Deacon Cornellís Homily


Sirach 27:4-7
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
Luke 6:39-45


February 24-25, 2001. Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

I was listening to the tail end of a radio talk show the other day in my car. The topic was young people signing a pledge to remain a virgin until he or she married. The last woman who called in said something really wise. She said that she was Catholic and that she taught her daughter the commandments and everything but that she hoped that her daughter would remain a virgin until she married, not because she was afraid to break a commandment or not because she was afraid to break a promise, but because in her heart of hearts she knew that that was the very best thing for her.

Todayís readings give us a series of wisdom sayings about the relationship between appearances and actions and word, and essence. They remind us that there are two sides to this relationship. The first is that we canít fool people with appearances for very long. Over the long haul, our words and actions and effect on the world around us will indicate who we are inside. The other side of this relationship is that once we get our heart, our soul straightened out, everything else will flow naturally from that. We wonít have to try hard to be good or to do what is right. After all, an apple tree doesnít have to try hard to bear apples does it? It doesnít need a law to tell it not to bear the occasional pineapple or kiwi fruit.

All too often, I get the impression that people think religion is about following the rules. For Catholics, it means obeying the commandments, going to Church every Sunday, knowing all the rules and regulations. The outcome of this approach is that we end up either acting a certain way so we donít go to hell, or thinking that we have to do certain things to earn Godís love. Both approaches miss the point, big time! In fact this is what Paul is talking about when he says that the power of sin is the law. Once we start getting legalistic we get ourselves into trouble.

Catholicism is about being loved by God, especially in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the face of that love, loving back. It is about being a certain kind of person, not doing certain things. Here's one illustration of the difference that I learned much too late in my childrearing days. When I would walk into a room where there was a fracas going on, most of the time everyone would be involved. In an effort to mete out justice (under the law!), I would start asking questions to find out who was at fault for what. Well you parents (and kids) know what happens. Everyone starts pointing the finger: she did this, he did that, and my personal favorite: he hit me back first. I finally learned to ask just one question: Did you do what you did out of love? Because if you didn't you were at fault; you hurt yourself and probably someone else. I find that a great question to ask myself anytime I have questions about how to act.

Some people think acting out of love mean you have to condone violence or evil or even rude behavior. Nothing could be farther from the truth. True love challenges all those things. Listen to Jesus in the Gospel. He identifies the wrongdoing and is not shy about saying what is right.

The first couple of sayings that we hear from Jesus in todayís readings remind us that as Christians we are called to be leaders and teachers to the world. As leaders and teachers, we have a responsibility to learn about what we are teaching; otherwise we end up being ignored or worse yet, leading people astray. All too often in the last 2,000 years, Christians have been the blind leading the blind, or people who strain to point out the speck in otherís eyes while we ignore the beam in ours. How can Christians teach the world that God intends us to be one big human family when we canít even get together as one Church? How can Christians teach the world that the Good News is that God has forgiven everyone everything they have ever or will ever do when we so often seem to concentrate on making sure that sinners feel guilty? How can Christians teach the world that God has made us to love and forgive when we so often respond to evil and violence with righteous anger and justified violence?

And what about the fruit of our parish tree? What would someone conclude about our essence by spending time with us at our liturgies, our social gatherings, our religious education classes, our other activities? What does our spacing here at Mass say about our welcoming, and our need to be in communion with each other? What does the way we say the responses show about our understanding of who God is and how "right it is for us" to give God thanksgiving and praise? What does our singing say about the joy we have at being loved and forgiven by God, and knowing that we are called to be with God forever in paradise?

Appearances are critical to our responsibility to make Godís love real on this earth. We canít do this by preaching or criticizing or pointing out what is right or wrong. We need to do it by the witness of our lives. Saying we are against abortion is fine, but doing things like the donations so many of you made to the January baby shower shows that we mean that every child should be born into a loving situation. It gives us credibility. We must live as children of God, a people who understand that we are completely forgiven and unconditionally loved by God. Once we let that love transform our hearts, our essence, the fruit of our lives will be attractive to others.

People say it is hard to be a good Christian. The wisdom in todayís readings says no, it is the easiest thing in the world if we get our hearts right. What is hard is to be a Christian while concentrating on what is right and wrong, and trying so hard to do Christian things. What is hard is to be a Christian while still clinging to what the world preaches as success and power. That is hard because it is impossible to do. We need to make the initial effort to respond to Godís love and forgiveness. Once we do that, Godís love will flood our hearts and our souls. And from that storehouse, we can make this world a paradise.

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