Sunday, January 18, 2015

Homily for 2d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Ordinary Time
Jan. 18, 2015
1 Cor 6: 13-15, 17-20
St. Ursula, Mt. Vernon

“The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power” (1 Cor 6: 13).

Between now and Ash Wednesday, which is exactly one month from today, we’ll read selections from the middle section of St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians.  These Corinthians were the little Christian church of Corinth in Greece.  We read other parts of this important letter in the Sundays of Years A and C.  (This year we’re following the B cycle of readings.)

The geography of St. Paul's journeys (Wikipedia)
Corinth wasn’t a big city like Rome or Antioch, but it was a big crossroads for both sea and land traffic between Italy and Asia and between north and south Greece.  Paul had stayed there for at least a year and a half, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, converting both Jews and pagans to Jesus Christ and instilling in them the teachings of Jesus:  the doctrine about God, the spiritual values, and the morality of the Gospel.

Those teachings and values and morality were a hard sell in Corinth, as they are in the Western world today.  And not only in the West, as witnessed by Pope Francis’s remarks in Manila on Friday about the nature of marriage and the evil of contraception.

In particular, today’s reading from St. Paul addresses the issue of sexual immorality, for which Corinth was notorious in the 1st century, comparable perhaps to Times Square in the ’70s, Rio at Carnival time, or Amsterdam any time.  Unfortunately, even Christians were susceptible to these temptations—which shouldn’t really surprise us because we know the same temptations in ourselves, and some Christian denominations today have actually bought into the morality of the sexual revolution rather than offend people by calling sin what it is.

Paul could be writing in our time.  In this letter to the Corinthians he deals with issues of fornication and incest.  In Romans he deals with homosexuality.  In today’s passage he speaks about how we perceive and use our bodies, and here too he’s timely.

We often hear people say that they can do what they want with their own bodies.  To some extent that’s true:  how we dress our bodies, what hairstyle we adopt, how much make-up or perfume to use, even whether to get piercings or tattoos.

Paul’s approach to the body is positive rather than negative.  He reminds his disciples in Corinth—who are disciples of Jesus more than of Paul—that their bodies are not their own but God’s:  “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (6:15).  God has ransomed us from the power of Satan:  “you have been purchased at a price” (6:20).  Paul doesn’t remind his readers that we were created in God’s image (cf. Gen 1:27), but he does remind them that by the death and resurrection of Christ that relationship has been restored.

God doesn’t save only our souls.  He saves us—our whole selves, including our bodies.  “God raised the Lord [i.e., Jesus] and will also raise us by his power.”  We believe in the resurrection of the dead—another question that Paul will address in this letter—and in eternal life of our whole selves.  Without our bodies, we are not truly ourselves!

Well, then, if Christ has ransomed our whole selves and thru Baptism made us part of his own body—“whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (6:17)—and destined us for eternal life with him, then how we treat our bodies and what we do with our bodies does matter very much.  “The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.”  The Lord has given himself up for us—for our bodies, our souls, our whole selves; and he continues to give himself to us sacramentally in the Eucharist—and so he has a claim on us.

Those of you who are my age or older remember that the Baltimore Catechism taught us the effects of Baptism, one of which is that we become temples of the Holy Spirit.  That’s straight out of St. Paul:  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (6:19).  The Spirit of God the Father and of God the Son, the Holy Spirit, dwells in us as his temple.  He makes us holy like himself thru Baptism and the other sacraments and thru our listening to and taking in the Word of God and thru our prayer lives.

In the news now and then we hear stories of attacks on churches—churches bombed, burned, or shot up in Nigeria, Iraq, India, or elsewhere.  Or we hear of some act of violence committed in a church, such as an assault or a murder.  We’re even outraged when someone assaults a sacred image in a church or robs the poor box or steals the baby Jesus from a Christmas crib.  We consider such actions as sacrileges, as abominations.

St. Paul by El Greco
Paul’s making the same point about ourselves as temples of the Holy Spirit, as people whose bodies belong to God and are meant to “glorify God” (6:20), not be used just for our own pleasure, for our selfishness thru sinful behavior, such as—in Paul’s world—premarital relations, adultery, homosexual activity, and sexual trafficking; and in our world, besides those actions, such an explosion of pornography that, dollar for dollar, it’s one of the biggest businesses in the world (maybe bigger than arms sales); also the use of contraceptives and artificial means of conception:  “the immoral person sins against his own body,” and Paul maintains, against the body of Christ, against the Holy Spirit whose temples we are.

If we were to go beyond the immediate context of this passage in Paul’s letter, we could speak of other matters that concern our bodies and how we use them, how we treat them—for example, about health issues like diet, exercise, drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse; about euthanasia and other end-of-life questions; or even about the environment, which has an impact on our physical lives and which Pope Francis intends to address in an encyclical this summer.  But, as the Italians say, “Basta!”  That’s enuf for one homily!

God bless you—your whole selves, body and soul!

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