Sunday, January 25, 2015

There Are No Half-Saints In Heaven - Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

This weekend, the men’s club is hosting its annual Trivia Night and so I have a trivia question for you: When Jesus begins his public ministry, what is the very first thing He tells us to do?

(Can I get the Jeopardy Theme from the band, please…?)

I would think the answer is “to love.” To love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But, actually, something comes before these. The very first thing Jesus tells us to do is to repent.


Let me explain. About a month ago, we celebrated Christmas. And at Christmas, we heard the stories about Jesus the newborn king; how He was born during the reign of King Herod and so on. But we never really heard why. Why was Jesus born? Today, He gives the reason: to put an end to the kingdom of sin and death and to inaugurate a new kingdom—a “Kingdom…[that] is at hand!”

And so, the first thing he tells us to do is “repent.” But, why? What does this have to do with His Kingdom?

Repentance: To Return to Love

When I hear the word “repent”—I think of Lent and fasting and sorrow for sins. But in Hebrew, the word has a double meaning. It means “sorrow as for sin” and it means “returning, as to a new way of life.” So, for example, in the story of the Prodigal Son, the son must not only feel sorrow for his sins, but he must also turn away from sin and embrace a new way of life. But to what end? That the young man might return to the Father and, returning, know Him and love Him.

This helps us to understand the Gospel today. Before Andrew, Peter, James, and John can learn about the Father’s love and His Greatest Commandment, they must first leave everything of their old life and take the first steps of a return to the Father by following Jesus. Only then will their lives find meaning and will they discover the riches of the Father’s love. Only then will they become fishers of men.

Repentance, therefore, leads to love. And it is love that identifies the saints of the heavenly kingdom. Repentance, therefore, is the doorway—the separation, if you will—between the kingdom of this world (which is passing away) and the Kingdom of God.

Repentance: To Enter the Kingdom of God

What strikes me about the Gospel is how Andrew and the others respond with such totality and with such immediacy. Who told them that “no one can serve two masters” and that “[y]ou will either hate one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Mt 6:24)? Who told them that the “world … is passing away” and that their time to make a decision “is running out”?

Perhaps they felt an emptiness in them, an emptiness which I felt this week when our nation’s media focused not on the half-million people marching in DC to protest the killing of innocents (do you hear about this?)—but instead, our nation’s attention was focused on deflated footballs. And the reason why the nation’s attention was focused on footballs is because of “fairness.”

This is The Issue of our day? The fairness of footballs? I don’t know about  you, but I find it exceedingly unfair for children to be killed. I would think that this would be our priority… But, footballs.

I turn away from that culture; I repent of it! I wish today’s Nineveh would do the same!

Yes, I think Andrew and the apostles felt something deep within them that came to life when they met Jesus. And they realized that following him would either mean everything or nothing—and not something in-between, just as St. Therese of Lisieux would say: “You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” There are no half-saints in heaven.

The King invites us to go all in. Go big or go home. You can’t serve two masters. You can’t "kind-of be" in the kingdom of God. You’re either in or you’re out.

Raising the Bar on Holiness.

That’s all well and good. But let me put some flesh on this.

As a priest, one of the joys of my priesthood is to prepare couples for holy marriage. During our conversations, I ask the lovebirds to tell me how holy a priest should be. And they always place the bar way up here. For the most part, our culture, even after the recent scandals, still holds us priests to a very high standard—as they should: after all, what is a priest if he doesn’t pray and offer sacrifice for his spiritual family or of what worth is he if doesn’t preach or lead by example? After all, he has given his life totally to God. We would expect a total commitment, right?

But then I turn the tables on them. I say to them, where does the culture place your bar? How holy does it expect marriages and families to be? The couples say that the bar isn't even way down here—there simply is no bar.

And so I ask them The Question: What if I told you that someday you may have a priest or a religious sister in your home? No, I don’t mean having Father Holway over for dinner. I mean: what if your future seven-year-old who is sitting at your feet is a future priest? or what if your daughter sitting at your table is a future religious sister? Would your practice of the faith make them ready for the total commitment which the Church expects of them?

And this leads to other questions....

Will your marriage and your discipline teach your future priest or your future sister to be affectionate or to be cold? forgiving or harsh? angry or gentle? present or aloof? wise or foolish? sacrificial or selfish? totally committed or only partially so? Will your marriage teach your children to courageously raise the bar and to go all in when it comes to holiness or to find excuses and other priorities and so lower it? Will they be fishers of men or just mending their nets like everyone else? When Jesus comes, will they have been so prepared that they could drop everything—including a comfortable lifestyle—and follow Him?

And if they are called to marriage, will they have learned to be so holy in their marriage?

Practical Suggestions on How to Fish

Let’s sit with that for a moment…

This is Catholic Schools Week and so I want to give two very practical suggestions on how to live this all out.

First: we must teach our children that confession isn’t limited to the times when they go at school. If confession is just a thing done only at school, then our children’s practice of confession will end when their Catholic school ends. We must all go to confession often, not just at Advent and Lent, and we must bring our children with us.

Second: let us teach our children that prayer isn’t limited to mealtime and bedtime. If prayer is something that we only do at meals and at bed, then our children’s practice of prayer will end when those things end—that is, with childhood. So, we must mature them in prayer, showing them that prayer is not just a kid’s thing, but a mature person’s thing. We must mature the prayer life of our children by praying as a family not only at set times like meals and bed, but when it is tough or dry and especially “just because.” Because love doesn’t love only at meals and at bed, but always and often “just because.”

That’s the call today. The Lord is asking us to leave our nets, to repent if you will, and so follow Him to the Kingdom of God. Our response must be immediate and total or not at all.

So, let us pray.

Lord, I hear you calling me to a deeper relationship with you, a deeper commitment. Strengthen me by your grace that I may leave the nets of this world and so follow you wherever you go. For, Lord,  I know that my time is short and your love too great to let it pass me by. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a great message and I look forward every week to getting them. You are a great blessing to the priesthood.