Saturday, June 16, 2012

Homily for 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
11th Sunday
in Ordinary Time
June 17, 2012
2 Cor 5: 6-10
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“While we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord” (2 Cor 5:6).

At Eucharistic adoration we often sing “O Salutaris Hostia,” which concludes with the lines vitam sine termino nobis donet in patria, “May he give us life without end in our fatherland,” or as the English translation we usually sing puts it, “Grant us endless length of days in our true native land with thee.”

Those sentiments resemble Paul’s as he writes to his friends and disciples in Corinth; and also what he wrote to the Christians at Philippi:  “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself” (3:20-21).
The Last Sacraments. Fresco in St. Catharine's Church, Spring Lake, N.J.
So we live in this present world, in this earthly body, and we’re rather comfortable here, “at home.”  Paul is no Greek philosopher, regarding the soul as imprisoned in, in a very uneasy with, the body; nor is he a Manichean or Cathar who despises the body and regards it as evil.  In fact, it’s with the body and thru the body that our salvation is worked out.  In recent years Pope John Paul II developed a whole theology called the “theology of the body.”  Nevertheless, our present bodily existence is temporary and conditioned:  “We would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord” (5:8), to our patria, to our Pater.

We live here with a kind of tension, then—unfulfilled because what’s here can’t possibly satisfy us.  What’s here includes loss, suffering, frustration—and the danger of permanent separation from God, from our homeland, from that perfect happiness of which we get fleeting experiences in this life.

Paul twice uses the word “courageous”—tharrountes and tharroumen, which other translations render as “of good courage” or “confident”—for the attitude he brings to this tension, he and those like him who have invested themselves 100% in Jesus Christ:  “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).  Altho he (and we) are in a kind of bodily exile, away from our true home, not as closely united with the Lord as we’d like, yet “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).  We’re confident, or we’re of good heart, because we know in faith that Christ is with us and is leading us toward his Father’s house, our Father’s place—even if we don’t have the destination in our bodily sight, even if we’re not sure of the road that we have to travel except that we know that Christ is the Way.

“We’d rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.”  Blessed is the disciple who looks forward to his transition, his passage, to the Father’s home, to the place that Jesus has prepared for us (John 14:2-3).  We’ve probably known people who were afraid of dying—whether that fear arose from not knowing what lay ahead, or from the pain that may accompany death, or from the thought of judgment.  That’s certainly understandable, which is why it’s a blessing to walk in such deep faith that we’re not afraid but are longing to complete our pilgrimage.  Not for nothing did JPII say so often, “Be not afraid.”  How wise that song of the ’70s, “Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters.”

In any case, we don’t really “leave the body,” only the body in its present form.  A couple of sportscasters have been credited with the line, “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”  According to Paul, the opera or the game or the production of our destiny isn’t over until “the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  (Can you hear the Handel chorus in the background?)  For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality” and “death [shall be] swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:52-54).  The body will be changed into something immortal, something glorious, something Christ-like, completing all that we’ve been working at our whole lives, to become more and more like Jesus.  About all this we have the confidence of faith, the courage that faith gives us to live in the body, to live in this world, where we have to deal with loss, suffering, temptation, and risk.
The Pilgrim's Progress

Yes, risk, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (5:10).  No matter our faith, no matter our courage or confidence or good heart, “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings”; we haven’t persevered until we come to the Lord Jesus; our salvation isn’t accomplished until he exclaims, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” (Matt 25:21).  “We aspire to please him” (2 Cor 5:9), but our deeds don’t always match our aspirations, and doing evil remains not merely a possibility, unfortunately, but too often an actuality—which Paul knew very well:  “I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh.  The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not.  For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Rom 7:18-19).

Still, Paul had complete confidence:  “Who will deliver me from this mortal body?  Thanks be to God thru Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24-25).  Confessing his weakness, his susceptibility to sin, he threw himself into the arms of Jesus:  “when I am weak, then I am strong”; God’s grace is sufficient to deal even with our sins (2 Cor 12:9-10).  Or, as the Collect says this evening, God is the “strength of those who hope in [him],” for “without [him] mortal frailty can do nothing.”  So we continue our journey in this temporary home of ours, our mortal bodies, living under judgment, but living in hope that God’s grace is with us—to preserve us from sin and to forgive our sins—so that when we approach our true homeland we may receive the recompense of faithful servants who have pleased him by how we have “followed [his] commands by our resolve and our deeds” (Collect).

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