Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Shawn Hughes

September 30, 2018


Homilies are never the creative act of one person.  Thus, in posting these homilies on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it: ‘tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.

God bless you.

Father Shawn

Strong, tough  readings today.  This is one of the gospels, that when I read it and end with “the Gospel of Our Lord”…the Good News of Our Lord…And you enthusiastically respond: “Praise to You Lord Jesus Christ”… I wonder,  were you listening?…did you really hear what was proclaimed?…challenging, strong readings…

“If your hand, foot, or eye causes you to stumble…causes you to sin… cut it off;  it is better for you to enter life maimed that to have two and to go into hell.”  Very strong readings today.  Now Jesus didn’t mean this to be taken literally…He is using hyperbole…a rhetorical technique of extreme exaggeration to make a very strong point.  Today, the very strong point is that sin matters and because it matters…we have to do something about it.

Every once in a while it is a good thing for us to take time to reflect on topics that make us uncomfortable.  Much of the news over these past few months have caused great discomfort.  Today the Church is inviting us to reflect on one of the simple truths of our Catholic faith: sin matters.

Very clearly in today’s Second Reading, St. James graphically explains that if someone spends their earthly life exploiting and using other people, lying and cheating and hoarding wealth, they may enjoy the fruits of their crimes for a little while, but they can’t escape justice for ever.

Jesus is just as clear in today’s gospel.  He explains that un-repented sin has consequences; it leads to damnation, to hell.

According to Jesus, un-repented sin leads us to separation from God.

These comments of St. James and Jesus are not meant to scare us into feeling guilty. They are simply informing us about the facts: sin,… willfully turning away from God and his moral law,…has consequences, and they are not good, and we should strive to avoid them.

One reason Jesus chose to die the way he did was to give us a graphic image of how destructive sin really is.  Jesus could have redeemed us in a much less horrible way.  One of the reasons he died in the horrible manner he did is precisely because he wanted us to know what sin really looks like,… how ugly it truly is.

The evil one tries to dress it up in seductive disguises, but sin lacerates and destroys our souls, just as the whips and the cross lacerated and destroyed Christ’s body.

Whenever we see a crucifix, we should be reminded that God loved us that much, but we should also be reminded that our sins matter; they have consequences.

But also…in this Mass the Church reminds us of something else too,  some much more powerful than sin…that God’s mercy matters more.

Sin is destructive, a terrible, evil.  But Jesus has conquered sin.

The Catechism (#420) tells us: “The victory that Christ won over sin has given us greater blessings than those which sin had taken from us.”

The destruction that sin causes in our lives is not the end of the story.

God can forgive us – it is never too late;  God can take the ruins that sin causes and build them into something more magnificent than we ever could have imagined…We just have to give him the chance.

And how do we do that? The first step is so simple, but sometimes so hard: come to confession.  God already knows our sins; he knows how much they obstruct our spiritual progress and lacerate our souls, and how much we need his grace to overcome them. That’s why he gave us the great gift of confession, to give us a chance to start over, as many times as we need to.

Many of us already know this, and we use the great gift of confession frequently. But we also know plenty of people who don’t – and they are suffering deeply on the inside because of it, experiencing the ravages of sin.  Maybe a word of encouragement, an invitation, a sharing of our experiences of the healing mercy of God in confession…that may be all they need to encourage them to come back and give them that fresh start. It doesn’t matter if your last confession was last week or 30 years ago…receive that fresh start…get to confession.

Something I heard not too long ago really surprised me.  A person confessed they had missed Sunday Mass quite some time ago.  I asked if they had been to Mass since… And they said yes…I asked if they had  received Holy Communion since then and they said yes.  I said do you realize this is sinful ? …. To receive Holy Communion with serious sin on your soul?  They didn’t and asked why.  I explained that the graces of Communion are not available to us when we have serious sin on our soul.  Our serious sin has blocked us from receiving the grace and therefore receiving Holy Communion can’t benefit us until we have repented in confession.  In fact receiving Holy Communion without repenting is sinful.  They had no idea.  But now they know and they use the confessional much more frequently.

You know that here at this parish one of the priests is in the confessional before every single Sunday and weekday Mass that takes place in this cathedral and additionally every Wednesday afternoon from 1 pm to 5 pm and on Saturdays from 4 pm to 4:50 pm.  [Hold up the examination of Conscience]  If those times don’t work, phone the rectory or email me and we’ll set up a quick appointment for confession.  I am never too busy for confession.  Nor are the other  priests who work here.  Next to celebrating Mass it is our number one priority.  You  have heard this before… not exaggeration but the simple truth … I would get up in the middle of the night if someone came to the door, rang the doorbell, which rings only in my room at night…I would get up to hear their confession.  That’s how important it is. Don’t carry serious sin around for one minute more than you have to…when you fall, and shame and guilt flow over you…don’t carry it any longer… get to confession …I can’t fathom why anyone would carry sin on their soul when Our Dear Loving Saviour gave us the means to dump it…

Sin matters, but God’s infinite, redemptive mercy matters more. We have to take both seriously.

