Fr. Steve’s homily (09/27/2015)

Un-repented sin has consequences; it leads to damnation, to hell, which was commonly called “Gehenna.”
• The word originally referred to a valley on the outskirts of Jerusalem that had been used for human sacrifice during royal apostasies in Old Testament times.
• By the time of Christ, the valley had come to be used as a kind of outdoor public incinerator. Worthless and rotten trash and refuse, including the dead bodies of animals and criminals, were dumped into the valley and gradually consumed by a smoldering fire that was always kept burning.
• Thus, Gehenna became a symbol of the state of eternal separation of a soul from God, and the unending spiritual destruction and frustration that goes with such a separation.
Sin matters; that’s why Jesus tells us to gouge out our eye or cut off our hand if it’s causing us to sin. But, did he mean that literally? No.
Eyes and hands don’t cause sin; they can’t. Sin is always a decision of the heart to prefer one’s own will against God’s will. It is a rebellion against God, in little things or in big things, that is caused not by our body or our senses, but by something deeper.
• When we give in to temptation and sin, it always indicates that we are so attached to some good and valued thing (symbolized by the hand and the eye, two of the most valued parts of our bodies) that we prefer it to something much better: namely, friendship and communion with God.
• In the moment of sin, we allow the temporary benefit that seems to come from the sin to seduce us, to lead us away from the everlasting benefit of friendship with Jesus Christ.
• So, for example, a certain relationship provides us with comfort or pleasure, even though it leads us to violate God’s commandments. Or we treasure our reputation or popularity so much that we compromise our Christian values in order to protect or advance it.
To give up these attachments in order to protect and develop our friendship with Christ hurts – as if we were cutting off a hand or gouging out an eye.
But our Lord teaches us that that pain is nothing compared with the sorrow of cutting ourselves off forever from God’s love.
Was Jesus’ exaggerating when he urged his followers to use drastic measures to avoid evil and its harmful consequences (Mark 9:42-48)? Jesus set before his disciples the one supreme goal in life that is worth any sacrifice, and that goal is God himself and his will for our lives which leads to everlasting peace and happiness. Just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything that causes us to sin and which leads to spiritual death.
Today, as Jesus renews his commitment to us in this Mass, let’s ask him to show us what we need to cut off in order to follow him more closely.

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