the resurrection of the body, are within the reach of human power. Neither of these goals is proportioned to our mortal nature. They are above and beyond us, they are truly supernatural. Nevertheless, what is impossible to human power is possible for God. As a result the vision of God and the resurrection of the body can only be received and welcomed as a gift of God, in the way he chooses to give them to us, according to the means that he has provided for us to attain them. They are gifts of God, but he will not give them to us unless we are willing to have them and we must show our desire by conforming ourselves to his will.
We must do our part entering through the narrow gate of Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, following the narrow road of the Cross in the Church that he has established.
The narrow road leads to the fulfillment of our hope in the world to come.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.