Depart From Me

(Homily for Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Bottom line: We cannot take our sins into heaven.

Once someone asked an evangelical preacher if he could keep chewing tobacco and go to heaven. The preacher thought for a second and said, "Yes, but you will have to go to hell to spit."

This humorous story illustrates an important point: Certain things are incompatible with heaven. Chewing tobacco of course is a somewhat silly example. But there are more serious things we have to give up if we are going to enter heaven. The seven capital sins pretty well sum up what we have to renounce: lust, anger, gluttony, laziness, envy, greed - and above, pride or arrogance. Those sins have no place in heaven. If they got in, they would wreck the place. Think about it. The Communion of Saints is like a symphony with each member playing his specific part. If someone brought anger into the Communion of Saints it would be comparable to someone scratching their fingers on a blackboard while a group of expert musicians perform Mozart.

I hope you see the point of my comparison. Jesus puts it more directly. He says that God will say to say to some people, "Depart from me." Those are terrible, frightening words, but we must take them seriously. They were not made up by some pope or medieval theologian. They come right from the lips of Jesus: Depart from me. You do not belong here. I do not know you.

Hell is a real place - and you or I could wind up there. That is the bad news. Now, I also have some good news: None of us has to go there. The story is told about Calvin Coolidge when he was vice-president. One day while he was presiding over the Senate, a fierce argument broke out between two senators. One of them got so angry he told the other he could go straight to hell. The offended Senator approached Vice President Coolidge. "Did you hear what he said to me?" He asked. Coolidge looked up from his book and said calmly: "You know. I have been reading through the rule book. You don't have to go."

None of us has to go to hell. It depends on our own choice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "God predestines no one to go to hell." (1037) It makes clear that to go there requires "a willful turning away from God, that is, a mortal sin." Moreover, one must persist in that mortal sin until the end - never repent. The Catechism defines hell as the "state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed." (1033)

Now, a person might think, "No problem. If hell is simply a state of self-exclusion from God, well, I would never exclude myself." Do not be so sure. Take something as common as lust. Lust is a form of idolatry. It can easily take the place of God in one's life. Moreover, lust distorts other human beings, makes they into objects. Lust takes something which very good - the desire for union and procreation - and twists it into something destructive. A person cannot cling to lust and enter heaven. When the Blessed Virgin appeared to the children at Fatima, she told them, "More souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than any other sin."

After the Virgin Mary warned the children how easy it is to fall into hell, she taught them an important prayer. The prayer is: "Oh, my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven, especially those who have most need of thy mercy." Those who pray the rosary generally say this prayer at the end of each decade. We should earnestly pray for the salvation of all, that no one suffer eternal separation from God. Even if someone has made your life miserable, you must pray for their salvation. Our own salvation depends on desiring the salvation of others. In today's Gospel people were excluded precisely because of their desire to exclude others.

Jesus once again confronts us with the fundamental issue: that you and I have to make a choice. We are making that choice every moment: We are either connecting with God or fleeing him. We are either growing accustomed to sin or repenting of it. We are either knocking others down - or placing ourselves at the service of other. Jesus says, "Some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last." And to encourage us on the narrow path, he say, "People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God." May you and I be part of that number!

Note: I just received the news that a dear friend perished in Peruvian earthquake. She was a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Her name was Sister Elizabeth Ore Ventura. A second Vincentian sister also died when the church of San Clemente collapsesd. I have set up a website with their pictures and information about them.

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Spanish Version

From Archives (21st Sunday, Year C):

2013: You Don't Have to Go to Hell
2010: More Important Than Life Or Death
2007: Depart From Me
2004: Wide Road to Hell and Narrow Path to Life
2001: Will Only A Few Be Saved?
1998: I Do Not Know You

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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Bulletin (Aid to Earthquake Victims, Distribution of Blankets, Voter Apathy in Primary Election, Parish Council Nominees)

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My Vocation Story (23 minute video, made at Everett Serra Club on August 14, 2010)

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