Here’s my most recent homily (12th Sunday in Ordinary Time on 6/21/2020) where I talk about what happens when we give into fear.
Posted over on YouTube:
(FYI, what I said at Mass varied from the planned text a bit more than usual this week. I both deviated from the text and added some things on the fly (I put those in red). I’ll be writing a bit more about that in a separate post.)
In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.“ This command to us today is both unremarkable and very challenging at the same time. We hear it over and over in the Gospels. Jesus gave us two commandments: Love God and love our neighbors. In the sermon on the mount he tells us to love our enemies. In our Gospel passage from 2 weeks ago, Jesus 3 times asks Peter if he loves Him. In all Jesus uses the word love 56 times in the Gospels. So in some sense, Christ’s command to us today is down right ordinary and mundane.
At the same time, if we understand what is being asked of us, this is an immensely important and challenging commandment. The fact that Christ repeats it so many times and in so many different ways shows just how important it is. Through repetition Jesus demonstrates its importance: Love your enemies, love your neighbor, love one another.
But why is it challenging? Isn’t love something we all have in our hearts? Well, both yes and no. But unfortunately to explain why I’m at a real disadvantage because we speak English. We only have one word for Love. In Spanish, there are 4. And when we go to the ancient languages of Latin and Greek, we see even more. The ancient Greeks had 6 words for love of others plus one for love of self. That’s SEVEN words for love, as compared to our one. And since Greek is the language today’s Gospel was written in, I’d like to spend time talking about their various words for love. The lowest form of love of others is Ludus. It’s a playful level of love, without much commitment. It is what you would see on your average middle-school playground.
The 2nd lowest form is Eros. This is where we get our word erotic. This is romantic love. Many of us think of this as the highest form of love, but it is most definitely not. The longing passion of Eros is unpredictable and unstable. Passionate Eros love is just a couple of mistakes away from passionate hate. I think we’ve all met a couple or two that one day were passionately in love and the next passionately hated each other. This is the instability of Eros. Additionally, Eros can too easily be confused with its evil twin, lust. And lust is not love. All forms of love are an act of giving to another person. Lust is an act of objectifying another person for the purpose of using them. Lust is an act of taking, not giving.
The next up the list is Pragma. Pragma is where we get the word pragmatic. It has a reciprocal nature to it. We give to each other, but it’s with the understanding that both parties are giving and thus potentially lacks a permanence of the higher forms of love. It’s a bit too contractual to be further up the list. Much divorce comes from the failure of Pragma. As long as the marriage is reciprocal, they’re fine, but it only takes one spouse not ‘doing their part’ for a short period for it to fall apart.
Above that is Philia. This is where we get the words Fraternity and Friendship. This is often called brotherly love. Here, the expectation of permanence is higher. Whether biological or not, once you have declared someone your brother or sister, your dedication to them is less shakable, even if your brother is not treating you so well right now.
Now we’re getting close to the top. The 2nd highest form of love is (Store-jay) Storge. This is best understood as the love a parent has for their children. The expectation of reciprocation that exists with the lower form of love is now significantly reduced. We give to our children with very little expectation of getting anything in return. And this is the key to the highest forms of love.
Because if you think about it, just how giving is an act when you have expectations of a reciprocal act of love? What is loving about an investment? I give now, with the hope that my investment will bear fruit in the future. Is that really love? Perhaps. It all really depends on how high and how specific the expectation is that it will be returned.
Which brings us to Agape, the highest form of love. Agape requires no family affiliation. Agape has no expectation of a reciprocal love. Agape is the love that God has for us. It is the love that Christ had when he died on the Cross for our sins. And if we were to have read today’s Gospel in Greek, Agape is the love Christ commanded of us today.
This is why today’s command is so challenging. We are called to this highest form love. It is just as passionate as romantic love, but it has the unwaveringness of a parents love for their children. It is completely without self-interest. We all know love is patient, kind and not jealous… that’s the easy part. What about not seeking its own interests? What about radical forgiveness? What about enduring ALL things? What about never failing no matter what is done to you?
