6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A) – February 16, 2020
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Sirach 15:15-20; Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; Matthew 5:17-37
MY BIGGEST FEAR? “I’M GOOD.”
I have been a Catholic my whole life. And so from a young age I have been learning about the Faith. I studied in seminary for six years, about the Faith and the Bible, and have degrees on my wall that say I know what I’m talking about—supposedly. I’ve been seriously reading and praying with Scripture for the past seven years. When I was ordained a deacon, Bishop Kemme handed me the book of the Gospels and said, “Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach.” And the best I can understand, and what Jesus says about following him—here is something that concerns me, something that makes me anxious each and every day, and I’ll say it as simply as I can. I am deeply concerned—one of my biggest fears is—that even though you are baptized and have your sacraments, even though you are sitting in the church today…that some of you, one day, will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (c.f., Mt 5:20), will instead be taken to the place of punishment (c.f., Mt 5:22).
And there are two sides to this. On the one hand, I don’t want any of you to think, “I’m going to heaven,” if you’re not. It’s not loving or nice of me to pretend like that isn’t a possibility. But on the other hand, I don’t want people here today who know Jesus to think that they don’t, or people that follow him to think that they don’t! It’s a balance. But especially with these readings today, I have just felt convicted by the Spirit to bring this up. Because I care about you, each one of you—that’s why. And some of you are struggling in your marriage—and I care…but I care about your salvation more. Some of you are struggling with sickness—and I care…but I care about your salvation more. Some of you are struggling with racial tension, immigration status, some because of the loss of your job—and I care…but I care about your salvation more. Because that…THAT is forever. This is passing away. But salvation is forever.
Because one day God will either say: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Come here! My son, my daughter!” (c.f., Mt 25:21-31). Or, “Depart from me. I never knew you” (c.f., Mt 7:23). This same passage in Luke (c.f., Lk 13:25-27)…more than any other Gospel, this passage from Luke stood out to me. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my heavenly Father” (c.f., Mt 7:21 & Luke 13:25).
“I’M GOOD. GOD DOESN’T JUDGE.”
That passage goes on to say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” (Mt 7:22). People say, “Lord, Lord, we ate and drank with you, we heard you teach in our streets” (Lk 13:26). And Jesus says, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” All of these people who say, “I believe in God. I went to church every once in a while. I prayed. I received my sacraments. I’m a good person.” But Jesus is saying, “Many will come to me saying, ‘Lord, Lord.’ Many will come saying, ‘I believe in God. I went to church. I said a prayer once in a while.’” And what will Jesus say to them? “Depart from me. I never knew you.”
Many people are deceived! Many think, “I’m a good person. I believe in God. I’m good.” And what’s worse, some of you teach your children that! And Jesus especially doesn’t like that: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt. 18:6). But what do we do? Like St. Paul says, we “turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim 4:4); we find people that tell us what we want to hear, they tell us, “No, just be a good person. You’re fine.” And my dear brothers and sisters, I care for you too much to let you believe that.
God is a God of love, a God of mercy! But if you think he does not judge, that he does not punish—you have been deceived! Go read Genesis. God flooded the earth and killed every man, woman and child except for Noah and his family (Gn 7). Go read Exodus when God killed the firstborn of every family, from the firstborn of pharaoh to the firstborn of the prisoner (c.f., Ex 12:29). “Oh, Father. That’s the God of the Old Testament. Jesus doesn’t do that.” Really? Go read these passages again from the Gospel. Go read the book of Revelation when Jesus says, “I know your works…So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:15-17). Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews, “If we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries.…For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hb 10:26-31).
This life is vapor, it is passing away. And so I prayed a lot this week, asking the Spirit to help me, asking, “If I am honest, what do I say to them?” And I ran into an old friend, and, without even talking about my homily this weekend, they told me about an image that really struck them and put the shortness of this life in perspective.
THE ROPE IMAGE
Imagine that this rope goes on forever. Imagine that this rope is a timeline of your existence (because you exist forever). And this red part [*points to three inches of red on the rope*]—this red part is your time on earth…and then you have all of eternity somewhere else.
