The Real Revolution

(Homily for Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

One of the most effective rulers of all times was the Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus. He brought an end to the civil wars which plagued the final decades of the Republic, thus inaugurating a two hundred year period of (relative) peace known as the Pax Romana. By promoting uniform laws, stable currency and a system of roads and aqueducts, he gave a framework for remarkable economic development, as well as the production of great works of art and literature. However, Augustus himself saw a fatal weakness in his empire. The Romans, especially the upper classes, had become more devoted to pleasure than to family. Marriages and births were declining drastically. In 18 B.C. August promulgated a series of laws called the Lex Julia de Maritandis Ordinibus to encourage Romans to marry and have children. In spite of attractive incentives and rather severe punishments for adultery and other offenses against marriage, the laws accomplished no overall increase the number of Roman children.

Augustus did not know that a child, born in a distant corner of his empire, would bring about the revolution he hoped for. The man never married or had children, but his vision of the human person turned things around. You of course know whom I am talking about: the one who says to us today, "Come to me, all you are weary..." He not only believed in the dignity of each person; he gave us worth by his sacrificial death and resurrection. The early Christians bore this message to a weary world. To people who regarded social class and wealth as the source of human value, they offered something better: the possibility of becoming adopted children of God. Along with that status came a new way of viewing marriage. Early Christian writings testify to that new vision. For example, St. Ignatius said:

Tell my sisters to love the Lord and be content with their husbands in the flesh and in the spirit, and in the same way bid my brothers in Christ's name to love their wives as the Lord loves the Church. If any can remain chaste in honor of the Savior's flesh, then let them do so without boasting. (Letter to Polycarp c. 115)

For the followers of Christ, marriage is much more than a civil contract. It is a covenant, a sacrament. Like St. Paul, Ignatius told men to love their wives like Christ loves the Church. That is, they must sacrifice their own selves to protect and care for their wife and children. With this lofty vision, Christians effectively countered the plagues which worried Augustus: divorce, abortion, infanticide, contraception and the homosexual lifestyle. Even with the immense power of the empire, Augustus could not do much against such attractions. Christians held the real key - new life in Jesus Christ.

There is a lesson in all this as we celebrate the Fourth of July. We American Christians are rightly concerned about the direction our nation is taking. In spite of our great prosperity, we sense an inner corruption which will spell disaster. Obviously, we want to work for laws which will protect marriage and unborn children. But we also recognize that laws in themselves have little power. An inner transformation is required, the one Jesus invites us to this very day;

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart..."

**********

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Fourteenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2017: Spiritual Warfare Week 3: The Yoke of Jesus
2014: Life in the Spirit Week 1
2011: Take My Yoke
2008: Not Debtors to the Flesh
2005: The Real Revolution
2002: Come to Me You Who Are Burdened
1999: Where are the Catholic Politicians?

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