Sixteenth Sunday after
Pentecost—16 September AD 2007
“To have Christ dwelling through faith in your hearts.”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
In studying the history of the early
Church, most of us are impressed with the steadfastness of the first Catholics.
Serious sin seems to be rather rare—it seems to be connected mostly with those
who have lost their faith; with those who are in the process of becoming
associated with one of the gnostic sects which deny personal responsibility.
Likewise, we see an extraordinary willingness to accept martyrdom rather than do
anything that would deny Jesus Christ. The two go together quite
logically—it would be absurd to belong to a religion in which the government
punished membership by death, and to then turn around and violate the
Commandments of that religion. Indeed, when Christianity became legal in
the Roman Empire, the Church grew considerably in numbers, but had to deal with
the phenomenon of members who were no longer so resolute in their practice of
When the Emperor Constantine legalized
Christianity, a great many people moved to join the Church. Some were
those who had been on the periphery for a number of years; mostly the
husbands of Catholic women, for earlier Roman society had made it more difficult
for men to practice the Faith than for their wives. No doubt, a few
servants now found it reasonable to accept the Faith of their masters.
Others simply viewed the Catholic Church as the wave of the future, for not only
had It become acceptable to the government, but It had become respectable—those
who held good positions in society tended, more and more, to be Christians.
This wasn’t necessarily a thing all
bad. God does not necessarily demand martyrdom of each and every one of
His followers. He has gone on record as being a forgiving God, at least
for those with contrition for their sins.
He appears to be satisfied with the “peripheral Catholic” who attends Mass
on Sundays and Holy-days, and says his prayers at night because he is supposed
to; who keeps the Commandments, more or less, because that is what civilized
people do. In spite of His comments on those who are “lukewarm,” God
seems willing to admit even the less militant souls into the kingdom of heaven.
But, when we read today’s passage from
Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we have to remark to ourselves that
being one of these “peripheral Catholics” just has to be a comparatively
unsatisfying thing. There is a vast difference between staying out of
trouble with God by following the letter of His rules, on the one hand—and, on
the other hand, being “rooted and grounded in love,” comprehending “the
breadth and length, the height and the depth of Christ’s love, which surpasses
all knowledge.” If you let Saint Paul’s language soak in a little bit,
you will realize that it is something like the difference between participating
at some great event in history, and just reading a review of a movie made about
that event. There is no comparison.
Even less fortunate than the
“peripheral Catholic” is the one whom we might call the “pretentious
Catholic”—the one who goes through the motions of the Faith, merely to be
seen by other people doing so. These are much like the people our Lord
mentions in today’s Gospel, who go to dinners mostly to be seen at honored
places at the table.
Such a person lacks not only the consolation of “Christ dwelling in his
heart,” but even the plodding assurance that he has followed the rules and
kept the Commandments. If, somehow, he does manage to work out his eternal
salvation, he can be sure that his arrival at the Pearly Gates will be
accompanied by the reminder that “everyone who exalts himself shall be
If we find that we are “pretentious
Catholics,” we should make every effort to move, at least, into the circle of
the “peripheral Catholics.” After all, there is no assurance of
salvation in just being seen going through the outward actions of the Faith.
At a minimum, there must be a conscious effort to keep the Commandments, and to
develop a life of prayer and the sacraments which at least acknowledges the
reality of God, and our dependence on Him.
But really, we owe God, and ourselves,
something better. Perhaps, we have no burning desire for martyrdom—at
least for the moment, the government no longer puts people to death for being
Catholics. But we still have the opportunity to “have Christ dwell
through faith in our hearts.” It takes comparatively little effort.
We have Saint Paul himself, “on bended knee before the Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ, praying that we be strengthened by the Holy Ghost with power unto
the progress of our inner being.”
All it takes on our part is to resolve
that we will love God, not because we have to, but because we want to.
Resolve that it is not enough to be seen with Christ, or even to be close to
Christ, but that it is essential to “have Christ dwell through faith in our
Epistle: Ephesians iii: 13-21.
Apocalypse iii: 16 “But because thou art lukewarm, and
neither cold, not hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.”