Law Versus Vision
Fr. Robert J. Carr
Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
When we look at the second reading (Eph 5:15-20), we need to see it as what it says to the 2006 Catholic. I think the message is essential. What is happening here is St. Paul is writing to the people of Ephesus. Of Course this is the first century AD. Do not let the date fool you. Technology is new and sin is old. The same passions that existed in the human heart then exist now. You can also note that many of the same issues that existed then exist now.
If there is one thing that St. Paul is known for, it is the distinct difference between those things of the flesh and those things of the spirit and here he makes a deeper dichotomy. St. Paul believed in total separation from the things of the flesh and the things of the spirit.
He believed that those who pursued the desires of the flesh exclusively, what today we would call a hedonist were part of an evil age and those who sought the will of God were part of the New Age which in Paul's time means the Christian Age. His words are almost the opposite of what is accepted in our secular society today. Paul taught that those things belonging to the age of the flesh were perishing and those things belonging to ways of Christ were eternal. Here in today's passage he asks his readers to make a choice to belong to the Eternity of Christ and to reject the evil age that is perishing.
What you do not see here is what precedes this reading. Paul previously had warned people to reject the ways of the world and he makes specific examples. He says the following:
Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place.
Here is making a specific understanding that the people of faith are of a different quality than the people of the world. He is demonstrating exactly where to make specific choices that make us different. Yet, he also tells us what to replace these things with:
So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.
He also tells his people to dedicate themselves to thankfulness. This is an important understanding because he is implementing what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, the concept of the Christian as salt of the earth and light to the world.
I am not sure this is communicated well in Catholic circles. One of the things we need to look at in light of the crisis is what was God telling us to change. I think we need to change an attitude that I find prevalent in the Catholic Church and it is one that Paul railed against. That is one of basing your spirituality on the law.
There is a reason for this. The law is a minimum standard and the Gospel is a maximum standard. Paul is trying to lead people away from a law based faith into a vision based faith. What is the difference? The difference is like night and day literally.
A law based faith draws a line and says do nothing below this. A vision based shows a star above and says reach for this always. This is what Paul does. He gives us the standard, and tells us to reach for this.
The standard is Christ. Be like Christ.
Now in the second reading we have the standard written in another way. Understand what is the will of God. Paul calls us to watch carefully how we live. He is not calling us to watch how we live as one would say to another person watch where you are walking, there are potholes on the sidewalk. He is calling us to watch how we live as someone taking inventory. He is basically saying for us to inspect how we are living our life and find those things that are at odds with whom we say we are and to get rid of them.
How do we do that, by understanding what is the will of God for our lives. The more we understand the will of God, which Paul calls us to at least attempt to do, the more we are able to take inventory of those things in our lives that do not conform with the will of God and then to change them. Notice he also says not to live as the foolish do but the wise. There are specific terms associated with those words. The foolish, according to the bible, are those who say there is no God. The wise are those who humble themselves before God and hang onto his every word. Paul therefore is calling us to see where we appear foolish, where we are living our life as if God did not exist and where we are wise. He is calling us to live by the wise standard at all times.
He then calls us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Now notice before this he calls us to dedicate ourselves with thankfulness. Now he is calling us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Those two elements go together well.
When we dedicate ourselves to thankfulness we are thankful for something. The question is what are we thankful for and the answer is that Christ has rescued us from the evil age. Therefore, do not live as if you are in the evil age. Yet, this means that we are set apart, we are part of the kingdom of God. We are living in the eternal age. We have eternal life. Therefore, let your life be a celebration of what God has done for you. Live your life in celebration for every gift God has given you and be thankful for them and then you will experience the wisdom and joy of Christ. However Paul reminds us that we can only do that when we turn our back on the way of life found among those caught up in the evil age.
You are the light shining in darkness, then be the light and live as people of the light.
This is a message that I feel has not been handed down to the Catholic Community at least as I understand it within my own American Culture. Look at how many people will focus on the role of saving our souls as part and parcel of our faith. Being Catholic, people tell me, is about being a good person and then God will judge you well and you will be saved. That message is wrong. Yet, it has infiltrated to the deepest parts of our American Catholic Culture.
Being Catholic is about living as children of the light as people who celebrate what God has done for us and through that celebration to show the world the truth that presently the world caught up in the evil age does not know nor understand. We are here to be a lightpost that demonstrates to the world the loving mercy of God so that those who no longer want to be part of that evil age may seek that light seeking what we celebrate.
Therefore, you come to Church to celebrate what God has done for you and to deepen your ability to do God's will in your life during the week. This is important. How many people know Catholics who do not attend mass because they were told they did not have to attend mass anymore? These are people who learned the law based Christianity and someone lowered that line I described earlier. Yet, they are products of an incorrect teaching. The reality is that the reason why we attend mass is that we are the people of the light and as such we come together that we may grow in the light and better serve the source of that light God himself. Yet, in order to do that we must live by this new standard, not an old law standard that Paul rejected. The choice is ours everyday.
Do we seek to do the standard that leads us to be saved? That is the old law. Or do we seek to be the people of the light that shines in the darkness that envelopes the people of the evil age? Do we seek to be people filled with the spirit seeking to do the will of God or do we seek to follow a set of rules that gives us what we feel to be control of our destiny when we stand before the throne of God? The latter will fail you and the former will change hearts, souls, minds and the world. The choice is yours. However, when you walk out of this church, the choice is yours as to whether you are going to live your faith as a way of life or a set of rules. If you understand the words of Saint Paul, live your faith as a way of life and you will not have to worry about the rules. The choice is yours but the command is Paul's to choose the light.
http://stbenedictsomerville.catholicismanew.org MA, US
Fr. Robert J. Carr - Priest, 617 776-3944
St. Paul, Morality, Jesus Christ, Catholicism
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