I think part of the mess the Church is in with the reports over the last few months is that we have lost the sense that sin matters.  Even though the majority of the cases reported took place in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, even one case is terribly sinful.  Perhaps if those priests had a deeper sense that sin matters and that God’s infinite, redemptive mercy is available to them and had got to confession the subsequent sins would not have taken place.  We, individually,  myself  included, or as a Church, can allow our consciences to be dulled.

A parishioner sent me a very encouraging email this week that I would like to share with you.  It quotes Sherry Weddell, a very influential Catholic author, a lay woman, who is very active in the New Evangelisation.

She says: “In light of the unrelentingly difficult news recently, I thought it would be good to contemplate how God works in ‘really’ bad times.

It is good to look at history to get a glimpse of God’s tapestry of grace… she invites us to look at the time that the Reformation began, …most of God’s tapestry of grace was hidden from the eyes of those alive at the time.

She gives a brief summary of critical spiritual happenings between 1531 and 1538…when things were looking *REALLY* bad for Catholics and at the time a great number of the hierarchy, the priests and bishops, were truly corrupt.

In 1535: King Henry VIII of England made himself Supreme Head of the Church in England permanently cutting England off from the Roman Catholic Church, and executed… martyred…St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher…Cardinal Fisher was the only Catholic Bishop in England who remained loyal to the Holy Father , the Pope.  The rest, looking after their own selfish interests… sided with the King.

In1536: Henry VIII began the dissolution and destruction of all the monasteries in England, Wales, and Ireland.

Meanwhile,…while all that was going on in England…Just listen to this…how grace of God was at work in hidden ways in many other areas of the world… Grace that would bear great fruit:

Far from England in Mexico in 1531: Our Lady appears in Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego which in the following ten years caused the conversion of the majority of the population of Mexico at the time.

In 1533: 18 year old future St. Philip Neri goes through a major conversion and moves to Rome.

1534: the 42 year old future St.  Ignatius of Loyola, pictured right there in the cathedral, and his six companions – including  St. Francis Xavier and St. Peter Claver, make their first vows beginning the Jesuits, the Society of Jesus which has had great influence on the Church’s spirituality ever since.

1535, the same year Henry VIII martyred St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, the 20 year old future St. Teresa of Avila enters the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Spain and over the next 40 years becomes one of , if not, the greatest mystic in the history of the Church.

Also in 1535: the 61 year old future St. Angela Merici, a single lay woman and educator of girls, founds the Company of St. Ursula, more commonly known as the Ursulines who still existed and have been major educators of girls up until today.

In 1537: The Pope creates a Reform Commission dominated by members of the Oratory of Divine Love, a confraternity inspired by the future St. Catherine of Genoa, a lay woman.

1538: the future St. Charles Borromeo is born who becomes a major reformer in the church as a priest, bishop and cardinal.   In 1538, St.  Philip Neri begins his evangelizing apostolate in the streets of Rome as a layman, starting conversations with people and raising spiritual topics.”

Amazing…only one span of ten years in history… All of this was going on in the universal Church but the Catholics in England thought the world was falling apart.

St. Paul tells us in Romans chapter 5 “ where sin increases, grace abounds all the more.”  (Romans 5:20)

Sherry Weddell goes on:   “Right now, God is raising up the apostles and saints of the 21st century whom He will use to respond to the needs and challenges of our time in ways you and I can’t even imagine.

God has already given all of us the Holy Spirit and planted the seeds of charisms and astonishing vocations in the souls of all the baptized. He doesn’t skip generations. NOW is the time to help those seeds germinate, grow, and begin to bear fruit.

She concludes:  Every generation is given the graces, the apostles, the charisms they need for God’s purposes in their setting. .. The fruit they are bearing and will bear belong in a real way to all of us and will change our lives and our culture and the lives of many generations to come.” Sherry Weddell

So there is great hope.  We begin with prayer.  Deepening our prayer life.  Deepening our sacramental life… going to confession and receiving all the graces of Holy Communion.  Imagine what that would do to this parish alone if every single person, in response to this terrible crisis, decided they personally are going to strive for more holiness and get themselves to confession.

Sin matters.  But God’s infinite redemptive mercy matters more.  Do we really believe this?

We must always remember in hope: “Where sin increases, grace abounds all the more.”  (Romans 5:20)

The victory has been won… but only if we participate in it… only if we fight sin and live the life of grace by striving for more holiness ourselves.