This is Agape. And this is what we are called to. We are called to a radical level of self-giving that transcends any human interests or any sense of reciprocity. And this is my prayer for this morning. That we can all have our hearts elevated to embrace this highest form of love, the form of love that God has for us. Let us never again confuse the somewhat compromised forms of love like Eros or Pragma for the highest and most noble form of love, Agape. The love that comes from God. The love that we are called to give back to God
and to everyone around us. It is the love that we are called to give to our spouse, our family, our friends, our neighbors and even our enemies. We are called to Agape love for everyone.
(Our parish went with the Cycle A readings despite this year being Cycle C for the Candidates and Elect in RCIA. These readings center around the raising of Lazarus, not the woman caught in adultery.)
With such a long Gospel passage, I’m going to get right to the point. I see a strong metaphorical connection between the end of today’s Gospel passage and confession. When Christ tells the Apostles “Untie him and let him go!”, this is Christ commanding the Church to forgive sins.
You see, when the bible talks about death, it is a mistake to think solely in physical terms. Throughout the Bible there is a strong connection between sin and death. What’s the penalty for Adam and Eve’s first sin? Death! What was Christ’s victory in the resurrection? It was a victory over sin and death. So when we think of Lazarus lying in the tomb, in addition to a physical death, we should see him as someone who is buried underneath his sins.
And so when Christ says “Lazarus, come out!” he’s not just raising him from physical death. He’s also calling Lazarus away from sin. He’s telling Lazarus that it is time to leave his old life of sin buried in the tomb and rise to a new life.
But Christ knows it is not enough to call Lazarus away from sin. He has one more command. But this one is not for Lazarus. Instead it is for those who witnessed the miracle, the Apostles. “Untie him and let him go!” He is telling the Apostles and thus the Church that we need to forgive those who have sinned. In other words, he’s telling the Church the importance of the confessional.
We’re getting into the last couple weeks of Lent. We’re getting to that point that it’s now or never if we’re going to make a change in our lives. And I think the thing we most need to remember, is that if we’re going to make a change, it must start by confessing the sins we are trying to escape.
Because the reality is that sin crushes our spirit and buries our souls. My worst habitual sin is Gluttony. I gained a lot of weight this year. And there’s no excuse for it. It was foolish and sinful. I feel very ashamed. I feel crushed. I feel that sin has buried me inside this body that has gotten way too big.
Each of us has a different sin that buries us. Everyone here has some sin they struggle with, something that they feel buried under. And so, we are just like Lazarus. We have been buried for a long time, so much so that there is a stench coming from us and our tomb. And what does Christ say when confronted with that stench? He says to us “Come out!” Go to confession and leave that sin behind.
So let’s all make sure we go to confession before Lent is over. You have 3 more opportunities at this parish: You can go this Tuesday at 4 PM. You can go next Saturday at 9 AM. And finally, there is the communal penance service that includes individual confession, on the 16th, a week from Tuesday, at 6:30 PM. And if those don’t work for you there are countless other opportunities at the surrounding parishes, including their own reconciliation services.
And so I ask of you to join me and go to confession before Lent is done. If you want to be freed from sin: Go to confession. If you want to see the Church acting out Christ’s mercy and His command to ‘Untie him and let him go!’: Go to confession. And most of all, if you want to rise to new life, where you are no longer buried by sin, where you can respond to Christ when he tells you ‘Lazarus, come out!’: Go to confession.
