daily biblical sermons


GOD'S PEOPLE NEED TO BE RENEWED TODAY IN LIVING A LIFE OF PERFECTION
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, 20th Week of the Year, August 20, 2018
Ezekiel 24:15-24, Deuteronomy 32, Matthew 19:16-22


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"And behold, one came up to him [Jesus], saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?'" (Matthew 19:16).


This is the account of the rich young man who is searching for something more, a deeper way of life, a deeper union with God. So he asks Jesus what good deed he must do to have eternal life. Jesus takes him for a pious Jew, already justified in the Old Testament sense (Genesis 15:6) by his faith in the God of Israel. So Jesus tells him to keep God's moral law so that he might grow in holiness as an Old Testament believer and member of the covenant people.


"And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.' He said to him, ‘Which?' And Jesus said, ‘You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 19:17-19).


But this is nothing new to this pious young man. He is coming to Jesus because he longs for something more than this, more than just keeping the commandments, which he says he has kept all his life (Mark 10:20).


"The young man said to him, ‘All these I have observed; what do I still lack?'" (Matthew 19:20).


When Jesus hears this, he changes his tune and challenges him to live a true life of perfection, a life of renouncing the world and its pleasures to live for God alone with all his heart and soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30).


"Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me'" (Matthew 19:21).


This is a very great ideal indeed, and Christians have striven to live up to this life of perfection - "If you would be perfect" (Matthew 19:21) - all through Church history. This was the form of life of Jesus himself, the life of St. Paul, and the life of the Desert Fathers of Egypt and Palestine in the third and fourth centuries, followed by the monastic life in Europe and the Near East, and then followed by the religious orders in Western Europe during the Middle Ages down to the present day. In addition, all priests and bishops of the Latin rite are celibate, and all bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Church are celibate.


In light of the scandalous bad news that we are hearing this summer in the United States about the failures of priests to live up to this ideal, especially with the Attorney General of Pennsylvania's long detailed report, published just last week, on pedophilia by clergymen in the state of Pennsylvania from the 1940's to the present day, we all need to renew ourselves in this call to perfection, whether we are priests, religious, monks, or married laypeople. This great shock may be God's way of cleansing and renewing his Church after the problems of the late 1960's to the present day.


We need a new appreciation of the gift of celibacy and religious life in the Church. Married lay Catholics also respect and look up to their priests and rightly expect them to live up to this ideal of a life of perfection. They expect their clergy, bishops, cardinals, and religious to live holy and exemplary lives of Christian perfection, a life of celibacy and simplicity, devoted to serving the Lord with all their heart and soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30), zealously preaching the good news of our salvation and administering the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23).


Priests should faithfully preach that Jesus Christ saves us from our sins by our faith in him, because of what he did for us on the cross, dying instead of us for our sins to atone for them by making full reparation for them before the Father on the cross.


Priests should preach that Christ took our sins and failures upon himself and was punished for them on the cross (Romans 8:3) as our substitute to save us from having to die eternally for them.


The basic gospel message that people should expect their priests to preach to them is that by our faith in Jesus Christ, because of what he did for us on the cross, God the Father declares us righteous and reckons to us Christ's own righteousness, making us "new men," a new creation in Jesus Christ.


Then, according to the gospel that we are to preach, we are to do what Jesus today tells the rich young man to do, namely keep God's moral law, "Keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17).


If we have ever in our life fallen in any way, we need to repent, confess our sins, firmly resolve to amend our life, and then keep God's commandments, his moral law, which our justification now both enables and obliges us to keep.


The rich young man realized what a difficult challenge Jesus was presenting to him, to leave everything and live for God alone with all his heart, and so he turned down Jesus' invitation to live a life of perfection, for he was very wealthy.


"When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions" (Matthew 19:22).


Today the Church is clearly in need of renewal in this call to perfection. We all need to renew ourselves in this call. Clergy and religious need to renew themselves in literally, radically, and faithfully living out this call to perfection. Lay Catholics, living with their spouses and families and working in the secular world, also need to renew themselves in living according to this call to make Christ the center of their life as Christian laypeople.


What, then, are the basic principles of this radical way of life, of this life of perfection, as Jesus calls it? First is to faithfully live out the promise of celibacy that we make if we are priests or religious. That means not putting ourselves into occasions of sin and temptation, and it means resisting, with the help of God's grace, sexual temptations.


Then this life of perfection means to live a life of simplicity with a simple diet and simple lifestyle so that we can focus on the Lord and seek our delight in him.


We should also love our neighbor as ourselves, but avoid putting ourselves into dangerous situations, especially with people of the opposite sex.


Basically, we should lose our life to find our life.


"For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35).


We should not seek to save our life in worldly ways, stuffing ourselves with pleasure foods and worldly movies and other worldly entertainments that divide our hearts away from a pure and undivided love of the Lord with all our heart; but rather we should lose our life in this world for Christ's sake and for the gospel's sake.


Those who do so will save their life with God. Those who answer Christ's call to a life of perfection will really be losing their life in this world for Christ's sake and for the sake of zealously preaching the basic gospel message. They will not be worldly people. They will have repented for their past sins, and by putting their faith in Jesus Christ, they will be declared and made righteous by God, because of the reparation that Christ made on the cross for their sins.


Those who are priests will now be true men of God. By losing their life in this way by not indulging in worldly or sinful behavior, they will truly find their life in God. They do not seek their pleasure in fine dining and worldly delights that divide their hearts from a pure love of the Lord, but rather they find their delight in the Lord, in their wholehearted devotion to him, and in their life of service to others, preaching to them the word of life and blessing them with the Eucharist and the other sacraments.

 

 

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