Monday, August 31, 2015

Awash in Grace - Homily for the 22nd Sunday in OT

All good giving and every perfect gift is from above…

Right now, you are breathing. You probably haven’t thought about that all day, but you’ve been breathing all day. The only reason why you may have thought about it before I pointed it out just now would be if you had struggled breathing this morning; if you’re on oxygen, for example. You’ve also driven in a car this morning. Which meant that you had money for it, and the gas, and the vision and the physical abilities to drive it. You likely had breakfast this morning and, if you didn’t, you still probably have food in your pantry, in your fridge, in your freezer downstairs, and—if you don’t have any food there, you have very, very easy access to a huge superabundance of food at your local grocery store. Not everyone has these things.

So, can we take a moment—just a brief, brief moment—and realize that we are awash in grace? We really are. We have so many gifts, many of which we take for granted.

One of the teachers at school once had a sign outside of her door that said "What if you woke up tomorrow with only those things that you were thankful for today?" Kinda gives a little perspective on how rich we really are. I mean, if you lost the ability to breathe on your own, how much would you pay to get it back? How much are these very basic, taken-for-granted gifts really worth? Quite a lot.

I am reminded of this fact today because, well, it’s so easy to think about what’s going wrong with life. We can think of millions upon millions of wrong, evil, frustrating things in our lives and we can obsess and focus our attention on that darkness… And so easily forget that life… life is beautiful. There are clouds, and a blue sky behind them, and a God who loves us. And we’re going to be ok.

After all, "where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more," right? We must remember that: that there is more grace in this world than there is evil! There is more grace! We are awash in grace!

*          *          *

Thinking about what we have been given not only gives us a greater appreciation and a greater, more positive outlook on life which can make it through the darkness, but taking a moment out of our day to think about what is good also instills in us a spirit of thanksgiving (in Greek: eucharistia). Before I go to bed, I make a list of five things that were good. And when I do that, I realize that I didn’t give myself these gifts, but that they were given to me. And that there was and is a giver. And, suddenly, in that moment of gratitude, I am praising. I am thanking Someone.

It is right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks…

And we say that right after we bring up the gifts.

*          *          *

Our duty and salvation...

The second reading is quite a contrast to the Gospel. In the Gospel, we see that Jesus is upset with the Pharisees. Why?

First, remember Jesus’ whole reason for being here. He is here to bring us to heaven, to salvation. That’s one of the greatest gifts, right? Indeed, the gift of heaven is Jesus Himself:

…every perfect gift is from above…

So, here is Jesus, the Father’s perfect gift to us, trying to bring His lost sheep to heaven by giving them the gift of salvation through the gift of Himself.

His arrival is the climax of a series of gifts that the Father had given His people. He had given the people the Prophets to help the people repent and to be prepared for the coming Messiah. Before them, the Father had given the people kings so as to provide stability and order by which the family of faith could grow. Before that, the Father had given the people the Law and the Commandments, not to be an end unto themselves, but as a means to an end: to show His people (who were lost at the time, mind you)—to show them what was the bare minimum of the demands of Love, and therefore for their salvation.

Prophets, kings, law—they were all given, slowly and incrementally by the Father, so as to prepare His people for the greatest gifts: salvation, heaven, and His Son, Jesus Christ, given most loving now in the Eucharist.

The Pharisees, however, had made the Law an end to itself. And, because of that, they thought that they themselves—THEY! sinful, lost humans—could force their way into heaven by their own scrupulous efforts. They thought salvation came from below—from their own hands—not realizing that

…every perfect gift is from above…

This is why Jesus says

            their hearts are far from me.

And that they

            disregard God’s commandment.

Notice: that’s in the singular. Not commendments, but commandment. The commandment to love God and neighbor as one’s self.

Here it may be argued that the Pharisees love God and neighbor such that they are scrupulous to fulfill every iota of the law. But they don’t love God nor their neighbor. That’s why Jesus points out how they are a people who

from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.

Jesus is upset because the Pharisees’ folly and arrogance about salvation and the law have misguided His people whom He loves with all His heart—their folly have misguided His people into believing that Jesus is more concerned about laws than about relationships. About fulfilling one’s obligation than entering into a union of love with God and with their neighbors. 

But really, He is concerned about BOTH. Hearts AND Commandment.

This is why attending Holy Mass simply to "fulfill an obligation" misses the point. Sure, it fulfills the Law, but it forgets the love-- not only that we have been given so many gifts, but that simply being here is itself a gift. We receive Jesus here!

And those who aren't here-- and who knows why-- we need to pray for them. That they may receive this gift. This perfect gift of the Eucharist.

Lord, change our hearts from thinking that this is simply an obligation!

*          *          *

…every perfect gift is from above…

Before you go to bed tonight, I want you to think of five things that are good in your life. Five things that you received from God today. And maybe your life is hard—but there are still five. And one of them is that you have received Jesus in the Eucharist today. The greatest gift. 

But we have to start seeing that, believing that, living in that. We must draw our hearts that were once far from Jesus—we must draw them near. Yes, “the most productive thing we can do as humans is to receive the love of God” (Jean Corbon, The Wellspring of Worship).

And that’s so true, right? If we aren’t receiving and becoming more and more aware of God’s blessings in our life, then life will be a drudgery... an obligation. And we’ll be more concerned about the bare minimum of love than the maximum. That's what happens when we think that God loves us the bare minimum. But God loves us more than that. He loves us to death. He loves us to the maximum.

Truly, we are awash in grace.

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