(Note: I’ve struggled with whether to post my homilies on the blog. I don’t write them with the intent that they are to be posted. I don’t want to let the thought that I might post them affect what I write. They are intended for the audience at Mass and I think it is important they stay that way. But what I’ve decided is that I’ll post them if I think they are generally appropriate and just not post the ones I think should stay local to the parish. We’ll see how it goes and I reserve the right to change my mind later. 🙂 )
People ask, what did Peter do wrong? Why was it so wrong of him to request to make 3 tents? The textbook answer is that Peter didn’t want it to end. He didn’t want to go down the mountain to regular life. And so he was trying to extend it by setting up camp. But I think there’s something else here. Because the moment was not over. God still had one more miracle to perform: To speak from the cloud and remind Peter, James and John that Jesus was His son. Peter wasn’t necessarily wrong to want this moment to continue.
So what then? I think the 1st reading from Genesis today shows numerous parallels. In the 1st reading God takes Abram outside to show him the stars. In the Gospel Jesus takes the 3 up a mountain. Abram falls into a trance. The 3 are overcome by sleep. Abram is given a vision when he wakes. The 3 wake up to the Transfiguration. And finally, both passages end with God speaking those present. These events have strong parallels.
Except for one thing… Abram feels no need to insert his own will into the unfolding events. He’s content to be silent and let them unfold. Peter on the other hand, refuses to let it play out on God’s terms and insists on talking. He insists on interrupting the event and inserting his own thoughts.
I find this explanation for Peter’s failure much more appropriate for us. Perhaps among certain monasteries or similar religious communities, they need to hear that there comes a time to leave the sanctuary and go do God’s work in the world. But we’re not that community. We’re a community that is too distracted by the world as it is, that doesn’t spend enough time with God. The last thing we need to hear is that we need to go back out into the world.
No, what we need is very different. We need to spend more listening to God. And the only way that’s going to happen is if we stop talking and turn off all the noise around us.
We are inundated with noise and conversation. Get it from our phones, constantly pinging at us with e-mail and texts, with Facebook notifications and twitter. We get it from our TVs, with everything from the news and talking head shows to sports to comedy and drama. We get it from our car stereos, with more talk and a plethora of music. We are so inundated with noise that for most of us we find the idea of silence scary. So let me tell you a scary story.
About two months ago I was at the hospital with a family whose father and patriarch was in a coma and near death. I had already completed the formal prayers I had come to say, but I wanted to stay and hold vigil with the family. As time went on I found myself struggling to resist the temptation to say something, in part because I had nothing meaningful to say. And so time passed: 10 minutes of nothing to say. 20 minutes of nothing to say. 30 minutes of nothing to say. And I started to feel like they were unsure what I was still doing there. Should I just leave?
But then, after a long awkward silence, the eldest brother spoke up. “Deacon, I have a question I need to ask you. Is God angry with our family?” You see, this was the 4th death for this family in the last year. They’d lost a mother, a mother-in-law, a husband in his 50’s and now their father. And their faith was shaken.
I knew then why I had stayed through a half-hour of silence. He needed me there to tell them. “No, God is not angry. God loves you!” But God knew that question was never going to come in 5 minutes. They needed the time to reflect and think and to find the courage to ask what was bugging them deep in their heart. God knew that if I just told them right away that God loves them, their hearts were not ready to receive it. And so he had all of us wait that 30 minutes in silence so all of us would be ready. So that God could tell them “I love you!”
I think we all need to ask ourselves: How many times in my life have I refused to be quiet and wait for whatever God has to say to me? How many times have I missed the opportunity to hear what I most desperately needed to hear from God because I was too impatient and too willing to let God be interrupted by all the noise in my life? When you get home today, find some time to be truly quiet. Turn off the music and the TV. Turn off your phone, not just silent mode, but OFF, and banish it to a different room. Be truly silent. Not just for 10 or 20 minutes. Perhaps not even 30 minutes will be enough. And ask God that question: “God, what do you have to say to me? What have I missed hearing from you because I’ve refused to find truly quiet time for prayer?” I beg of you. Find the time to do this. If you want to see Christ transfigured; If you want to know God in all His glory… all you must do is listen. So find that time, every week if you can, to turn off all the noise and distraction so that the only voice that is left, is God’s.