Homily From the 26th Week of Ordinary Time - Year B
When problems occur, it seems that three questions are automatically asked: “What happened?” “How did this happen?” and “Why did this happen?”
The first question assesses the situation. “What happened?” Like when I was seven and we found my pet parakeet, Sam, lying dead on the bottom of his cage. My father asked, “What happened?” “Sam’s dead” I said.
Then my father asked the second question, “How did this happen to Sam? How did Sam die?” Looking at Sam’s empty food and water dishes (which, I think had been empty for a number of days) I said, “I think Sam starved to death.”
Then my father preceded to the third and final question, “Why did this happen to Sam? Why did Sam starve to death?” So I thought to myself, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure Sam’s food and water dishes had been empty for a number of days. And it’s my job to fill his dishes” I responded, “Because I didn’t feed him.”
When we go to confession, we confess the “what” of our sins. “What happened?”
“I got angry.” “I was impatient.” “I stole $20 bucks from my brother.”
However, if we really want to work at solving the problem of sin, we should also ask how it happened and why it happened. At the end of confession, when we pray our Act of Contrition, we make what’s called “a firm purpose of amendment.” We pray to avoid sin as well as “the near occasion of sin.” This “near occasion of sin” is often the how and why of the problem of sin. In the Gospel, Jesus wishes to bring to light, the how and the why of our sin.
Sometimes, the near occasion of sin is a person. Jesus says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin...” (Mk 9:42) Now when Jesus uses the term “little ones” he doesn’t necessarily mean just children. “Little ones” can mean all the children of God; all of us.
Who then, is the “whoever” that is the cause of sin? Is it a drinking buddy? Is it an enabler of some addiction? Is it a boyfriend or girlfriend?
If there is a “whoever” in our life that causes us to commit grave sin rather than helping us grow in holiness, we need to separate ourselves from that person if they are unwilling to repent; for our sake as well as theirs. As Jesus said, “it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mk 9:42)
And sometimes, the near occasion of sin is ourselves. Jesus says, “If you hand causes you to sin... if your foot causes you to sin... if your eye causes you to sin...” (Mk 9:43-47) If there is something within us that causes us to sin, we need to cut it out of our lives.
Now, I don’t believe Jesus is suggesting we literally pluck out an eye if we fall into the occasion of lust. If so, we’d all be walking around blind. What Christ is saying, of course, is the absolute need to rid ourselves of the how and why of our sin that is within us. Jesus uses extreme language to ask us the question, “Have you done absolutely everything to avoid the near occasion of sin?”
Jesus is asking us to consider the how and why behind the what of our sins. Like an illness, if we want to treat the sickness of sin, we must get to the root of it. Treating a symptom is reactive therapy. Treating the cause of the symptom is the key to true eradication of sickness and the path to healing.
Confessing addiction to porn is one thing. Discovering the reason for our attraction to porn is another.
Now, just one more word about cutting out the cause of sin. As absolutely necessary as this is as one of the first steps to recovery, cutting out the cause of sin alone will never be enough. It must replaced with some good. We are created by God with a natural, built-in desire for Him and all that is good. We all have, as is often said, a God-sized hole in our heart. He has implanted within our hearts a space only He can occupy. We sin when we try to fill the God-sized hole in our heart with created things.
If we want to eliminate a vice, we have to cultivate it’s opposite virtue. If we want our hearts to be freed of evil, good must take evil’s place. Otherwise, we’re just left with a heart with a hole in it and the temptation will grow stronger to fill it with vicious things. We need to let God fill our hearts with virtuous things.
Confessing addiction to porn is one thing. Discovering the reason for attraction to porn is another. Turning our gaze away from porn towards a higher, Godly love is yet another.
Today, our parish celebrates our patronal feast day. And perhaps better than any other Saint, the name of Vincent de Paul, is synonymous with the virtue of charity. When he was first ordained a priest, St. Vincent formed close friendships with the very rich. And in those early years, he grew comfortable with the hospitality the wealthy showed him. He discovered the priest Christ was truly calling him to be by turning his attention toward the poor.
So, today, let us ask our patron, St. Vincent de Paul, to intercede for us that we may grow in the virtue of charity. That the God-sized hole in our heart may be filled with this charity. And that it may root out the cause of any sin that dwells in our heart.