Mortification, Strength in God

This is several weeks behind, but here is my homily from last weekend…

I don’t know about you, but for me one of the consequences of winter is dry skin. It’s a constant battle to keep from having cracks and cuts in my hands. We see what salt on the road does to the cars. Now salt in the Gospel is used in a good sense as well: we need to be salt for the world, to fill it with the flavor of the Gospel. In this instance we hear of a salted wasteland. In the first reading today we hear of Jeremiah making a pretty clear contrast: a strong verdant tree that can withstand storms and on the other hand a barren bush in the desert that stands in a lava waste.

So it is very clear: life apart from God is the dead bush surrounded by a lava waste. This is a very clear description of hell, and one can even experience that here on earth when one begins to drift away from God. One little sin after another, then bigger and bigger sins…

Life turning toward God is a tree that drinks from the water. This tree drinks from the water and doesn’t fear the heat or the drought. It’s a constant process to be constantly nourished in order to prevent one from drying out and falling in a storm of persecution.

Our Lord calls us to this verdant rich life, and the source of this life is His sacrifice on the cross. We participate in this in the Mass where his sacrifice is made present to us again, and He remains with us in the Eucharist. When we go to confession we are restored to life, and the salt and dead branches are removed. We are again planted near the living waters. In other words: the Sacraments are like that great lotion that keeps one’s skin from drying out and cracking.

Another thing that is a time honored custom is the idea of mortification: training our bodies to keep present the crucified Christ. This is so helpful in preventing the constant noise, the constant movement toward comfort, the constant distractions from allowing us to lose sight of God’s call to beatitude. Doing things like choosing the most uncomfortable seat in the room, smiling and listening patiently to a difficult person, turning off the television and having some time for silence, maybe even for those who are young enough, sleeping on the floor every so often. In doing these little mortifications we are being brought more deeply into the Sacred Heart of Jesus—we are really praying with our whole being. This is great training for prayer, as it will help us when we come to prayer time to be a little more focused, and a little more intent on listening to God’s call. Saint Josemaria Escriva says “If you don’t deny yourself you will never be a soul of prayer…” (The Way, 172)

The source of this life is our Lord’s presence in the Sacraments. Do we treat our Lord coldly, not even paying attention to Him present in the tabernacle? How do we sign ourselves and genuflect? Do we do it quickly so to get it over with, or do we actually put some thought and effort into these little acts of reverence and love? We should not be embarrased. We live to please God, not other people. The Holy Spirit warns us very clearly: “cursed is the one who seeks his strength in flesh.”

After we receive our Lord in the Eucharist do we realize we are like walking tabernacles because God has entered into our souls in a very real way?

Lent is approaching in about a month and many people will go to confession which is a very good thing. Think of it this way though: sin stinks, sin kills. If one didn’t bathe except every 6 months imagine how much one would have to spend on air fresheners. It’s good to bathe often. So too with confession. It’s good to go every month or every two weeks. Of course the smell is the least of the problems: infections, disease, etc. God made our souls to last forever, but as a culture we have forgotten this. We have generally speaking lost the sense of sin. There is so much distraction in the world, and thus we don’t even notice sin anymore.

Our Lord pours forth his heart, his body, his very being for us—each single person, and He gives us the strength to endure the worst storm. The temptation is to listen to that pride in our hearts: “as long as I do the minimum, I really don’t need to change this or that, this one thing really doesn’t control my life even though I really can’t give it up…” the theme song in hell is rumored to be “I did it my way”. We live to please God—He is the one who will judge our souls, not our boss, not our peers, not our family members. God will be the judge.

Our Lord reminds us that we must live the beatitudes: these all involve a turning of the heart and mind toward God: whether rich or poor, whether sick or healthy, whether one is successful in life or not: turn toward the Lord. Live a generous life for God. Turn away from sin, especially the smallest sins.

Our Lord calls us to be saints. Yes. Let that sink in: the saints ran the race to win the prize, and you and I should as well. The saints are men and women like you and me. Real people who faced difficult situations. We are passing through this life, so we do not base our moral decisions on the fad of the day. We are not afraid to stand up for things which will earn us mockery: marriage is for life and is between a man and a woman. There is no other marriage. Life is sacred from conception to natural death. It is still wrong to live together before marriage. To stand up for these truths today entails mockery, but that is what our Lord calls us to do. He promises us the strength and the reward. He does not call his disciples to be cowards. He calls them to trust in His strength, not their own.

On January 8, 1894 Raymond was born. When he was 12 years old the Blessed Mother appeared to him offering a red and a white crown: the red crown for martyrdom and the white for holy purity. He said he would accept both. Some time later he joined the Franciscans and was given the name Maximilian. He organized the army of the Immaculate-militia immaculata in honor of the Blessed Virgin. His aim was to work for the conversion of sinners and enemies of the Church. He founded many monasteries including one in Japan. He had to return to Poland due to poor health where he continued to publish, and wrote against the Nazis. On February 17, 1941 the monastery was shut down and Kolbe was arrested by the Gestapo. He was later sent to Auschwitz. At the end of July 1941 a prisoner escaped, and the guards decided to punish the prisoners. They selected 10 prisoners to die of starvation. One of the selected ones cried out for his wife and children. Fr Maximilian stepped out and said “I am a Catholic priest. Take me”. So they did. For 2 weeks he helped the group of men pray and sing. He was the last to die and getting tired of waiting the Nazis injected him with carbolic acid on August 14.

He once remarked “If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.”

He found strength in the Blessed Mother and our Lord present in the Eucharist. There is so much indifference today, so much distraction. We must fight this tooth and nail.

Yet our Lord has placed us in the middle of this world. The only way we will survive the storm is if we are close to our Lord in a life of prayer, virtue, constant conversion, all nourished by the Sacraments. Saint Maximilian Kolbe helps us to love our Blessed Mother. Her Immaculate Heart really will triumph. Her heart is fully on fire for God. There is no taint of sin or selfishness. She is not afraid of any situation, and we can have great confidence in her assistance. She is deeply concerned for us her children and wants us to win the battle. The Blessed Mother can help us keep on track and give us that motherly correction when we start to slip up in little ways. We all remember our Mothers telling us: you forgot a sock on the floor. The Blessed Mother is just as persistent. It’s up to us to listen.

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