Transcription of Homily
Translation of the Epistle for the Third Sunday of Lent.
Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks. For know you this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words. For because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief. Be ye not therefore partakers with them. For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light. For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice, and truth.
Translation of the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke.
At that time, he was casting out a devil, and the same was dumb: and when he had cast out the devil, the dumb spoke: and the multitudes were in admiration at it: But some of them said: He casteth out devils by Beelzebub, the prince of devils.
And others tempting, asked of him a sign from heaven.
But he seeing their thoughts, said to them: Every kingdom divided against itself, shall be brought to desolation, and house upon house shall fall. And if Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because you say, that through Beelzebub I cast out devils. Now if I cast out devils by Beelzebub; by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I by the finger of God cast out devils; doubtless the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his court, those things are in peace which he possesseth. But if a stronger than he come upon him, and overcome him; he will take away all his armour wherein he trusted, and will distribute his spoils. He that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through places without water, seeking rest; and not finding, he saith: I will return into my house whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and entering in they dwell there. And the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.
And it came to pass, as he spoke these things, a certain woman from the crowd, lifting up her voice, said to him: Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.
Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.
In the name of the Father, the Son of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We began Lent with Christ’s rejection of Satan in the desert in the time of temptations that He chose to undergo. And today we see Him again, this time, not in the desert, but in the city vanquishing a demon. Deserts and oceans, for the Jews, were places of evil. And here, we see this man who is possessed, who knows how, brought to Christ. Matthew uses the word that he’s brought to Him, which is what we’re going to go into in a little bit here. And this is more than just an episode in the very busy public ministry of our Lord. It’s a true episode for sure, but it’s also emblematic of any true follower of Christ, that we are called to be configured with Him. We heard it in the Epistle that, really there’s no neutral ground. There’s no Switzerland in the spiritual life; you’re either with Christ or against Him. Our Lord even ends it with that: If you’re not with me, you’re against me.
I saw a dumb bumper sticker not long ago that said, No gods, no masters. Well, that program doesn’t last very long. If we choose ourselves as our own god, we end up disappointing ourselves quite quickly. So we end up serving another master. He’s right about not having God. Yes, he has rejected Him, but he does have a master. And what form his worship of that master takes is going to depend on the degree to which he’s surrendered himself to his passions. And so this is the existential choice we’re left with. And that’s why the Church gives us this reading today on the Third Sunday of Lent.
Paul all says, Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but offer yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. Just as once you yield in your members to impurity into greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification.
This yielding, this offering of ourselves to God, to be transformed, is actually the same verb that is used when the family members, or whoever the loved ones were, bring this possessed man to Christ, prosenekthe; he was brought to Him. In Latin we heard oblatus; he’s an oblation, he is an offering. So this is not just the physical notion of transport, of being carried. It is that but it’s also a cultic term used for offering up. And we see this verb, and in its variations as a noun, repeated in Hebrews describing priestly cult. We see it in Acts. Paul just used it. We heard it in Romans. We also heard it in the Epistle today. This offering of oneself.
This verb is used with regard to the Magi as they offer gifts to the Divine Child. All of our offerings, all of the gifts that we can give Him, what can we give Him when He owns everything? He doesn’t have our wills. This is something that has a very short shelf life and so we have to constantly renew the gift of self. We even give Him our passions; we give Him our temptations; we give Him our memories; we give Him everything to be transformed. And this is what happens in Mass when the bread that is the oblation, the offering, the wine that is the offering, is transformed. And so true participation in Mass is not something to do, it’s something to be. It’s to be an offering joined to the one offering that gives all other sacrifices and offerings meaning, which is the Paschal Mystery.
Paul refers to his whole work of evangelization of the Gentiles as an offering of the Gentiles; not that the Gentiles are offering anything but he’s gathering them up and presenting them before the Father in his priestly duty. He sees himself as a minister who takes them as a sacrifice. This is his priestly service.
He says in Romans that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable and sanctified by the Holy Spirit and he’s speaking about them as the oblation itself. He’s uniting them to the mystery of Christ; when He evangelizes them; when he baptizes them; when he brings them into the life of grace.