What blows me away is that for some of you, all you think about is this red part. You are consumed with this red part. You think, “I’m really going to enjoy this part right here. And I’m going to travel here. And I’m not getting married until about here so that I can enjoy my life first.” But this red part, how we live this red part, determines how we will live all the rest of eternity! And yet, we are consumed with making ourselves happy and comfortable here!
Its the question of: are you going to regret how you spent your life? How you spend your time and energy and money here? Are you going to regret spending so much time and money and energy on a car? Are you going to regret watching Netflix for 1,000 hours? Are you going to regret that $200 pair of shoes you bought as your neighbor struggled to pay their electric bill? Are you going to regret spending hours shopping, while others just hoped for clean clothes? Are you going to regret spending $15,000 on a quinceañera? Are you going to regret that soccer tournament in Kansas City? Are you going to regret never marrying through the Church? Are you going to regret the contraception you use? Are you going to regret all of the things you do on your phone that you hope your parents never discover?
Something I’ve noticed is that in our culture, we don’t talk about death, we pretend like it is not going to happen. And when it does happen, we act completely surprised! “How can this be? How did she die?” I think of las lloronas (the weepers) at funerals. But why? In fact, who cares if we die? We all know we’re going to die. I’ve told some of you that it was my dream to die at 24, just like many great saints, like Therese of Lisieux and Pier Giorgio Frassati. And the reply I got was, “No, Fr. Mike! Enjoy your life!” And I always think, “What? No! I don’t want to live for this life!”
St. Paul says, “Imitate me. Keep your eyes fixed on the prize. Imitate those who walk like us, who live like this.” Because St. Paul then says, “Many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ” (c.f., Phil 3:18). There are people, people here, people who believe in God, “good persons,” who live as enemies of the cross. And Paul is weeping. Why? Because “their end is destruction,” he says. And their god? Paul says, “their god is their belly [their desires, what they want]” (3:19). And “their glory is their shame.” They show off all of these things that really they should be ashamed of: how much they spent on a car or a party or makeup, or they show off the trophy from the tournament they went to but missed mass. And really they should be ashamed. They glory in how much they have gained from the world. They’re showing who their true god is. Their god is themselves.
Jesus wants us to follow him, to live for him. And I get caught in this too, you know that. I just wanted to follow my own plan, my own desires: be a doctor, get married, have children. Even now I am tempted to just follow my own desires. But I don’t want to be an “enemy of the cross,” I don’t want to live as if this world is all there is. I want to follow Jesus. And I know many of you do as well! But to follow him doesn’t look like what everyone else is doing. Jesus says, “You want to follow me? Great! Go sell everything you have. Pick up your cross.” In other words, leave everything else behind—money, your plans, you comfort, your convenience—and come.
KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS AND YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE
How do we do that? How do we follow? Well, the first thing is to keep his commandments. Jesus says, “I did not come to abolish the law! I came to fulfill it!” As our Psalm said, the blessed are those who keep God’s commandments. And what’s the incentive to keep his commandments? Again, go back to our second reading! “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9), for all of eternity. Focus on the prize! You can tell yourself, “Sure I suffered. Sure I gave up things. But when I see Jesus at the finish line, I know it will be worth it!”
We focus a lot on our “dream house” or our “dream car” or our “dream job.” But is that really going to last? You go and buy that new car, and a month later it’s already old and boring. You buy those new shoes, and a few weeks later they’re old. Is that really going to last? Your children never tell me about how excited they are to give everything up and follow Christ; but they do tell me about the job they want, the places they want to travel, the things they want to buy, their plan. I hear parents saying, “I want my child to have a good life. I want them to have a good job and make good money. I want them to travel.” Is that really going to last?
And all I can think is: “What?? Are you serious?” What have we been teaching our children? What have we been telling ourselves? What are we doing? Again, I know many of you have many difficulties in your life. And I care. But I care about your salvation more. And I had to be honest with you.
If we are not here at this Eucharist to be strengthened for the challenges and suffering and exhaustion of following the Lord and keeping his commandments, why are we here? If we do not place our entire life into his hands, what is holding us back?
My hope is that each one of us will one day have the courage to pray, “I don’t care what I drive! I don’t care what I wear! I just don’t care! I can have God? Eternal life?? Anything!! I will do anything!” And Jesus will respond, “there is no one who has left [everything] for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time… and in the age to come eternal life.” And when that day comes, we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”