Things have been pretty crazy these past couple of weeks, so my homily last weekend didn't even get posted and this one is coming late on Monday evening in a very rough form. Hopefully soon I can get back to my regular routine of posting. Until then, prayers are appreciated and know of mine for you.
Readings for Sunday, September 28/ 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14
You may remember from my homily a couple of months back that I have a number of siblings, including my step-brother, who is three years old than myself. When we were younger, as is often the case, my big brother would use his size and authority to push me around a bit. Well, one day apparently I had had enough and came out of nowhere with a right hook and caught him clean in the face. I don’t remember this myself, but my parents remind me that ever since then the playing field changed and my brother didn’t mess with me so much afterward. Stories that like are ones that easily get into our hearts and we experience a secret joy in our hearts because ‘justice was served’. It’s not uncommon to experience the same thing when a criminal has committed some serious crime and are found guilty and sentenced to time in prison. There, too, a sense of justice being served arises in our hearts. There’s something about someone getting what they deserve in that sense that feels good because we know the bad guys didn’t get away. That same warm fuzzy feeling quickly leaves, though, when we understand that God is just too and that we will also get what we deserve.
This idea of God exercising justice and judgment is not something we hear often because this age tends to highlight the mercy of God, and rightly so for the most part. We need to hear that message of Mercy, how there is nothing that God cannot forgive is we but humble ourselves and go to Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But, if you think about it, God’s justice and His mercy are two sides of the same coin. Justice is nothing other than giving one what is their due. So, if one seeks always to follow the ways of the Lord, the Lord will show them mercy and in His justice will give them their desire, welcoming them to Heaven. Likewise, if one spends their life living apart from God on purpose, God wouldn’t force Heaven upon them, but instead shows mercy and out of justice permits them to go to Hell because it’s the place they’ve chosen.
So we see that the mercy of God and justice of God work together in all things. So while we sing “Remember Your mercies, O Lord” for our responsorial psalm, the Lord could just as easily sing “Remember My justice, O people” to us. This doesn’t mean that God is some vengeful God ready to smite us or eagerly take down names for sins committed. But He does expect things of us.
This expectation is what we get a glimpse of in the reading from Ezekiel. The people have turned from the Lord in their sin once again and the Lord come to say “You think My ways are unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?!” The people were more or less saying that the way of God was too tough, it was too much to expect or ask of people. “It’s not fair!” was their motto and they let it ring loudly. And we can easily do the same. How often in our own lives do we think, say, or hear, “You mean God expects me to go to Mass EVERY weekend!? Doesn’t He know how busy I am?” or “You mean God expects me to wait until marriage to have sex? Doesn’t He understand I can’t just bottle up my desires?” or “You mean God expects me to forgive them? Doesn’t He know what they’ve done to me?” or “You mean God expects me not to curse or get upset when Les Miles makes another bonehead call in the game this weekend or next?” And on and on. There are so many things that are not fair to us, but the simple reality is that God has expectations of us and if we fail to live up to them, then we have no one to blame but ourselves for what comes to us out of justice.
Since none of us wants to experience the fires of Hell or offend the Lord so intensely, we necessarily have to ask the question: how can we show justice to God? How can we give God what is rightly His due? The answer is shown to us by St. Paul in the letter to the Philippians and the words of the ancient Christ Hymn: be humble. St. Augustine once said that there is only one rule to living the Christian life: “Love God, then do what you will.” This doesn’t mean that we can love God and do whatever we want. He is saying that if we love God, if we really place God first, then we can do whatever we want because our heart wouldn’t desire anything that is sinful because God would be of first priority.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam & Eve looked at the fruit in the garden and thought they would be able to make themselves like God by eating it. They didn’t trust and so they sought to make things happen for themselves. And what is the pattern that we learned a couple of weeks ago on the Exaltation of the Cross? Sin brings suffering and death. We hear it in Ezekiel today again; sin, suffering, death. Adam and Eve felt it first, but it continues in our hearts, but the Lord Jesus has given us the remedy of repentance, blessing, and life. And it takes only humility: recognizing that we are dust and to dust we shall return, that we are able to do nothing for ourselves without God’s help, but that, at the same time, if we place ourselves under God’s care we are heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven with the Son of God Himself welcoming us. Humility changes everything. If we remain in our pride, we will choose for ourselves and God in His mercy will give us what we deserve. But if we place ourselves under His protection, He will build us up, and lead us to the heavenly home.
As we approach the sacred altar today, may we be aware that the Eucharist we receive is not changed by us, but instead changes us into something greater. It changes us, little by little, in sons and daughters of God who resemble Jesus our brother. May the Lord Jesus fill us with the gift of humility today, that we might rejoice in the justice of God on the last day that welcomes us home.