Seventh Sunday after Pentecost—28 July AD 2019
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Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
“What fruit had you then in those things
of which you are now ashamed.”
In the epistle today, Saint Paul
reminds us of something that seems to have gone out of style in the
modern world—the idea of shame. According to Saint Thomas, “shame is a
recoil from what is disgraceful or a shrinking back from what is base.”
It is that passion we feel when we do something that we know is wrong;
and particularly the passion we feel when we get caught doing something
that we know to be wrong; and even more particularly, when we get
caught doing something wrong by those who know us and with whom we must
deal on a regular basis.
The loss of shame in our society is
a serious problem. Evil is not a 20th century invention. We've always
had people doing things they shouldn't. Not too many years ago, a man
would have been ashamed to be caught stealing, or stepping out with
another man’s wife, or to have a reputation for being a liar. That
sense of shame had a two-fold effect: the fellow who was going to do
something wrong tried to keep it secret. That might seem to be a bit
hypocritical, but at least it had the secondary effect of not giving bad
example to others. This fellow with a sense of shame might still go and
cheat on his wife (for example), but at least he didn't give others the
excuse that “everybody’s doing it,” and he certainly didn't get on his
soapbox to try to gain public acceptance of adultery. He knew what he
was doing was wrong, and he still did it, but he didn't try to turn the
moral law upside down.
In others, a sense of shame actually
kept them from doing wrong. The potential embarrassment of getting
caught in a lie made them generally tell the truth—the fear of being
though of a thief kept them from stealing—the dishonor associated with
marital infidelity kept them from cheating—and so on. This may still
seem a little hypocritical, but yet good is still served, even if it is
not for the best of reasons.
Finally, the sense of shame
sometimes actually turns bad people into good ones. Shame should be
internal as well as it is external. The fellow who is cheating on his
wife (for example) may never get caught if he is careful, but hopefully,
he may come to realize that is degrading himself. Hopefully, he will
come to understand that his sin, and his betrayal of trust, and his
disregard for his own family, and the damage he is doing to society make
him a lesser person—hopefully he will be ashamed of himself, even
without being caught. And, hopefully, his shame will help him to amend
As Saint Paul tells the Romans, the
fruit that we have from the things of which we should be ashamed is
Now, that may seem a bit strong at first. Other than murder itself, it
is hard for us to equate any one sin with death. We may be ashamed of
getting caught in a compromising position; we may even have that
internal disposition that keeps us from committing evils that we can get
away with. But it is hard for us to equate a few lies or some petty
theft with “death.”
But St. Paul is right—for two
reasons. First of all, if a sin or combination of sins is serious
enough to be mortal in nature, we lose sanctifying grace; we lose the
life of God within our souls—and that can be thought of as a spiritual
death—one that may literally cost us eternal life with God in heaven.
And even if our sins are relatively
minor, they still might be equated with death over a lifetime. Sins
tend to become habits. The fellow who gets away with a small sin is
less likely to avoid it in the future; and less likely to avoid larger
sins of the same nature.
So, shame can be a very positive
thing—something we don't want to lose from our society; something we
don't want to lose in our own lives.
We ought not to accept indifference
to evil in our culture. And we do have some control over that, even in
Our influence in politics may not be
great, but it should not be ignored. No political system is perfect,
but the system would work a whole lot better if people took enough
interest in things to be informed of the issues, and write enough
letters to officials, and support the right candidates.
No one can force us to watch
television programs or to spend our money on movies or books that
glorify bad behavior. No one can tell us who to associate with; what
kinds of friends to have, or what we may talk about. In personal
matters, evil should rarely go unopposed.
I am sorry to have to mention that a
recent encyclical gave many people several false ideas—the foremost of
which are—that the Commandments are merely “goals” to try to meet; that
some Commandments may be impossible for some people to obey; and that
it is permissible to break them as long as we are striving to keep them
at some time in the future.
Almost three years ago, four Cardinals of the Roman Church requested a
clarification of the encyclical—the clock is still ticking!
The reality, of course, is that the
Commandments are exactly that—“Commandments” and not “suggestions,” or
“goals.” The reality is that God’s grace is sufficient in keeping the
Commandments for all who strive to cooperate with that grace.
The reality is that breaking the Commandments is sinful in the present,
no matter what our expectations of the future might be.
And we need to oppose evil in the
place where we have the greatest influence. If we used to “yield to
uncleanness and iniquity,” we must “become slaves of justice unto
sanctification.” Every night we need to make an examination of
conscience, and get to Sacramental Confession regularly. We ought to
have a proper sense of shame. We need to oppose evil in the place where
we have the greatest influence—to oppose it in ourselves.