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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Over the past couple of weeks, our readings have focused on the importance of the Eucharist, and this Sunday is no different. We've looked at why the Eucharist is important to us, and why it is important to attend Mass on a regular basis, but the readings today focus on another spiritual benefit to the Eucharist: unity with Our Lord and the Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel passage, which is a continuation of the previous Gospel readings from John's Gospel, Jesus tells us that “whoever eats [His] flesh and drinks [His] blood remains in [Him] and [He] in us.” (Jn 6:56) By receiving Holy Communion, Our Lord enters into us, literally, and becomes part of us. At the same time, we are drawn into union with Him and union with Christians throughout the world, unifying us as members of the Body of Christ.

Through our union with Jesus, we become open to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and become more willing to receive the gifts that are present whenever the Holy Spirit is at work. The first reading today shows us one of those gifts: wisdom. Whenever the Scriptures mention Wisdom as a person, such as in the first reading, it is always referring to the work of the Holy Spirit.

This first reading tells us that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are ours for the taking, much like food at a banquet that we've been invited to attend. They're not being withheld from us, nor do we have to spend large amounts of money to receive them. Instead, every Christian is offered these gifts, but we need to have the humility to ask God for them.

If we do ask for the gift of wisdom from the Holy Spirit, St. Paul tells us that we will have the ability to “live, not as foolish persons but as wise.” (Eph. 5:15) Instead of “continuing in ignorance” of God's will for our lives, we will “try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” (Eph. 5:17) In other words, we will be more open to seeking those things and actions that are good for us and for those around us, and will set aside those aspects of our lives that are harmful to us and our neighbors.

One aspect of our lives that we will better understand if we seek to be wise instead of foolish is the effect of sin on our lives. We live in a culture that at best minimizes sinfulness, and at worst presents sinful actions and desires as normal or even preferable. If we're not open to the gift of wisdom from the Holy Spirit, it is extremely difficult to discern what aspects of our culture truly are beneficial to us, and what aspects presented to us as good are actually sinful.

I think there's almost a pride in our hearts that we think we can come up with different sins than what St. Paul faced nearly 2000 years ago, but as the passage from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians shows, we still struggle with the same sins as they did back then. The one example St. Paul gives us is one that many struggle with today, and often isn't even looked upon as sinful: getting drunk on alcoholic beverages, such as wine or beer. There are many people who feel that over consumption of alcohol is morally neutral, and may only be a bad idea as it can lead to hangovers and making bad decisions, like driving home while impaired.

St. Paul obviously disagrees that drinking alcohol to excess is morally neutral, so he gives one reason why it's sinful to get drunk while leaving another reason implied. Implied in his admonition not to drink to excess is the gluttony that goes into consuming enough alcohol that would lead to drunkenness. It is always sinful to engage in gluttony, whether food or drink, as we are called to moderation in all things. Consuming the occasional drink, even one or two a night, can be beneficial for our health and well-being, but consuming alcohol to the point of drunkenness is always gluttony.

Secondly, and more importantly, becoming drunk has the tendency to lower one's willingness to refrain from other sinful actions. Just as some might be more willing to express their opinions after a few drinks, actions which may be unthinkable when sober become possible or desirable when drunk. We are then more open to committing sins which will affect us long after the effects of the alcohol has worn off.

As we receive Holy Communion, may be drawn more closely into the Body of Christ. May we also be more open to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit at work within us, allowing that wisdom to aid us in avoiding sinful actions.

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