Sunday, August 5, 2012

Homily for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
18th Sunday
of Ordinary Time
Aug. 5, 2012
Eph 4: 17, 20-14
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“Restore what you have created and keep safe what you have restored” (Collect).

The Collect or opening prayer today invokes God as our “creator and guide” and pays tribute to his “unceasing kindness.”  It also notes that we “glory” in him.

We glory in him precisely because he has been and is kind to us, and his kindness is manifest in his restoration work.

What has God restored?  A beat-up old house, if you’d like a metaphor, which he’s turned into a magnificent temple.  That’s us, of course, created in his image, wrecked by sin, made new and better by grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  We are God’s home improvement project.

A house needs protection—a solid roof, a good veneer of brick or shingles or paint.  It might also need security systems against fire and burglary.  So we ask God to keep us safe from anything and anyone that could harm us:  “keep safe what you have restored,” viz., your own image within us, your own divine life within us.  For our safekeeping we need his “unceasing kindness” that we invoked.  We need his guidance in our discernment of good and evil, of wisdom and folly, as we try to find and to follow the path he has planned for us; or, to return to the metaphor, as we maintain the house he’s built and restored for us. 

A homeowner hopes and prays that devastating storms will stay far away—tornados, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and such.  We need God’s protection to keep the power of the Evil One away.  Jesus tells a short parable about a demon driven out who eventually returns to its “home from which [it] came [and] finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order.  Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of that person is worse than the first” (Matt 13:43-45).  So our house need’s God’s ongoing protection after it’s been restored and cleaned up.

Note that Jesus says the demon finds the house “empty” when it returns.  We have to fill our house with Jesus—the strong man, fully armed, who will keep all intruders far away (cf. Luke 11:21-22).  In today’s gospel we hear that Jesus offers us himself, the Bread of Life, to fill our emptiness and be our strength.

Writing to the Ephesians, St. Paul uses a different metaphor to express the same basic truth:  “Put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (4:22-24).  Here we’re changing clothes, putting on new garments, neater and more resplendent than the threadbare and patched ones we’ve been wearing.

In the old SDB ritual of investiture, when the novices received their cassocks, the provincial quoted that verse from Ephesians (in Latin, of course—but I’ll spare you that), reminding us that we were taking on a new way of life and a new persona as we entered religious life and the path toward the priesthood.*

Similarly, and more fundamentally, the rite of Baptism calls for the newly baptized, whether adult or infant, to be clothed in a new, white garment, symbolic of the new life of divine grace in which he or she has just been invested, and the neophyte is urged to bring that new garment, his or her Christian dignity, “unstained (by sin) into the everlasting life of heaven” (Rite of Baptism).

This is also one possible interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the wedding garment—in which a guest is cast out of the wedding banquet “into the darkness outside” because he isn’t properly dressed (Matt 22:11-13).  No one may approach the Eucharistic feast without having been baptized, clothed in Christ.  No one may enter the heavenly banquet, of which the Eucharist is the sacramental sign, without having lived “in righteousness and holiness of truth.”

This new garment that we’re given at Baptism, this share in God’s own life thru Christ, is a gift of the Father’s “unceasing kindness.”  It’s the 1st and most essential step in the process by which he “restores what [he has] created,” viz., his own image in us, the creatures of his hand, creatures called “for eternal life, which the Son of Man gives” us (John 6:27).

               * Practices of Piety for Use in Salesian Houses (New Rochelle: Salesiana, 1953), pp. 295-296.

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