Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Greatest Achievement - Homily for the 22nd Sunday in OT (A)

There is an oddity in nature (and I take this from Peter Kreeft). When it comes to rocks or grass or animals, they don't have to achieve or arrive at their nature. What I mean by that is, rocks are just naturally rocky. They don't have to “do” anything-- they just are. Grass is grassy. Cats are cat-like and so on. But here's the oddity: when it comes to humans, we have the dignity of human nature, but we may or may not achieve or arrive at it. By that I mean, a lady may or may not be lady-like. A man may or may not be manly. So, we are in flux-- we are between becoming who we are and becoming who we are not.

CS Lewis puts this very nicely: “Every time you make a decision, you are turning the central part of you... into something a little different than it was before.” So, for example, in the Lord of the Rings, Smeagol becomes-- by small or large choices each day-- Gollum; he devolves. He wasn't supposed to become that. Frodo, on the other hand, becomes more of who he is deep down: a hero. And it all hinges not on whether they give their lives away (for both give their lives away one way or another)-- but it hinges on what or to whom they give their lives away. More on that in a bit.

For now, we can say that, in the Gospel, Simon faces similar choices. And who will he become? Will he be the man he is supposed to be-- that is, Peter-- or even less than Simon?

* * *

In the Incarnation, we arrive at a very stark reality: God is concerned with the choices that we make. He becomes one of us and so enters into the drama of decision-making. In this, Jesus shows us what the achievement looks like (He is The Way). And the achievement-- what human nature is supposed to arrive at-- is the glory of the Resurrection. Paradoxically, that achievement comes by way of the Cross: “No greater love does a man have than this.” The more we embrace the Cross, the more we become who we are.

To this, Peter responds: no. Peter has different thoughts about what man and the Messiah are supposed to be. The Messiah is supposed to be a man of power, not the weakness of the Cross-- “forbid it happen, Lord!” Peter sees the Cross as failure; he doesn't see the paradox: that death will conquer death, that Love will conquer evil. Jesus has been a Messiah of paradoxes when we think about it, really: “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” comes to mind. Here, the paradox is: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

In other words, Jesus is showing us that humanity arrives at what it is supposed to be when humanity gives itself away as a loving gift. Until we give ourselves away to God, until we waste our time and our money on Him, until we say as St. Ignatius did: “Take, Lord, receive all my liberty”-- until we join with Jesus-- the ultimate God-man-- on the Cross, then we have not become who we are.

Rocks are rocky, grass is grassy-- but humans are only arrive at the fullness of their reality when they finally pick up and do what God did in the fullness of humanity. God shows us who we are and what we are to do.

* * *

This is why Paul says: “Do not be conformed to this age...” and “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” In other words, today's culture is not taking on the ways of Jesus. We must be different. Indeed, oftentimes you can look at the culture and discover what you are to do by simply doing the opposite of the culture. Think about it. Is our culture today very committed? Shoot, what is the biggest commitment of many peoples' lives? Their phone contract. Or children: does our children embrace children? Oh sure, have a couple-- but God forbid you have more than that! Even in parish churches, people give young parents the evil eye if the child is being child-like.

Yes, we must be the opposite! Do not be afraid of commitment! Young men and women, say yes to marriage or to the priesthood or to religious life. Eventually, discernment must end in commitment. Give your life to Jesus. You are not wasting your life!

And have children. Be generous. Yeah, you may say, “gosh, I can't carry this.” Right: that's the weight of the Cross-- and our Lord is going to help you. You need to reach that point where you are totally dependent on Him.

Those who are a little older: give your stuff away. Go ahead and die poor. While all your friends are hoarding and living it up in retirement, you be the one that leaves a legacy to the Church and to your family and charities. Give it all away and don't look back. Enter into heaven with empty hands so as to receive the real riches that await the saints.

And when everyone else is busy and enslaved to Pharoah, waste time with God.

See: that's the paradox: what the world thinks is a waste is actually the greatest treasure. The Cross is the glory. And when Peter denies it, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” That's how important this is. “What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

See, this is the reality: we become possessed by what we possess. And it's either going to be God or not God. All of us are going to give ourselves away-- but it's either going to be to the world or to God. And only one of those will actually last and bring you eternal joy. (Hint: it's God).

* * *

And, I know: you're afraid. Who isn't? Even Jesus sweat blood before His crucifixion. But remember: how many times Jesus has told us: “Be not afraid.” Be not afraid of entering into the commitment of marriage or priesthood or religious life. Be not afraid of having many kids. Be not afraid of giving your life away to God and to neighbor in charity and generosity. Be not afraid!

Because, as you lose your life for Him, you will find that you will have gained it. You will have arrived at who you are supposed to be: Jesus Christ. This is the greatest achievement-- of God and man. Let us pray now for this grace.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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