Saturday, September 29, 2012

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This homily originally appeared in Connect! magazine

When we picture Jesus, we tend to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken man who loved and cared for everyone. While he was certainly that, he was also a man who was passionate about the truth and unafraid to proclaim it whenever necessary. There are times throughout the gospels when Jesus, because of his love of the truth, can sound severe and even harsh. We can sometimes be shocked when we hear Jesus speaking clearly about the reality of hell or when he tells the religious leaders that they are like "vipers" and "white-washed coffins." However, Jesus was not crucified because he was nice. Much of what he said upset the people of his day. Not only was he loved and followed because of his strong proclamation of the truth, but he was hated as well.

It can be a temptation for us when we read passages in the Scriptures which do not sound "nice" to want to overlook them. However, all of Scripture is inspired by God and meant for our education and edification whether it be verses that bring us consolation or words that make us question our choices and our way of life. We have to pay attention to and take very seriously the Scriptures when they point out our sinful behavior no matter how difficult they may be to hear. Otherwise, we may continue in that behavior and miss out on the graces God wishes to shower upon us.

Today's readings have some very harsh and pointed words for those who are envious. Jesus rebukes his disciples for trying to stop a man from casting out demons in his name. Instead of being concerned with the people who were suffering, the disciples were trying to control the powers Jesus had given them. They considered themselves "insiders", part of a clique, and were unwilling to share their authority with others, even if it meant allowing someone to continue to be caught in the grip of the devil.

In essence, they were envious of the others who were able to perform wonders in Jesus' name.

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins and an offense against the tenth commandment. It is also one of the most unpleasant feelings we can have. In fact, Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that envy is the only sin that does not give any pleasure. When we are envious, we begrudge people the talents, friendships and material possessions they have. Envy is such an offense against God because it can lead to our wishing or even committing harm on others. When we are jealous, we tell God that all the blessings he has given us are not good enough.

No one is immune from envy. It happens among classmates, it can take place between neighbors, and it can be found in businesses. Sad to say, even clergymen can find themselves envying other deacons or priests who are more charismatic or better preachers. When jealousy does find a place in our hearts, it destroys relationships and communities. It is at the root of many crimes such as robbery, fraud and even murder.

In a materialistic culture like our own, envy is widespread and far-reaching. Over the past years, we can see the effects it has had on our economy. As we suffer through the current financial crisis, we have to ask ourselves, how much of it was caused by jealousy? Is it not true that people over-extended themselves buying homes, cars and other items they could not afford because they wanted to impress their friends and neighbors or because they wanted what other people had? In the process, many have lost their homes and their life savings, families have been torn apart and whole neighborhoods have been ruined. When we consider how much havoc envy has wreaked it is easy to understand why Jesus had such harsh words to say about it to his disciples.

The good news is that there is a way out for us who might find ourselves struggling with envy. As with any sin, it begins by turning to Jesus and asking forgiveness. In prayer, we can confess to God that we are envious because we do not always appreciate how he has blessed us. We can ask him to give us a real and lasting gratitude for the good things we already enjoy. And we can ask him to give us a true humility so that we do not always have to be the center of attention and do not always have to impress everyone all the time.

If our jealousy has led us to seriously harm others by spreading rumors about them or stealing from them, we should go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as soon as possible. And, whenever possible, we should try to make things right by restoring whatever we may have damaged or stolen. Another good way of overcoming envy and learning humility is to ask forgiveness of the person we have harmed and confessing to him or her that we were acting out of jealousy. Chances are they already know that, but it will go a long way toward healing the relationship.

The essence of the Christian life is to follow the example of love which Christ set for us. It means loving others as we love ourselves and putting the interests of others before our own. It is the exact opposite of how we act when we are jealous. And so, another important cure for envy is to pray for the well-being of the people we are jealous of. In fact, as difficult as it may sound, we should ask God to bless them with the talents, friendships and material possessions we would like for ourselves. One of the Church's greatest preachers, Saint John Chrysostom put it this way:

Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother's progress and you will immediately give glory to God. Because his servant could conquer envy by rejoicing in the merits of others, God will be praised.

When we do that sincerely, we begin to feel the grip of envy loosen on our hearts. We live with a deeper sense of gratitude for the blessings we enjoy. And we begin to marvel at how God's blessings are spread far and wide for his greater glory.

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