February 23, 2011 // Uncategorized
Rekindle the Fire
The following is the text of the homily that Bishop Rhoades delivered at the men’s conference on Feb. 19 at the Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne:
“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God am holy.” The Lord instructed Moses to speak these words to the whole Israelite community. Similarly, Jesus instructed his followers in the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” As we come to the end of this diocesan men’s conference, these words of instruction sum up what today’s conference has been all about: a gathering of men seeking to respond to the Lord’s call to holiness. You and I are called to be men of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to be men of the Eucharist. We are called to live the truth in charity. In a word, we are called to be saints.
“Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God am holy.” “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If we want to be holy, if we want to be saints, we must look to the source of holiness. That source is not in ourselves. The source of holiness, the source of true love, is in God, our heavenly Father. How could we ever hope to live Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount by our own power? Naturally speaking, who among us is eager to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us? Aren’t we more comfortable with the saying “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?” Who would naturally be inclined to love his enemy? Are we not much more comfortable with loving our friends and hating our enemy? Who is eager to pray for his persecutors? How difficult it is to live these teachings of Jesus! We may even try to water these teachings down. My brothers, we need to stand before the truth of the Gospel, not water it down. We may not want to hear the more difficult teachings of Jesus. We can be tempted to render them empty and innocuous because they are so difficult to put into practice. They demand a deep and radical conversion.
When we are offended or hurt, the natural psychological impulse is to seek revenge, not to turn the other cheek. To love our enemies seems to exceed our human capacities. So how do we do it? We must go to the source of love, to the fount of holiness, to God whose very being is love, to the most Holy Trinity. In God, there is an everlasting exchange of love between the Father and the Son, and this love is not an energy or a sentiment, it is a person: the Holy Spirit! If we desire holiness, we have to go to the source, the Holy Spirit and pray: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.” That’s what we pray today. “Kindle in us the fire of your love!” Or, using the words of this conference’s title, “Lord, rekindle the fire!“
To learn holiness, to learn how to love, we not only ask for the help of the Holy Spirit. We also look to Him who is the full revelation of divine love, to the Son of God who became man. In Jesus of Nazareth, we come to know love in all its magnitude. The divine love is manifested totally and perfectly in Him, and most vividly in His passion and death on the cross. There we see what it means to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to pray for our persecutors. Jesus did not resist when he was betrayed by Judas, arrested in the garden, scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns, struck by the soldiers, stripped of his garments, and nailed to the cross. He prayed for his persecutors: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The cross is the fundamental symbol of Christianity. There we begin to perceive the depth and intensity of the mystery of God’s love, the love which redeems and saves. On the night before he died, Jesus asked us to imitate his love. At the Last Supper, He gave us the new commandment to love one another as He has loved us. And, at that same supper, he gave us the sacrament of love, the Holy Eucharist, which educates us in love and gives us the power to love as He has loved us. The Eucharist is the great school of love where we enter into the mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord. It is the gift of Himself, his body broken for us and his blood poured out for us.
To love as Christ loves is to love everyone, even our enemies. As difficult as this is, it is not impossible since he communicates to us the grace to do so, especially in the Holy Eucharist. The passion and death of Jesus, made present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, reveals to us the power of love, the only force capable of changing human hearts. It is through love that Jesus Christ vanquished sin and hatred. His love, victorious in the resurrection, has also conquered death. As brutally violent as the crucifixion was, it was transformed into love because Jesus freely accepted this horrible death through an act of total self-giving love. He transformed violence into love and he transformed death into life.
You and I are here today because we want to become better disciples of Jesus Christ. We desire holiness. But there is no holiness apart from the cross of Christ. “If you wish to be my disciples,” Jesus says, “you must take up your cross and follow me.”
When we are tempted to think that the teachings of Jesus, especially those in the Sermon on the Mount, are not realistic, we need to remember the power of the cross and the power of the Eucharist. Speaking of the Sermon on the Mount and the command to love our enemies, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict said the following: “Actually, Christ’s proposal is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This “more” comes from God: it is his mercy which was made flesh in Jesus and which alone can “tip the balance” of the world from evil to good, starting with that small and decisive “world” which is the human heart. “
My brothers, evangelization and building a culture of life and civilization of love begins in our hearts. The great Pope John Paul II so often said: “Be not afraid!” Believe in God’s power to work in your lives! Believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the sacrament of Penance, the power of the Holy Eucharist! Be so convinced of the power of God and the power of His love that you are not afraid to tackle evil with just two weapons: truth and charity!
Saint Paul tells us in our second reading today that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. He says: “if any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise.” For the wise of this world, the event of Jesus of Nazareth is seen as foolishness: God becoming man, dying on a cross, rising from the dead. This was so at the time of Saint Paul and this is so today. Saint Paul writes that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Jesus shows us who God is, a force of love which went so far as the cross to save humanity. This totally gratuitous love is true wisdom.
If we wish to be holy and perfect as our heavenly Father is holy and perfect, we must enter into his power, the power of the cross of his Son. The cross is a scandal and a folly to many people today. But for those who are truly wise, it is the way to glory since Christ rose from the dead. As the Catechism teaches, “the way of perfection passes by way of the cross” (CCC 2015). The cross is not just some theory or a nice ornamentation around our necks or in our churches. It is the power and wisdom of God. It is the path to holiness and the ladder to heaven.
To be holy, to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is holy and perfect, in the midst of this world, is to live with faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. It is to embrace the cross by which he has redeemed the world. I hope that this day has helped you to take some of the steps of that ladder to heaven, to live the truth in charity, to be men of the Gospel and men of the Eucharist.
May the Holy Spirit rekindle the fire within you, the fire of divine love!
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