Sunday, August 23, 2009

Homily for 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
21st Sunday of Ordinary TimeAug. 23, 2009
Collect; Eph 5: 21-32
Christian Brothers, Iona College
Ursulines, Willow Drive

“Father, help us to seek the values that will bring us lasting joy in this changing world. In our desire for what you promise, make us one in mind and heart” (Collect).

The world is changing faster than ever, and the older we get, the faster it seems to be changing: politics, science, technology, pop culture, slang, fashion, the climate, etc., etc., etc.

Amid all that, our Collect or Opening Prayer speaks of “lasting joy”—“lasting joy in this changing world.” Is there something that lasts amid all the change, and the turmoil and confusion linked with change, amid the faster and faster pace of life? Our faith is based, as the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, on Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8). The prayer speaks of “values that will bring us lasting joy,” suggesting they’re within our reach, attainable, but perhaps not readily evident. They’re the values of Jesus Christ, of course, those values we pursue and treasure as his disciples. They’re the values we “desire,” quoting the prayer again, the values that are related to God’s promises.

The prayer links all this—values, lasting joy, our desires—to oneness in mind and heart. So does St. Paul in today’s second reading.

I opted for the longer, politically incorrect form of that reading. We don’t serve our discipleship well or grow in our relationships with God and one another by dodging passages that are difficult, especially when the difficulty is so superficial.

Unity, love, reverence are the keys to that reading. Nothing superficial.

Of course it’s true that Paul refers to the cultural mores of his time. Those are superficial. Our cultural mores are different, and they too are superficial. The essence of Paul’s message is the same now as it was when he wrote it: a lasting value. Spouses are to love each other as Christ loves the Church, to give themselves for each other as Christ gave himself, to serve each other as Christ serves the Church. There’s a reason why marriage is a sacrament: it’s a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church. “This is a great mystery” (Eph 5:32), and mystery is another word for sacrament. In fact, sacramentum is the Latin translation of Paul’s mysterion, which signifies the deep or hidden meaning of certain realities, in this case the realities of our life in Jesus Christ.

To be one with Christ, to act with and in Christ, is the goal of all of us, not only of married couples, of course. For several weeks we’ve been reading from John 6 on Sundays: the Johannine version of the institution of the greatest mysterion of our faith, the Eucharist. (You’re well aware that John’s account of the Last Supper takes up 5 chapters, including the washing of the apostles’ feet and Jesus’ long discourse on the great commandment, union with him, the Advocate, and more, but without any reference to the Eucharist. We suppose that’s because he gives so much attention to the Eucharist here.) The emphasis in John 6 is not on the memorial nature of the sacrament, as it is in the Synoptics (“Do this in memory of me.”), but on becoming one with Christ so that we might live with him. Our becoming one with the Body and Blood of Jesus is a step toward becoming “one in mind and heart” with one another and with the Holy Trinity.

Fortified by the Body and Blood of Christ, we religious also become sacramenta or sacred mysteries. Religious profession isn’t one of the 7 sacraments, as you know. Yet it is truly sacramental. Our lives are signs. By our lives in community, in our apostolates, in our chastity, obedience, and poverty, we give testimony to our union with Christ, to the primacy of Christ in the life of the Church and in our own lives. We religious also are to love each other as Christ loves the Church, to give ourselves for each other as Christ gave himself, to serve each other as Christ serves the Church. Built up by the Body of Christ, we too build up the Body of Christ—as do married couples, according to their own vocation.

The married with their families create “a domestic Church,” in that priceless phrasing of Vatican II (Lumen gentium, n. 11; cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 48). The two who become one flesh (Eph 5:31) are generative of life both physical and spiritual. The religious also is generative, perhaps in a social manner thru his or her educational or other apostolate, but especially in a spiritual manner by fostering in people a desire for the promises of God, for lasting joys that have no material basis but a basis solely in God’s own life, shared with us so that we “might be holy and without blemish … because we are members of his body” (Eph 5:27,30).

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