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Bishop Hartmayer's homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (September 2, 2018)

Following is the text of Bishop Hartmayer's homily from Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B, September 2, 2018):

 

A smoker for 35 years had quit his bad habit.  He had been smoke- free for 20 years; the damage done to his lungs during his nicotine addiction had begun to reverse.

 

Recently this man was talking to a friend who was smoking and he asked if could have a drag from his cigarette.  It was an evil urge that he allowed himself. No harm can come from one puff!  The old pleasure rewarded his mind.  That first puff opened the floodgates of the old addiction and within four weeks he was buying his own packs of cigarettes at about $9 per pack.

 

Like Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit, it is each person’s own responsibility to resist powerful evils and the slick, Satanic influence that lurks within us.

 

The influence of evil, the pressure of an inclination, the power of a desire, or a seduction that preys on a weakness or brokenness in our life…is very real.

 

The sense that we are strong and can resist the disguises of The Evil One is exactly the pride that will cause us to fall.

 

We need the support of our Faith, Family and Friends and a strong commitment to adhere to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to continue to surrender to the power of God’s Sanctifying Grace in order to be successful in the battles against evil.

 

We have seen far too many failures in promises, infidelities and lack of commitment to God and to the Church to believe that only our human strength can protect us from making the wrong choices.

 

Yes, the power of Evil is strong but the power of God’s grace is stronger.

 

God gave Moses 10 Commandments on the top of Mt. Sinai.  These were the rules that God told Moses to teach the “Chosen People” so they would remain faithful to the One true God.

 

Those Commandments have not changed.  What has changed are cunning ways in which the Evil One captures us and tricks us and tempts us to ignore, violate, and disobey God’s rules and commandments. Social media, the internet, videos, music, the way we dress, the lack of respect for authority and the disregard of moral values; this is what has changed,  We see it in our Church and in our society.

 

Rules are necessary.  We need rules in order to live a civil life together.  Rules can protect and save lives, rules can insure our freedoms, rules can make our life more efficient and less confusing. 

 

Rules can also be burdens…and can make life difficult.

 

We have rules at home and we have rules at school and we have rules at work.  Some rules are laws and some rules are directives…. and so we have lawyers who can argue the difference.

 

As the early Church grew in numbers and as people became more aware of what God wanted them to know through His Word, the apostles gave precepts and teachings designed to pass on the faith traditions and maintain appropriate fellowship, nurture and worship.

 

The point is we all need rules.  The Church is not a place or a people without boundaries and regulations.  Rules and regulations and rubrics not only bring order to our worship and to the liturgical life of the Church but they are also the basis or foundation of how we are to live our faith and be guided by a moral compass.

                                                          

It is interesting that some walk away from the Church because of her rules and others are attracted to the Church because of her rules.

 

But the rules and regulations of the Church become more meaningful when they are understood.  It is much easier and more sensible to obey the rules….. when we know why the rules exists.

 

Growing up as a child, I can remember asking my mother “why” she wouldn’t let me do this or that…and sometimes she would say: “because I said so.! And then, obnoxiously, I would say, “but why” and she would say: “because I said so” and that would go on until she got tired of it and then I would end up in my room for the rest of the afternoon.

 

The issue that Jesus was addressing in today’s Gospel was that the Scribes and the Pharisees were more interested in obeying the regulations of purification than they were of living a pure life.  They were more interested in cleaning the outside of the cups and jugs than they were of addressing the dirt and the filth in their hearts.

 

When the Scribes and Pharisees (who were not bad people, in fact, they were the most educated people - especially regarding the Scriptures)…when they began to question Jesus as to why the disciples did not wash their hands before eating, it was then that Jesus began to quote from the Prophet Isaiah: “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.”

 

The Jewish people tried to make religion permeate every action of their day.  That is a good thing.  But gradually, many people were simply performing external rituals without any understanding as to why they were doing them.  The rules lost their meaning.  And there was less and less accountability.

 

But worse than that, what Jesus was most angry about was the hypocrisy of some of the Jewish leaders who were more caught up with the outward appearances rather than with interior motivation.

 

They would parade around performing all the proper temple rituals while their interior disposition was as filthy and corrupt as the inside of a grave.

 

These readings today remind us to guard against identifying religion with just performing external acts…just going through the motions.  St. James tells us today to be “doers of the Word and not only hearers of the Word...Practice what we profess.  Live what we have vowed and promised.

 

These readings today make us aware that hypocrisy is present, in some degree, in all of us.

 

Sometimes we externally go through the motions without knowing what we are doing, without thinking; about what we are doing and sometimes without believing in what we are doing. We become more and more selfish and self-centered and ignore the dignity of others.

 

Jesus warns the Pharisees and he warns us that going to Church, saying prayers, reading scriptures, giving to charity and helping others does not, alone, guarantee holiness.

 

We can do all these things for the wrong reasons….what counts is not what we do…but rather the love in our hearts that motivates us to do what we do.

 

If our heart is filled with bitterness, pride, greed, lust, envy, arrogance, then all the external practices in the world won’t make us holy before God.

 

That is not to say that good works are not efficacious or that acts of charity cannot benefit us with Grace and even forgive sin and encourage a change of heart…but we are called to ask ourselves the question: “what motivates us to do the good work that we do?”

 

St. James reminds us that “If all we do is “listen” to the Word of God, then we are deceiving ourselves.

 

We are all called to put that Word into practice…….for the right reasons.

 

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