Sunday, February 1, 2015

Homily for 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Feb. 1, 2015
1 Cor 7: 32-35
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

“Brothers and sisters:  I should like you to be free of anxieties” (1 Cor 7: 32).

Wouldn’t we all like to be free of anxiety!  Lord knows, we have more than enuf to be anxious about, probably a lot more than 1st-century Christians did—altho at present in our country we don’t have to worry about being thrown into jail, as happened to Christians all over the Roman Empire, including St. Paul, for more than 2 centuries; or being tortured, as St. Paul was; even being executed, as St. Paul was, for no other reason than being a disciple of Jesus.  Those concerns or anxieties do affect millions of Christians in our time, however, as we hear or read in the news—in China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Colombia, Mexico, and other countries.

It is true, tho, that some disciples of Jesus in our country face the loss of their livelihoods as photographers, bakers, florists, and pharmacists because they choose to be faithful to the Sacred Scriptures and the dignity of every human being rather than to the mores of society in matters of sexuality and human life.

St. Catharine's Church, Spring Lake, N.J.
One of a series illustrating sacraments
In ch. 7 of 1 Corinthians, from which today’s 2d reading comes, St. Paul isn’t talking about persecution or public antipathy toward Christians, however.  The whole chapter is devoted to answering some questions about sexuality that his disciples in Corinth had put to him in some message that has been lost to us.  In the 4 verses that we read, Paul speaks of the relative value of marriage and of virginity.  They ought to be read within the context of the whole chapter, which is quite practical.  It includes an exhortation that everyone should follow his or her own vocation in the Lord, and it includes a presumption that Christ’s Second Coming is not far distant:  in the passage immediately before our reading today, Paul writes, “The time is running out”—he’s not talking about the 2-minute drill—and “the world in its present form is passing away” (7:29,31).  In fact, that passage was our 2d reading last Sunday.

So, in a context expecting Jesus to return soon in glory to judge the living and the dead, as we profess in the Creed—tho without regard to the timing—Paul exhorts Christians to be “anxious about the things of the Lord, how [they] may please the Lord” (7:33-34).  That, brothers and sisters, is always timely advice!  Indeed, it’s quite similar to what Jesus said to Martha, in Luke 10:38-42, when she was “burdened with much serving” from the kitchen while her sister “Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to him speak,” and Martha complained to Jesus that Mary wasn’t helping with the serving.  Wouldn’t most of us complain about that?  But “the Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  [There’s that word anxious!]  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.”  That is, Mary was giving all her attention to Jesus and none to “the things of the world” (1 Cor 7:33-34) that tend to distract us from God’s concerns.

Not that either Jesus or St. Paul is telling us to take no concern about our daily lives, perfectly valid concerns like hospitality, livelihood, safety, etc.  “I am telling you this … not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of … adherence to the Lord without distraction” (7:35).  The point is faithfulness to our fundamental vocation, that of following Jesus; of keeping ever before our minds and hearts the teachings and example of Jesus and always walking in his ways.

Obviously husbands and wives must be concerned—“anxious” is a rather strong word—about how to please their spouses.  Marriage is a sacrament, after all, a sacred sign of the Lord Jesus’ love for his bride, the Church.  The Church strives to please Christ in all she does, and he gave up his own life for her salvation, to redeem her from the power of evil, as we see foreshadowed in today’s gospel story wherein Jesus by his divine authority casts out an evil spirit (Mark 1:21-28).  So husbands and wives care for each other, look out for each other, assist each other, love each other (and their children too, of course) as Christ loves the Church.  That care’s not the kind of anxiety that Paul’s speaking of today.

Rather, he’s speaking of anything that might induce a spouse to put God in 2d place.  In the Bible, King Solomon sought to please his pagan wives by worshiping their idols, and so displeased the Lord; we read in 1 Kings, “When Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the Lord, his God, as the heart of his father David had been” (1 Kings 11:4), and so he brings on God’s wrath:  “Since you have not kept my covenant and my statutes which I enjoined on you, I will deprive you of the kingdom and give it to your servant” (11:11).  In Shakespeare’s magnificent dramatic fiction, Lady Macbeth goads her husband to murder for the sake of her ambition.  In the true story of St. Thomas More, his wife urges him to put conscience aside and swear the oath demanded by Henry VIII so as to save his life and be restored to his family and his worldly honors.  In our time, we might find a husband or a wife so career-driven for the sake of advancement, prestige, and wealth—thinking so to please a spouse or provide for children—that the person neglects duties to God such as Sunday worship (obviously not you—you’re here!) or regular prayer, or even neglects the family, not giving them the time and attention they need and deserve—many a marriage has been ruined because of that.  In our time, if all the polls and studies are correct we find most American spouses practicing artificial contraception, anxious to please the spouse but divided (cf. 7:33-34) from the way that God calls married people to live.

Paul advises us (earlier in ch. 7) to be faithful to the vocation that we’re in:  to be faithful spouses or faithful single people:  “Everyone should live as the Lord has assigned, just as God called each one” (1 Cor 7:17).  Married folks, live your marriage as a sacrament, a sacred sign of God’s love for humanity.  Keep Christ ever before your eyes, “be anxious about the things of the Lord,” and strive together to please him in your choices, your decisions, your lifestyle, your faithfulness to each other and to God’s will for you.  Single folks, keep Christ ever before your eyes and seek to know and follow his will in your regard, especially the vocation in which he wants you to live out your discipleship:  married perhaps, or perhaps as a priest, perhaps as a person consecrated to God in religious life, perhaps as a lifelong single giving your heart and soul to the Lord as you work, worship, and relax—which indeed we’re all supposed to do, to “adhere to the Lord without distraction.”

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