August 30, 2017

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 3, 2017, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

Domine, quo vadis? (Lord, where are you going?)
(Click here for today’s readings)

In the 1932 edition of the Rule of a certain religious order you find this statement: “The professed [= members with vows] cannot be denied anything that is necessary. However, the Superiors occasionally try their inferiors, by giving them an opportunity to feel some privation, and to be made aware of the fact that the poor cannot have everything they could wish for.”

How times have changed! The language of “superiors” and “inferiors” is gone from the latest edition (1982), and the very idea of those in charge deliberately depriving others of what they need is unthinkable, repugnant even.

Certain things made perfect sense in 1932; they made no sense at all fifty years later. That said, members of religious orders are still by definition different, counter-cultural. They still take the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, which makes them different from most people.

When St. Paul writes, “Do not conform yourselves to this age,” however, he is not speaking to a religious order, but to the Christians of Rome. He is telling them all to be counter-cultural. The word “conform” comes from the word “form;” it has to do with “fashion,” in the broad sense, with life-style. The phrase could just as easily read, “Do not adopt the fashion of this age.”

Paul’s point is that the Christian way of life ought not to be subject to the fickleness of fashion. A poet named William Cowper wrote in 1785, “Variety’s the very spice of life, / that gives it all its flavour.” The poem was a satire, and the poet understood full well that, as the saying goes, in fashion one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out. The following of Christ is not a fashion statement.

Jesus is even more forceful. We have to deny ourselves! In spiritual writings, this is often called “mortification,” a putting to death. Very unfashionable.

A partial list of “unfashionable behaviors,” or attitudes of mortification, that might be expected of us could include the following: I do not necessarily deserve everything I want. (Ever notice the number of ads that claim you “deserve” a particular product?) — It’s not enough for something to be legal to make it right. (Think about tax loopholes, for example.) — If I serve God that doesn't guarantee I’ll have an easy life, or even succeed in what I am trying to do for him. (Consult Jeremiah in today’s first reading.)

Here’s another: people who disagree with me are not necessarily idiots or demons. (Think of the level of much political discourse.)

Speaking of demons, Peter contradicts Jesus and Jesus calls him Satan, which means adversary or accuser. In last week’s Gospel, remember, Jesus gave him the name “Peter” (“Rock”). Simon Peter little realized in that moment that the day would come when, far from denying himself, he would be denying Jesus! That was his real “Satan” day.

There are many ways of denying Christ. Conforming to this age is one of them

We admire people who are able to make personal sacrifices for the sake of others, or for what they believe in. In this spirit, St. Ignatius, who founded the Jesuits, wrote this beautiful prayer:
Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty,
my memory, my understanding and my whole will.
All that I am and all that I possess You have given me.
I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will.
Give me only Your love and Your grace;
with these I will be rich enough,
and will desire nothing more.
Admirable, but hardly fashionable! Just the right thing for saints, but not for the rest of us, surely.

Guess again! Whether we like it or not (and most likely we don’t), Jesus and Paul are saying we have to choose between the world and Jesus or, more accurately, between ourselves and Jesus. This can take many forms—personal convenience vs. another’s need; personal opinion vs. Gospel teaching; easy Christianity vs. the call to Christian perfection; etc.—and it’s never easy. Never was. Never will be.

That’s why Jesus calls it a cross.

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