And so this possessed man is also an oblation; he’s offered to Christ. We see that also when the sick and the lame are brought to Christ, that same verb, they’re brought to Him and there is something here that is much more than just a physical action. There’s an invitation made of faith for him to do something.
Normally the victim is unblemished. The Spotless Lamb for example. And here we see a victim that is not in a perfect state. You have to reiterate that being possessed is not a moral problem. It’s not a moral problem. Infinitely worse than being possessed as committing a venial sin. And so if we are true followers of Christ, sin is not part of the program. And we shouldn’t have existential struggles over whether I commit a sin or not. In other words, I’m deciding, it’s like I have this weekly decision: do I serve Christ or Satan? That’s basically what it is. And so you got to make a choice and the choice must stick. We all have to renew this choice. But to have an internal dialogue, of whether I’m going to commit a sin or not, that’s not acceptable.
This is proper to the following of Christ. We don’t see this in other religions. Where every aspect of the moral life is submitted to this one act of worship in the Mass, and joined to it, which is also why we may not receive Communion if we’re aware of unforgiven mortal sin. Paul says in Romans, Present your bodies make an offering of your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable, and perfect. And so we come to our Lord, much like this possessed man, with all of our baggage, with all of our wounds, with all our weakness, with all of our history, and we join ourselves to Him. And so our salvation has very little to do with our own strength, with our own intelligence, and has very little to do with anything of our own. And certainly doesn’t have anything to do with anything of our own that is not submitted to Christ. And so when we submit ourselves to Him, our crosses, our difficulties, our trials, all of a sudden have a new meaning, which you can’t put a price on because we are then joined to this one infinitely valuable offering of Christ. And so this cultic language of sacrifice, of oblation, of offering, is the only way to understand our lives and if we don’t understand it that way, we don’t understand it. There’s no other way to describe what it means to be a follower of Christ. We are made sacrifices with Him. And that’s why we rejoice in difficulties.
We heard this a couple of weeks ago, that when we’re insulted we respond with praises and hymns. When you get cut off in traffic, that’s probably not our first reaction, but we ought to learn what it means to follow Christ. If we’re going to take the word of God seriously, that’s what it means. It means a transformation, not continuing as I am and just saying, well, that’s the way I am. Then I become like the Pharisees, who are incapable of wonder, incapable of admitting the miracle that they’re witnessing. It says that the people marveled.
Matthew uses the word exístanto, they were in ecstasy, exístanto, or they were outside of themselves. This is what happens when somebody of goodwill witnesses what Christ does, it pulls him out of himself. In other words, Christ is not reducible to our size. But if we are attached to ourselves, our own way of seeing things if we are attached to whatever it is that we’ve chosen to be attached to, our hearts become impermeable and our Lord finds it impossible to penetrate, much like these Pharisees. And so just as they make excuses for the good that they see and they call it evil, we can very easily end up doing the same because we don’t want to go through the painful process of purification, of conversion, and conversion of everything in me that has to be offered to Christ. And if I’m holding something back, well, what do you call that?
Faith, hope, and charity require totality. And if I’m putting limits on my faith, I’m putting limits on my charity, if I’m putting limits on my hope, it’s no longer a theological virtue. It’s just something of my own construction. But true theological virtue has our Lord as the first agent, but not without our cooperation. And therefore the theological virtues unlike all the other virtues, the theological virtues require totality. All the other virtues require moderation. There can be too much courage, there can be too little courage. Too much courage is called foolhardiness. Too little courage is called cowardice. Faith, hope, and charity may not be moderated. But back to the Epistle; if we surrender ourselves to our passions, they too will demand totality. And that becomes, as Paul says, idolatry; that’s false worship.
And so we’re faced with this existential choice. Do I serve Christ or Satan? There’s no Switzerland. In the spiritual life. There’s no neutrality and very little in our lives is morally spiritually neutral. We shouldn’t get neurotic about the spiritual content of our actions, but we should joyfully offer them to our Lord in order to give Him glory and this is truly making an oblation of ourselves to Him. And this is a sacrifice that is very pleasing to Him.