Bottom line: "God gives us free choice - our choices have consequences, eternal consequences. "
Aristotle said, "Those who wish to succeed must ask the right preliminary questions." In this 3-week mini-series we are trying to ask the right questions. The big question of course is the one Jesus addressed to his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"
Last week we saw questions about Jesus' suffering: Why did he have such a horrible death? And how does your suffering and mine relate to the cross? To answer such questions, Jesus tells us, we have to become like little children: humble, not afraid to ask.
Today we have this question: Does your life and mine have consequences? Do the decisions we take really matter?
Well, this is what Jesus says to us:
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire."
To understand this we need the context. Jesus is speaking about scandal. Here's what the Catechism says: "Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense." (#2284)
Jesus speaks about the most horrible form of scandal, to cause a little one to sin:
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
The clergy sex-abuse scandal makes us aware of this horrible sin. I've known priests caught up in this scandal. Today they know it would have been better to cut off a hand or pluck out an eye than to have fallen into such shame.
What about us? Jesus is not telling us to engage in self-mutilation. But we should prefer any earthy loss to eternal loss. We should prefer any earthly suffering to eternal suffering.
Our Lady of Fatima gave the three children a glimpse of hell. It is was brief, just a glance, but it was horrible. She then taught the children to say this prayer, "Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy."
We Christians pray for the salvation of all souls. At the same time we recognize that many are already living in hell. In our youth program we will be studying some famous young people who seemed to have everything: money, popularity, access to all sorts of pleasures. And they wind up committing suicide or dying of a drug overdose.
Today I want to tell you a secret about hell. I call it a secret because most people don't know. They have an image of an angry God throwing sinners into hell. The catechism paints a different picture: "To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self- exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell.'" (#1033)
When it comes to hell, the choice is yours. This is hard. Many people say we have no more free will than the animals. People say this, but no one really believes it. I remember when my dog Samwise broke out of the patio and ran through the neighborhood knocking over garbage cans and trampling flower beds. The neighbors were furious, but no one blamed Samwise. They blamed me. You and I have a freedom, a stewardship that animals just don't have. We have an accountability before each other and before God. Every moment, you and I are either turning away from God or repenting and turning back to him.
We'll see this next week when he hear Jesus explain why God made us male and female. Our sexuality provides the great clue to purpose of our existence. This week we see that God gives us free choice - that our choices have consequences, eternal consequences. For today I invite you to take home this Psalm verse:
From wanton sin especially, restrain your servant;
let it not rule over me.
Then shall I be blameless and innocent
of serious sin. Amen.
Spanish Version (Word document)
From Archives (26th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru