Sunday, July 31, 2011

Homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
18th Sunday

in Ordinary TimeJuly 31, 2011
Rom 8: 35, 37-39
Willow Towers, New Rochelle
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.

“What will separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom 8: 35).

In the 8th chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we’ve been meditating for 5 consecutive Sundays—or at least have been invited to meditate—on the glorious destiny to which God has called us in Jesus Christ: a destiny all but guaranteed to us because God has given us the Holy Spirit as a pledge (cf. 8:15-16). We hold the title, so to speak, on a fine condo in the Father’s retirement community.

Last week Paul assured us that everything works out in God’s plan for our redemption (8:28-30). Today he asks what could possibly ruin that plan. What could possibly separate us from the saving effects of Christ’s love for us? The short answer is “Nothing.” Nada. Niente. Rien.

As you know, Paul’s not very good at short answers. So he goes into some detail about threats, or supposed threats, to our ultimate well-being, the salvation that God has planned for us based on his all-powerful love for us.

Can anguish or distress separate us from Christ? Can any anxiety over life’s problems or even over our own failings cause Christ to abandon us? No. If we’re sincerely searching for God; if we’re sincerely trying to maintain healthy and loving relationships with the people in our lives; if we’re sincerely repenting of our sins and striving to improve our practice of virtue—not only will Christ not cast us away, but he will even embrace us; he will even “be moved with pity for” us, as he was for the crowd in today’s gospel (Matt 14:13-21). Our prayer after the Our Father at every Mass, to be kept free from sin and protected from all anxiety, is a reminder that only one thing can separate us from God’s love—not anguish or distress but only sin.

Can any external problems remove us from Christ’s loving embrace—external problems like natural disasters? Paul mentions famine and nakedness, and we could think of others like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, drought, wildfires, and tornados. Sometimes these cause people to doubt God’s love for them, his concern for them. Atheists often point to them as “proof” that there’s no loving God, no all-surpassing wisdom guiding creation for our benefit.

Paul, on the other hand, suggested earlier in this chapter (3 Sundays back) that creation, too, needs to be redeemed, to be brought into line with God’s design; that it, too—like humanity—has been in a state of rebellion against its Lord. We hope, Paul says, “that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (8:21). Till then, “all creation is groaning in labor pains” (8:22). Yet Jesus Christ is testimony to the Creator’s love and his commitment to fulfill creation’s destiny, which is the new creation, the “new heavens and new earth” spoken of in the last chapter of the Book of Revelation.

What about persecution, peril, or the sword? Only if we give in. But in themselves they can’t separate Christians from Christ. In Paul’s day persecution and peril were a daily reality, and he would himself give up his life for Christ thru the sword of martyrdom. That sword brought him to the fullness of union with Christ for which he had longed (cf. Phil 3:22-23).

In our day persecution and even martyrdom are still daily realities for believers in China, Pakistan, Egypt, Vietnam, and other places where churches are burned, Christians are assaulted, priests and bishops are arrested, converts face capital punishment.

But, Paul affirms, “in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly thru him who has loved us” (8:37). Christ has loved us, Christ has shared his Spirit with us, and Christ empowers us to face down any threat, any temptation, any trial that comes to us from the world of nature or from human malice. Threats, temptations, and trials not only don’t “separate us from the love of Christ,” but they unite us more intimately with him who was threatened by Pontius Pilate and the Sanhedrin, who was tempted by Satan, and who was tried by unimaginable corporal suffering, abandonment, and death. If we have suffered with him, we shall also be glorified with him (cf. Rom 8:17).

No, not even death can separate us from Christ’s love. Didn’t he die too? He died in the ultimate act of solidarity with the human race. And those who identify themselves with him by their verbal profession of faith and especially by their following his teachings—their lived profession of faith—will meet his love in the life to come and will be glorified by that love with the life of resurrection.

No unearthly power, no demon—no angel, principality, or any other creature, as Paul puts it (8:38-39)—can come between Christ Jesus and those whom he has chosen to be his own, and who have embraced him.

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