New Beginning: Nowhere to Go But Up

(Homily for Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C)

Message: We are sinners called to sainthood.

With this homily I would like to do two things: wrap up our series "New Beginning" and look toward Lent.

Since Christmas we have focused on making a new beginning. Now, we celebrated Christmas some 40 days ago so I understand if you don't immediately recall the Scripture verse we started with. From the first chapter of John's Gospel: To those who accept Jesus he gives power to become children of God. Not by human, but by divine generation. By accepting Jesus we experience transformation - a new beginning. It happens when we lift up our heads - like the Wise Men - and see the star that leads to Jesus. The relationship to Jesus requires baptism. The Bible describes that relationship in terms of marriage, with Jesus the Divine Bridegroom.

Because of our relationship with Jesus we Christians have a view of love, different from our culture. We see love as not just a feeling, an emotion which can come and go. We understand love as a decision - and ultimately as a charism, a grace, a gift from God.

Today's readings show why we need that gift of grace. Isaiah says, "Woe is me, I am doomed! I am a man of unclean lips, living with a people of unclean lips."

You and I belong to a fallen race. For sure, we humans can boast of amazing accomplishments - for example, in literature, science, music and architecture. Yet when you look at our history, it's not a pretty picture. This July our youth will visit the Auschwitz Concentration Camp - the terrible icon of evil. Unfortunately it's only one of many instances of demonic cruelty. And we know evil exists also on a small scale - in our neighborhoods, families - and let's be honest, in your heart and mine. "I am a man of unclean lips, living with a people of unclean lips."

We have a theological word for this matter of belonging to a fallen race: original sin. Isaiah was not the only one recognizing the pervasiveness of sin. Peters says to Jesus, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." And because of his sinful, misguided past, St. Paul sees himself as the "least of the apostles - unfit to be called an apostle."

Some people imagine that the recognition of sin is depressing and negative. Not so. St. Paul says "where sin abounds, grace superabounds." (Rom 5:20) God can take the worst sinner and make him the greatest saint. He does it with Paul - and he does it with Peter. Jesus says to him, "Do not be afraid. From now one you will be a fisher of men." And for Isaiah, God takes a burning coal from the altar and touches his lips. "Your wickedness is removed, you sin purged."

We are sinners cleansed and elevated by God. Martin Luther described the Christian as "simul justus et peccator." At once a sinner and justified. Shortly after his election, they asked Pope Francis, "Who is Jorge Bergoglio." He didn't say, "I'm a cardinal from Argentina." Or "I am the first American to become pope." No , he simply says, "I am a sinner."

When we recognize that reality we have nowhere to go but up. We will see that during Lent. This Wednesday we receive ashes with the words, "Repent amd believe in the Gospel." And the First Sunday of Lent falls on Valentine's Day. This gives us a good opportunity to remember what the word "love" really means. Do not miss it.

For today I ask you to do this: If Pope Francis can identify himself as a sinner, what's stopping you and me? Once we say that, we have nowhere to go but up. Maybe you won't be pope, but I hope you will be a saint. We are sinners God calls to sainthood, that is, heaven the Communion of Saints. To sum up our series: I am a sinner, but by God's grace I can make a new beginning. Amen


Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for Fifth Sunday, Year C):

2013: Like Fresh Walnuts
2010: Cleanse My Lips
2007: Before the Grandeur of God
2004: Not Worthy
2001: Do Not Be Afraid
1998: Unclean Lips

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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