The Stakes Are High

(Homily for Third Sunday of Lent - Year C)

Bottom line: Repent. Take care. The stakes are high.

I'd like to begin this homily by mentioning two events: First, our Seattle Men's Conference that took place here on Saturday. Second, the conclave in Rome that will elect a new pope. What do these two events have in common? They both involve high stakes: the salvation of souls.

That's what our readings are about. St. Paul warns, "Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall." Jesus puts it even more bluntly, "If you do not repent you will all perish..." Jesus and St. Paul are talking about much more than what will happen here on earth. They are talking about what matters most - where we will spend eternity.

The stakes are high. Let's try to picture them. Imagine a scale - the kind you see the statue of Justice holding. Now imagine that the balance is gigantic enough to hold all the physical, intellectual and social wealth of our world: gold, universities, hospitals, church buildings, homes - all of them on one side. On the other side you place the most insignificant human being. That soul would outweigh them in value. When civilizations vanish, when galaxies disappear, that soul will have barely begun its existence. To just such a soul, St. Paul says, "take care," and Jesus says, "repent."

During Lent one way we express repentance is receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation. A priest of the Seattle archdiocese, Fr. Patrick Freitag, told a story that illustrates the need for confession:

He had been hiking five days with a few other guys. They averaged ten miles a day. Upon finishing, some friends came to meet them. They were happy to see the hikers, but when they got within a few feet, one of the girls stopped. Then the whole group halted. "Oh," she said, "You guys stink." They had been together and gotten used to the smell, but before the others would embrace them, they had to get cleaned up.

Now the sacrament of penance is like that--a washing away of our sins so we can return to the complete communion of the Church. Our problem is that we have gotten so used to each other's smell, we need someone honest enough to say (and please do not take offense) "You stink."

One small example how we have gotten used to each other's bad odor: swearing. I know many consider it the smallest of sins or not even a sin at all. But is that not because it has become so common - even among women? I remember being a restaurant with two priest friends. At the table next to us was a group of ladies talking loudly, every third syllable a cuss word. We did not say anything but when our breakfast arrived, we made the sign of the cross and said grace. They stopped.

Not only do people cuss without thinking; we even use God's or Jesus' name in vain as if were an exclamation of surprise - or worse, anger. The Bible warns against this. In the first reading we hear God revealing his name to Moses. The Hebrew for "I AM WHO AM" was so sacred no Jewish person would dream of uttering it. Maybe we should re-read that text and then examine our attitude toward swearing. Is it not a stench we need to be purified of?

Some people among us are preparing for cleansing sacrament of baptism. Others of us need a "second baptism," what we call the Sacrament of Reconciliation or confession. It begins by taking seriously Jesus words, "Unless you repent..." Repent. Take care. The stakes are high. Amen.

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Spanish Version

From Archives (Year C homilies for Third Sunday of Lent):

First Things: Confession (2016)
The Stakes Are High (2013)
Purpose of the Church (2010)
What is His Name? (2007)
Primary Purpose of the Church (2004)
If You Do Not Repent (2001)
You Stink! (1998)

Homilies for Year A Readings for RCIA Scrutinies:

Thirst (2011)
Why So Dissatisfied? (2008)
The Scent of Water (2005)
What She Desired (2002)
The One You Want (1999)

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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