26th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - B Cycle - 2002-2003

First Reading - Numbers 11:25-29
Psalm - 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14
Second Reading - James 5:1-6
Gospel - Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.

At that time, John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us."  Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him.  There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.  For whoever is not against us is for us.  Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.  Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"

Our second reading and Gospel this morning issue us some very serious moral challenges to consider in our daily living as Catholics.  These readings don't mince words - both St. James and our Lord are very direct and quite blunt in their exhortations to live uprightly.

In the second reading, St. James states that his hearers "...have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter."  Those must have been difficult words for his audience to hear.  While on one level St. James may have been referring to how his hearers have fattened their hearts for the day of slaughter in terms of their material luxury and excess and greed, he also is suggesting that hearts can get fat on another level that is more insidious and subtle.  The type of fatness of heart that he may be referring to is what we call a love for human respect

The love for human respect is a weakness in all of us.  We all want to be liked; we all want to be accepted; we all want others to think of us as nice and pleasant persons.  Sometimes, we are willing to sell out on our principles or our faith just so that we will be liked.

This is exactly what our Lord refers to in our Gospel when he says, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea."  Here, our Lord is referring to the sin of giving scandal to others, usually motivated by a love for human respect.

The sin of  giving scandal is often misunderstood.  In common parlance, when we hear of the word "scandal" we often think of things like "shock" or "surprise" or "disappointment."  While these synonyms are accurate, the word "scandal" in the moral sense has a much deeper meaning - that is, scandal also means leading others into sin.  The scandals within the hierarchy of the Church revealed within the last couple of years have all caused shock and surprise and disappointment.  Yet, these scandals have done much more - they have led many a Catholic into the sin of despair; the sin of disbelief in the Gospel because some of its trusted shepherds have betrayed the sacred trust put in them.  That may be the most heinous element of what we have seen unravel.  Yes, the crimes themselves have been horrible, but those are somewhat limited to a certain number of people and their families.  However, what these scandals have done to rock the faith of many a Catholic is more wide-reaching and more difficult to heal as a whole.

Giving scandal or leading others into sin also finds manifestations in more ordinary circumstances of daily living.  First, there is the scandal of couples who live together prior to marriage.  Fr. Christ Pollard, my predecessor and I, about a year ago, were comparing notes in regards to how we conduct our marriage preparation for engaged couples.  We estimated that nearly 7 in 10 engaged couples that we minister to are living together.  In this culture, there is little shock or surprise or disappointment at such living situations.  In fact, many young people almost expect to live with their future spouse prior to marriage in a so-called "trial marriage."  The sin of scandal is not in the shock - there is none anymore.  The sin of giving scandal exists when Catholics who are preparing for marriage and are cohabiting lead others to believe that it is perfectly normal and accepted to live as husband and wife prior to marriage, a blatant disregard for the sixth commandment.  Some couples are incredulous when I explain to them that their living together prior to marriage is telling everyone else that neither of them have a problem sleeping with someone to whom they are not married and that in a supposed act of love, they have actually led their future spouse into mortal sin and thus risk eternal damnation - not a very loving act at all.

Another way that we can give scandal is when we attend weddings of Catholics that occur outside the Church without the Church's permission.  I remember a time after I was in college before I entered seminary, I was asked to be a groomsman for a wedding of a very close friend.  He was a Catholic but decided to be married outside the Church without attaining the proper sacramental preparation and dispensation from the bishop.  I declined the invitation to be a groomsman and I explained to him that by my witnessing to such a union, I would be telling those present at the wedding and my friend and his bride that a practicing Catholic like myself had no problem witnessing to an invalid marriage that did not constitute a sacrament and actually celebrated the sin of disobedience to Church law.  I told him that this would be a cause of scandal for others.  Obviously, this put the friendship on the rocks.  Months later, however, my friend and his fiancée had a change of heart and eventually married with the Church's approval.  If I had succumbed to the weakness of human respect, I could have easily caved-in, under the false pretense of being a good friend or fear of losing my friend.  As far as I was concerned, my firmness in this decision made us even better friends.  Authentic friendship and love does not mean allowing our loved ones to do whatever they want and expect us to look the other way.  Authentic love means sometimes practicing tough love - holding our friends and family accountable to God's law - the law that truly sets us free.  In my estimation, I would not sell out the faith over saving the friendship.  It was a special grace not to succumb to the desire for human respect.

Lastly, our Lord exhorts us to cut off our limbs and pluck out our eyes if they cause us to sin.  Quite obviously, this maxim ought not to be taken literally.  Yet, our Lord means what he says.  What are the practical applications?  Maybe we could replace cutting off hands and feet and eyes with cutting off internet pornography; impure television programming and destructive relationships that lead us into sin as the things that we ought to be cutting out of of our lives if we are truly serious about entering the kingdom of heaven.  I am certain that we cannot think of doing anything, anything at all, that's worth risking our very salvation.  That would be too high a price to pay.  Rather, we should rejoice in the words of the Psalmist who says that the precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.  May we lift up our hears to the Lord, asking Him for the grace to avoid falling prey to the weakness of a desire for human respect, always confident that if we follow the way of the Lord Jesus and live as He wants, we will be richly awarded on the last day for our fidelity.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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