Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Homily)
August 30, 2020 11:30 am · Father Sergio Muñoz Fita
In the long version of today's homily we pay special attention to today's second reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In it Saint Paul has “urged” us to offer our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” In a special way, this dedication of the body, when made out of love, translates into the virtue of chastity; and the more attacked by the world and the social media this virtue is, the more beautiful and luminous it seems to shine. Saint Paul not only refers to this virtue, chastity, but also expects and requires it. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." The pure in heart will see God in heaven and they already see him in his creation. Those who have a stained heart do not see God in people, but instead see people as objects for their personal satisfaction. By acting in this way, we are offending the dignity of others, because we do not see the mystery of the person as a whole, or our own dignity, because the human person has been created to love and not to selfishly use others. Let us ask God to help us all to live chastely with humility and according to the vocation, age and condition of each one of us. May our bodies truly be a pleasing offering to God, as Saint Paul urges us. Let us not be discouraged by failures, but neither must we ever become accustomed to sins against chastity. Let us ask the Lord to create in us a pure heart. In this way, our capacity to love will expand into infinity because we will love as Christ loves. He offered his body on the cross as a sacrifice pleasing to God and therefore he is the best model of chastity and love that endures. May the Virgin Mary, who invigorates purity and restores it to those who have lost it, grant us all the strength to live, cherish, defend, promote and cultivate chastity in ourselves, in our children, and in everyone we meet.
This past week I was on a five-day retreat, finishing two nights ago. For priests, it is a canonical obligation to make these very brief Spiritual Exercises annually. I have been doing them since I was 14 years old and that is why I would like to begin by recommending to everyone the practice of setting aside several days a year to listen to the voice of God in our soul. As we prayed in the psalm today, our soul really is thirsty for God. If, as the prophet Jeremiah says, we are willing to let ourselves be “duped by the Lord”, then we will know how to dedicate at least 2 or 3 days each year to silence and prayer.
That said I want to focus today on the second reading, taken from the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. Above all, I would like to focus on the first part: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age…”
It almost seems a contradiction because Saint Paul affirms that the offering of our body as a living sacrifice is a spiritual worship. We know that in the theology of the Apostle of the Gentiles the word "body" does not express only the physical dimension of the person, but the totality of a person in the union of matter and spirit. However, without any doubt this physical dimension is included in the Pauline expression. In other words, today Saint Paul is "urging" us to present to God the voluntary surrender of everything that constitutes our personal being, emphasizing our corporality.
To offer our bodies to God we must be masters of ourselves because no one can give what they do not have. Nemo dat quod non habet. – No one gives what they do not have. To possess our bodies we need an always beautiful, always young virtue, which is the virtue of chastity. Chastity is oriented towards love. It allows us to be masters of ourselves so that we can give ourselves to God and others, placing the good of the other above our personal satisfaction. When this virtue is lacking, the person does not control himself and that prevents him from giving himself totally to the loved one.
Chastity is the virtue of men of integrity, of those who give themselves totally, joyfully, faithfully. Chastity makes one free and the absence of it makes one a slave. It is the virtue of the strong, and those who do not have it are weak. They do what they should not do and betray the covenant of love with God that we made at our baptism or the covenant of love for our spouse that was made on the day of marriage. Chastity is the bodily expression of our fidelity to true love. It is an eminently positive virtue since it helps us to integrate corporality, specifically sexuality, in authentic love. Although it is true that chastity, joyfully possessed, leads us to avoid selfish acts that have sexual satisfaction as their goal, it is also true that chastity guides us to express our affection towards others physically and in an appropriate way, according to the type of relationship. The same expression of affection that can be virtuous if directed to the husband or wife, can be sinful if it is expressed with others with whom there is no sacramental covenant.
In the first century, this teaching was already countercultural, and for this reason Saint Paul finds it necessary to add immediately afterwards, "Do not conform yourselves to this age." The world despises the Christian message of chastity just as it despises Christ crucified. In addition to the great grace of God, chastity requires effort, self-control, denial of our most instinctive impulses, and like Saint Peter in today's Gospel, we do not want to suffer or carry the cross of Christ.
I want to encourage all of you not to give up in this battle we wage with the world and with our own weaknesses. A love that is not chaste is simply not a true love. Let no one throw in the towel if he falls. Trust in God's mercy, ask for forgiveness and grace, and start over. The first step to having a clean heart is wanting to have a heart that is pleasing to God. If you fall, get up. If you fall a thousand times, get up a thousand times. Fight, don't give up. Don't stray from the sacraments; cultivate good friendships and habits that make you regain discipline and control over yourself. If you are a man, be a real man. If you are a woman, elevate the lives of others with your life. It is worth the fight.
Let me conclude by repeating the Lord's last words in today's Gospel. Listen to them in the context of which we have spoken and thinking about them particularly referring to the virtue of Christian purity and humble and joyful chastity: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”