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08/04/19 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Many people criticize Christianity because they think it is an empty list of does and don'ts. They resent the Church's moral standard because they think it limits personal freedom. They think that the Church's moral teaching comes from an irrational thirst for power and domination. They fault the church for the sins created by humans.

This is entirely false.

The real reason behind the Church's moral teaching is explained by St Paul in today's Second Reading. Christians strive to live according to a demanding moral standard because we have come to know and believe in Christ. We have experienced his lovepowergoodness, and grace.

That experience has shown us what the universe really looks like: Without Christ, human life is meaningless. It is a chasing after the wind, vanity of vanities, as the First Reading says so clearly. Because without Christ, everything we do here on earth would simply come to an end when we die. It would have no lasting value, like the mark your finger leaves in the water when you dip it into the ocean.

But Jesus came to earth, suffered and died for our sins, rose from the dead, and ascended back into heaven, in order to give us a chance at lasting value.

Through faith in Christ, our lives are now plugged into eternity, "hidden with Christ in God", as St Paul puts it.

Everything we do is linked to salvation history. Before Christ, we were shipwrecked on a desert island, with no escape, dying. Life was vanity. But Christ came to rescue us, and as long as we cling to the wood of his Cross, we can rest assured that he will bring us home to his glorious, everlasting Kingdom.

That's why we strive to avoid anything that could possibly separate us from Christ, anything that could break our friendship with him by violating his command to love God and love our neighbor: impurity, greed, dishonesty - every form of self-centeredness, as St Paul points out.

Our faith in Christ has consequences for our life. It has given us a friendship that will last into eternity - if we let it.

Sometimes we ignore these consequences because we don't see them surface right away.

But when we don't follow Christ and his commandments, whether we see it right away or not, we are in fact poisoning our souls.

There is a story about a Mexican man who lived near the border of Arizona that illustrates  this. He loaded some scrap metal from a junk pile into his beat-up pickup truck. He knew that this big haul would mean food on the table and money in his pocket once he sold the metal for cash. As the truck pulled onto the highway, little steel balls from an antique dental X-ray machine began to drop onto the ribbed bed of the truck. These tiny, radioactive marbles bounced among the shifting sheets of metal and rolled back and forth in the truck bed. Some of them spilled along the highway. After trading in the scrap metal, the man hurried back to his village, metal balls still rolling in the grooves of the truck bed. In no time the neighborhood children discovered the shiny, bright treasures. The game of marbles was a popular sport in town, so the little balls were a coveted addition to any child's collection. Before long, many in the town began to complain of similar symptoms: red rash, fatigue, loss of hair, vomiting. After many months and several deaths, the truth was discovered: dozens of people were suffering from severe radiation poisoning. The pretty little balls, held, traded, and treasured, turned out to be both delightful and deadly.

Sin is a lot like those little metal balls. Although it often appears to be harmless, innocent, and fun to play with, it's always a deadly poison.

This is why St Paul is urging us to take seriously the consequences that come from living in a friendship with Christ.

Christ knows better than anyone that we often run into difficulties when we try to be true to our friendship with him. He knows perfectly that we often fail, fall, and sin. We are not perfect friends. But he is a perfect friend. And he wants to make sure that we know it. He also wants to give us the strength and wisdom we need to become better and better friends, more and more worthy of our calling, more and more mature Christians.

One of the tools he gave us to achieve these two purposes is the great sacrament of confession. Confession is undeniable proof that Christ's love for us, his friendship, is unconditional. He will never abandon us. He will always welcome us back when we have let him down - if we want to come back. And it is also a source of supernatural grace. It is an embrace in which Christ's own strength is transferred into our souls. Our friendship with Christ has consequences, true. And when we fail to live up to them, which we all fail to do sooner or later, Christ has a remedy: this sacrament of renewed friendship.

Today, in this Mass, Christ will renew his commitment to us.

When we receive him in Holy Communion, let's do so with gratitude, sincerity, and confidence.

And let's promise him that we will make generous use of this great gift that he died to make available to us.



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