Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Homilies

"The Path to Selfless Love: Obedience and Sacrifice"
Homily for the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
March 6, 2011
Year A

Before he became pope, even before he was ordained a bishop, John Paul II used to spend a lot of time hearing confessions. He was also a professor of philosophy in the Catholic University of Lublin. The students there used to love going to confession with him, for two reasons. In the first place, he was full of compassion - he understood the difficulties involved in following Christ, so he was gentle and encouraging as he gave out spiritual advice. But, secondly, he was also full of wisdom. And so, whenever they had moral dilemmas or complicated problems, they would bring them to the confessional. There, Fr. Wojtyla, the future pope, would help clarify their difficulties and give trustworthy guidance. But even though he would willingly converse at great length about dilemmas and difficulties in the confessional, he would never force his own will on the penitents; he would only point the way. Once he felt that the person had honestly explained the situation and had come to understand what was at stake, he would simply finish by saying, “You must decide.”

The faith that we profess to believe is also a decision. It is a decision to follow to Christ, a conscious decision we have made based on our experiences of grace and our knowledge of Him. But Jesus points out to us in today’s gospel that even this decision can be flawed.

In the opening lines of our gospel reading the focus is on the exchange Jesus – the just judge – will have with evildoers. Interestingly enough, the sinners with whom this dialogue will take place are not those we would expect – mass murders, militant atheists, godless rulers, etc – rather he is addressing those people who live their whole lives as professed Christians. These are the people who cry out: “Lord, Lord,” they claim to do wonderful things in His name, never do anything terrible and yet Jesus says to them: “I never knew you.” The point is that religious confession is no substitute for a personal relationship, a personal friendship, with Jesus and the obligation to do the will of God in our lives. If our creed and our conduct are not in alignment, then our profession of Jesus as Lord is a not a true confession, it is not a true submission to His lordship. The mere fact that believers can do great things in the name of Jesus is an exercise of charismatic grace but is no proof that His grace has penetrated the heart. One goes on to his or her life of faith in God yet on their own terms – never allowing His grace to enter their hearts and never having a true and authentic encounter with Him – never experiencing a divine meeting. Again, Jesus is challenging us to go beyond the external practices of faith, to reach beyond simply going through the motions. He challenges us to meet Him; to encounter Him. But yet, in order to do so we have to rid ourselves of our self-interested attitudes and our selfishness. We must, in our own private prayer, open up our hearts to let Him speak to us. Therefore, two specific practices come to mind that can help us become more selfless: obedience and sacrifice.

Obedience to the will of God is important – obedience to His Word – found in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and in the teaching of the Church – because it is the foundation of our lives. Obedience is one of the most difficult of all the virtues because it is one of the toughest to follow. Yet it is in following the Word of God in obedience that leads to greater devotion in our lives. And what is devotion? Committed love, dedication, enthusiasm – this type of devotion means we are passionate about doing God’s will, as St. Therese of Lisieux once said: “becoming what He wants us to be.” It also involves sacrifice – and I don’t mean just doing penance – I mean the types of sacrifices that connect us to Christ’s own sacrifice, those things that will bring about in our lives a more self-less attitude – for at the heart of both the practice of obedience and sacrifice is love. This decision we must make as followers of Christ is not so much a decision to follow Him out of blind obedience – not knowing the reason for our actions – no, this is a decision to love and at the heart of this love lies our freedom. As Pope John Paul II exhorts us: “Do not be afraid to be holy! Have the courage and humility to present yourselves to the world determined to be holy, since full, true freedom is born from holiness. This aspiration will help you discover genuine love.”

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and we begin our 40-day journey of Lent. And so this Lenten season, for reasons of love, may we have the courage to put into practice the virtue of obedience, to make true sacrifices that will break the mundane, routine practice of faith and lead us to a personal encounter with Jesus, to true devotion, and be transformed in mind and heart.


Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Springfield, MA


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