Homily for 16th Week In Ordinary Time
True discipleship involves dealing with the problem of sin and evil. The problem of sin goes back as long as we have any record of human action. Sin is defined by the Church as an offense against right reason. It is also an offense against against the Divine law that we find in the commandments and in the New Testament. We can also say that sin offends against conscience and that the judgment of conscience is upright if it is in accord with the Divine Law. Fundamentally, though, sin is a choice against something that is good for us. That’s why it is said to be against reason. Why would someone do anything that is not good for them? We will have to ask Adam and Eve one day since they are the Original Sinners.
Fortunately, we can say with the psalmist, Lord, you are good and forgiving, slow to anger, abounding in kindness. The Lord’s mercy is not something that we would come to know if not for His Love and our sinfulness. God does not want us to perish, but to live. That is why He gives us both his teaching and His grace through Jesus Christ.
Sin, or the choice to sin, is possible because of the capacity we call freedom. Freedom was given to us so that we could love God back. It gives us the opportunity to love because love has to be free. But freedom is not a power that means we can do anything that we have the ability to do. In order to experience freedom we have to have two things: the ability to know and the ability to want. We have to know what we are choosing and we have to know something for it to be attractive to us. Knowing is what the intellect is for. The will wants what we know to be good. What we ought to want are things that are helpful to our true happiness as children of God. To be able to seek those things we have to know what they are. So freedom is dependent upon reason and will, upon knowing and wanting or loving. As children of God and disciples of Christ, we believe that Jesus shows us the way to true happiness for all eternity.
I know this sounds theoretical but it is really easy to demonstrate. I know that some of you like to fish, like I do. If you had never been fishing or read about it or heard about it, you would not know whether you wanted to do it or not. But when you know it’s fun and relaxing, you want to go when you can get away. Substitute for fishing, duck hunting or chocolate or donuts or riding a bike or whatever it is that you like and you have brought to mind the basic elements of freedom—knowing something and wanting it.
Freedom allows us to choose what to pursue and the means to pursue it. If I want to go fishing, then, I have to think about all the equipment, skills and opportunities that I need to fish. I might have a number of options for places to go fish available to me—eventually, I am going to settle on one. That might be the right one to catch fish, or it might not be so good. If I had a good guide, I would know a likely place to catch fish. If I had the best guide, I could be pretty certain. And if I had the only guide who had ever been to that fishing spot, I would need to follow his direction if I really wanted to get those fish.
Now, what if I decided to go out in pitch dark night and because someone told me about a place that was supposed to be a great place to fish. I told a number of my friends about this and they told me that this was a very bad idea. They said, if you have not been there before, you should not go in the dark. Another one might tell me that he had heard about this sort of thing and that someone was playing tricks on people and that this could be really dangerous. But, it’s fishing, right? And I really want to go catch some fish. I still choose to go. I use my freedom, but I am basing it on limited knowledge and experience. I could find out too late that the great fishing hole is really a snake pit. Even though the truth was not what I thought, I still wanted to go really badly. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
This is our situation in life. Because of Original Sin we were in the dark and we could not really see that well where we ought to go or what we ought to do. There are many things that we could be drawn to because our desire for them becomes overpowering and we can throw caution to the wind. In other words, in life, were we to be left in the dark, we would go to the snake pit of death because we can’t always know what we need. There are some things that we have to learn to avoid because we would not know where the real snake pits are in life.
The one thing that we have that protects us from that is the teaching of the Church. The Father, in mercy and love, sent the Son to save us from the pit, and the Son, Jesus Christ, established the Church so that we would have a sure and certain guide. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Church, “Go and teach everything I have commanded you, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And know that I am with you until the end of time.” That’s right, Jesus did not write anything that we know of other than scribbling in the dirt. He did establish a Church that he is with and that would keep us from the dark pit that would be our death.
There are any number of ways, or proposals for living. But there is only one Way. That is Jesus Christ. There is only one Truth. That is Jesus Christ. There is only one Life. That is Jesus Christ. There is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
If you do not wish to be in the dark and fall into the pit, you will study her teachings and allow yourself to come to know Jesus Christ personally in the teachings He has given us through the apostles. Your pastors and priests are here to guard that teaching and to be evangelized by it themselves, and to celebrate the mysteries. Some of them do their work well. They can pray for you, offer sacrifice for you, celebrate the rites for you, pray for you, but they cannot be evangelized for you. They cannot be converted for you. They cannot love righteousness and truth for you. It is your responsibility to become a true disciple.