"In verbo veritatis" (2 Cor 6:7)

June 29, 2013

Reluctantly faithful?

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 3:41 pm


There is a paradox in today’s NT readings. On the one hand, there are Paul’s strong statements: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free,” and, “If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” On the other hand, there is his statement that we stand under the supreme law of love and are engaged in a struggle between flesh and spirit. And then there is the uncompromising call of Jesus that he will not allow even the most sacred of duties–that of burying one’s father–to postpone commitment to him, a statement so harsh, the scholars say, that it has to be an authentic statement, and then comes his warning that once you put your hand to the plow there can be no turning back. How can this be freedom?

The Messiah and the Apostle both assume an either-or world. Paul contrasts slavery and freedom, flesh and spirit. Jesus contrasts two families, the old one of blood relationships, the new one formed around himself, living in and for the Kingdom of God he was announcing and bringing. For neither of them can a person live in both realms: you are either a slave or free, you are either alive in the new family or dead in the old one.

The solution to the paradox, as such brilliant commentators as Augustine, Aquinas, and John Henry Newman saw, lies in overcoming the idea that, for the Christian, law is an external imposition, something that comes simply from outside us, what Paul calls a “yoke of slavery” placed on our shoulders. Jesus used the same metaphor when he said that his yoke was easy and his burden light. How can such demands be easy and light? They can become such, be experienced as such, only when the law ceases to be something external and becomes an inner law of our inmost being, and that can only happen when we love.

St. Thomas Aquinas put it well when he wrote that if we do good and avoid evil simply because the one is commanded and the other forbidden, we are not free with the freedom for which Christ set us free. But when we do the good because we love the good and avoid evil because we hate evil, then are we free as he would have us free. Then we are generally free, no longer under the law, Paul said, because the law is no longer over us, outside us, but within us, defining who we are, inspiring our instincts, having become what we call our second nature. Consider an example. How real is a marriage-relationship if one of the parties is faithful only reluctantly, out of fear, say, of being caught? But where there is genuine love and commitment, the duty of fidelity is not something simply imposed by external law but is the inner law of one’s being, defines who one is, makes fidelity not a duty but a desire.

This is what Jesus was driving at in the Sermon on the Mount when he said that it was not enough for his disciples not to murder, they could not even hate; it was not enough to refrain from adultery, they could not even lust; it was not enough to refrain from lying when under oath, they could not ever lie. External obedience is not enough. What he wants is inner commitment. He does not want merely our actions; he wants our very selves. For those who do not love this must appear like slavery. For those who love this is experienced as liberation. The dramatic difference is wonderfully illustrated in the dialogue that ends the parable of the lost son: when older brother and father are revealed to live in two different worlds, the realm of resentment inhabited by the one who will not join in the celebration of his brother’s return, the realm of joy inhabited by the father who races to embrace his repentant son and welcome him home. Why do they live in different worlds? Because the father loves as his older son does not. How do you get from one world to the other? By surrendering to love.

“If you are guided by the spirit,” Paul says, “you are not under the law.” This is not, as he takes pains to say, an invitation to license, to indulgence in the slavery of the flesh. It is an invitation to freedom, to a life that is experienced as love, joy, peace, and fidelity. We can take such experiences as measures of whether we live by the Spirit. If our fidelity, to God and to one another, is joyful and peaceful, it is genuine love and freedom. If it is resentful and begrudged, then it is not love but slavery. We have here a criterion that strikes deeper than the simple criterion of obedience to written law. This law is inner, and God wishes it to be written on our hearts.


June 22, 2013

The daily cross

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 8:19 pm

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 20, 2010 – Blessed Sacrament

Our Gospel passage gives us food for thought. It places us before the question that Jesus poses to his disciples: After they have said what other people are saying about Jesus; he asks them, point-blank: “Who do you say that I am?” This is the question on which the whole of Christianity rests: Christians say something about Jesus of Nazareth that other people do not say. Peter’s answer is a simple one, reflecting the earliest stages, when the disciples themselves were looking for categories into which they could place this man whom they had begun to follow. “You are the Christ of God,” Peter says. “The Christ of God” means “God’s Messiah,” the long-awaited heir of King David who would save and restore Israel. Later Peter and other early Christians, in the light of their further experiences of Jesus, particularly the dramatic, even traumatic, experience of his death and resurrection, would come up with other names and titles: Lord, Savior, even Son of God. And these and other names would be the ones with which, throughout the centuries, generations of the Church would answer Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” In a few minutes we will ourselves give our reply, when we recite the Creed together.

But the incident does not end there. (more…)

Greeks too; slaves too; women too

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 8:17 pm

12th Sunday of the Year–June 19, 1977–CNR

The passage from Galatians we have just heard is often quoted today, not least because it is believed to provide a certain basis for an argument for the ordination of women. Even apart from that context, Paul’s great statement that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female,” is used to ground the Christian Church’s commitment to equality and justice. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with that commitment, and there is even some justification for using this text as its ground; but the text grounds the commitment as a Christian commitment only if we keep it in its context, something which is, perhaps, less often done. (more…)

One in Christ

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 8:14 pm

Twelfth Sunday of the Year – June 23, 1974 – C.N.R.

The two New Testament readings today draw our attention to central features of our life as the Church. The reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians assigns our proper meaning as the Church, while the Gospel-reading opens onto our proper role as the Church in the world.

Whatever our origin, whatever our status, all of us, men and women, have become one new reality in Christ. The ground of our unity is twofold: faith and baptism. (more…)

June 15, 2013

Gratitude and repentance, repentance and gratitude

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 9:01 am

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 13, 2010 – St. John’s. Goshen

Today’s Gospel directs our attention to important dimensions of our Christian lives and reminds us of why we gather for a rite of thanksgiving, for eucharist. I’ve always been puzzled by it, because the words of Jesus to Simon the Pharisee seem to contradict the little parable he has just told him. Recall the parable: a creditor forgives a debt to two people, one of these debts ten times greater than the other. Then Jesus asks Simon which of these two would love the man more. Simon gives the right answer: the one to whom the greater debt was given. But then Jesus says of the woman, in the translation we have just heard, that “her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown such great love.” On the one hand, his parable says that the debtor will love because his great debt is forgiven; on the other, the woman is said to be have been forgiven because she has loved greatly, and then he praises her: “Your faith,” Jesus says, not your love; “your faith has saved you.” I wasn’t able to solve the apparent contradiction.

Until I looked at some of the scholarly works on St. Luke’s Gospel. (more…)

June 1, 2013

Four homilies for Corpus Christi

Filed under: Homilies — komonchak @ 2:16 pm

Corpus Christi–June 12, 1977–CNR

The feast of Corpus Christi is an unusual feast. Most of our feasts look back to the mysteries of Christ’s redemptive work, from the Incarnation to Pentecost. This feast seems almost to be a celebration of our chief celebration, the Eucharist. Here at first sight we seem almost to be stopping our worship to look at our worship.

There is something to that first impression, I think. The feast was developed in the Middle Ages, and it reflects a certain shift in attention with regard to the Eucharist. The later Fathers of the Church and early medieval theologians gave a great deal of attention to what they called the “threefold body of Christ.” (more…)

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