Sunday, August 31, 2014

Homily for the 22d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
22d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Aug. 31, 2014
Rom 12: 1-2
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Rom 12: 1).

In the ancient world, the Jewish people offered sacrifice to God, and pagans to their supposed gods, in several ways, including burning incense, pouring out wine on an altar, setting aside bread or other food, and especially animal sacrifice:  bulls, sheep, goats, and fowl.  Paul’s readers in Rome would’ve been very familiar with all those practices carried out in the temples of the pagan gods.  In some places, as we read in the OT and we know from the history of the Americas, human sacrifice was practiced.

Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac, with a ram caught in a bush nearby--
mosaic in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington
Christ changed all that for his followers.  As the Letter to the Hebrews says, he offered his body once for all (7:27).  No further sacrifice is necessary beyond the body of Christ offered on the cross.  Nothing more need be poured out beyond his blood.

It’s precisely his body and blood that we offer in the Eucharist, offering him to the Father as a sacrifice of praise and atonement, uniting our wills, our hearts, our minds with all that Jesus brought to Calvary—with all of Jesus that was raised up by the Father on the 3d day, so that we might be raised up with Jesus.

But this morning St. Paul urges us to take another sacrificial step:  “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.”

A living sacrifice, not a dead one, like the animals slain upon an ancient altar, and their bodies then either burned or consumed in a sacred meal.

How do we followers of Christ offer our bodies as living sacrifices?  I’ll suggest 3 ways.

1st, when we come to worship the Father thru Christ our Lord, led by the Holy Spirit, we worship not only with our souls and our minds but with our bodies.  Some Christians really put their bodies into their worship—the “holy roller” type and those we call charismatics.  In some cultures, even ordinary Catholic worship is extremely lively; if you’ve ever been to the Bahamas or to Africa, you’ve seen that, and you might very well see it in an Afro-American parish.  The more sedate Catholic culture that we’re familiar with, whether it’s influenced by the Irish or the Italians or the Germans or the Poles, doesn’t go for the shaking, the dancing, the hand-waving, and shouting “Hallelujah” and “Amen” during the sermon.  But we still worship God with our bodies:  we sit, we kneel, we stand, we process, we respond verbally, we sing, we burn incense, we light candles, we use art and music, we celebrate sacraments that appeal to our senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell—we pour water and smear oil, we touch and taste the Holy Eucharist, we vocalize our sins and hear the words of divine pardon, husbands and wives give their bodies to each other, in all of this worshiping God with our bodies, offering our whole bodies and our whole hearts to God in union with Christ’s self-offering.

Yes, we use water!
I think I lifted this pic from The Deacon's Bench
2d, we offer God the aches and pains and trials of every day that come to us with and thru our bodies.  How many of you went to Catholic school?  How many times did Sister tell you, “Offer it up” when something hurt or the weather was hot or you were disappointed by something that happened (or didn’t happen)?  Once we reach a certain age, when we wake up in the morning, one of our 1st thoughts is, “What hurts today?  Is it my back, my hip, my knees, my shoulder, my arthritic hands?”  Then there are medical procedures and physical therapy, restricted diets, limits on physical activity that we enjoy.  Younger folks struggle to get up in the morning to go to work or get the kids ready for school.  Some of us do manual work, whether it’s cleaning the house, maintaining the car, laying brick, landscaping, craftsmanship, typing, working machinery.  The weather doesn’t please us because it’s hot and humid, or cold and damp, or it’s rained on our picnic (the heat and threat of thunderstorms forecast for this afternoon and evening have induced Fr. Jim Mulloy and me to cancel a camping trip).  In all of this, our bodies come into play.  It’s all something we can offer to God “as a living sacrifice,” as “spiritual worship” because our interior intention presents it humbly to him.

Nor does this offering of our bodies have to be something difficult or painful.  We can also offer God something we enjoy.  There’s a story about St. Teresa of Avila enjoying a delicious meal and praising God for his goodness.  Yes, we praise God for the legitimate pleasures of life—fine food, pleasant weather, good exercise, the beauties of nature, family gatherings, the holy sacrament of matrimony.  This too is our “spiritual worship” when we present it to God with gratitude.

3d, we offer our bodies as a sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, when we turn away from temptations that appeal to our senses in a way that’s harmful to ourselves or others, temptations to illegitimate pleasures.  Some of the 7 deadly sins involve our bodies:  lust, gluttony, and sloth directly; avarice, envy, anger, and pride may involve them indirectly.  To tell ourselves NO to an excess of food or drink, to laziness, to a pornographic impulse (or a worse kind), to an urge to possess more and more stuff that we don’t need, to the feeling that comes (at least initially) from getting even with someone is an offering of our bodies to God.

A final note:  Paul alludes to “the mercies of God” in this self-offering.  It is a gift from God, a mercy of God, that we’re able to take part in Christ’s sacrifice, whether it’s the sacraments or any other form of offering ourselves as living, holy, and pleasing sacrifices.  God’s mercy doesn’t just forgive our sins but calls us higher—to this sacred union of our bodies and souls with our Savior Jesus Christ.

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