Friday, February 25, 2011

Perfect Holiness

Homily From the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

On Wednesdays I often have lunch with Fr. Drew Curry, the associate pastor from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  We’re good friends.  We attended seminary together and we both grew up in the same parish: Holy Family in South Bend.  Over these Wednesday lunches, we exchange ideas for our upcoming Sunday homilies.

Fr. Drew asked what I was going to preach on and I said, “holiness.”  In the first reading, God says to His people, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.”  In the second reading, Paul tells the Corinthians, “the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”  And in the Gospel, Jesus implores us to ultimate holiness when he urges us to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Fr. Drew then told me that when he asked Bishop D’Arcy a couple years ago if the seminarians could go on a walking pilgrimage from South Bend to Fort Wayne, Bishop D’Arcy asked him why we wanted to do that.  Fr. Drew told the Bishop, “To grow in holiness and pray for the holiness of the people of our diocese.”  To which, Bishop D’Arcy asked, “And what is holiness?”  And it made Fr. Drew think a bit. What is holiness?

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 So we finished our lunch and then we went to All Saints Catholic bookstore to look at some books.  And I spotted this book on the shelf, “The Fulfillment of All Desire" by Ralph Martin.  For about the last year and a half, I’ve seen this book again and again.  It was on the desk of my spiritual director in seminary. I’d spot it in the offices of priests. Recently, I’d see it on the desk of Dorothy Schuerman, our pastoral associate.  So, I decided to buy the book.  I didn’t read the summary on the back cover; didn’t look at the table of contents; didn’t even open the front cover.  I just pulled it off the shelf and bought it.

So, this past Wednesday night, I began reading it.  And the very first sentence of the very first chapter of the book says this: “Jesus summed up His teaching in a startling and unambiguous call to His followers: ‘You therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’”

And the title of the first chapter is “Called to Holiness.”

So thank you Holy Spirit for dropping this book in my lap.  So let's talk about holiness.  Let's talk about perfection. 

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 Bishop Rhoades gave us copies of Matthew Kelly’s book “Rediscovering Catholicism."  In it, Kelly says that holiness is surrendering to the will of God.  It is the desire to do His will.  Allowing God to fill every corner of your being.  It’s being set apart for God

“In any moment”, Kelly says, “when you surrender to the will of God and choose to be the-best-version-of-yourself, you are holy.”  “Striving for holiness, is to be continually answering God’s invitation to grasp the moments of our lives and allow God to use them to transform us into all he has created us to be.”

“The surest signs of holiness are not how often a person goes to Church, how many hours he spends in prayer, what good spiritual books he has read or even the number of good works he performs.

“The surest signs of holiness are an insatiable desire to become all God created us to be, an unwavering commitment to the will of God, and an unquenchable concern for unholy people.”

Perhaps you’re thinking, “That’s not for me. I’m not capable of that kind of holiness. I can’t surrender my will to God in that way. That’s only for people like priests, or nuns, or the Saints.”  Well, that’s not true.  Jesus addresses these words to all of his disciples.  All of us are called to holiness.  And Jesus calls all of us to be Saints.  It is God’s greatest desire for us to be in union with him in Heaven.  And that is the definition of Sainthood

As Ralph Martin points out, “if we want to enter heaven we must be made ready for the sight of God.  Holiness isn’t an “option.”  There are only Saints in heaven.

How do we become holy? How do we become perfect?  By cooperating with God’s will in the everyday encounters of our lives. 

How many of you have seen the movie “Remember the Titans”?  It’s a great movie; a true story about a high school football team that has tremendous success.  Denzel Washington plays the head coach, Hermann Boone, and all season long, he demands perfection from the team.  So they win every game leading up to the state championship. 

Well, in the championship, they get beat up pretty bad by their opponent throughout the first half and they go into the locker room at half time bruised and trailing.  Coach Boone then speaks to his team and tells them:  “You boys are doing all you can do, everyone can see that. Win or lose, we’re going to walk out of this stadium tonight with our heads held high. Do your best, that’s all anybody can ask for.”

Then one of the players speaks up:  “No it ain’t coach. With all due respect, you demanded more of us. You demanded perfection.”

“Now I ain’t sayin’ I’m perfect,” the player goes on, “cause I’m not. And I ain’t never gonna be, none of us are. But we have won every single game we have played, ‘til now. So this team is perfect. We stepped out on that field that way tonight, and if it’s all the same to you Coach Boone, that’s how we want to leave it.”

Just like Coach Boone, Jesus demands perfection from us.  And he demands perfection from us because perfection is possible.

Ralph Martin says in his book that “when we hear these words we can be understandably tempted to discouragement, thinking that perfection for us is impossible.  And indeed, left to our own resources, it certainly is.  But with God, all things are possible.”

Just like the football player said, “I’m not perfect. I ain’t never gonna be, none of us are.” But, “this team is perfect.  Alone, we are imperfect.  But, with God; with our team of the Holy Trinity, we can be made perfect.  We can be transformed.  That’s what holiness is.  Cooperating with God working in us.  Working as a team with God.

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