25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 20, 2015
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 20, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
All of us love little children–there’s something in each of them that we find irresistible.
And the heart of this is, I think, their innocence.
We look at their faces and we see an openness to all the good things life has to offer.
Even in the faces of misbehaving children, we search for this innocence
–perhaps that’s what grieves us so when we see a misbehaving child,
or a child who has had their innocence stolen from them.
It’s the same thing when Our heavenly Father looks at us.
He looks at us longing to see the innocence he gave us in the beginning:
that openness to all the good things that the life he created for us has to offer.
And we can imagine the grief he feels when he sees that we’ve lost our innocence.
And we have lost our innocence, in a deep and profound way.
At the beginning of the book of Genesis—the first 3 chapters—
we see that God created man with child-like innocence:
filled with wonder and awe of God and his creation,
and in perfect peace with God, with others, and with himself.
The great theologians of the Church have called this original state of being
And they call what follows “original sin”: when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God,
and as a result lost their innocence and became somehow corrupted.
And that corruption extended throughout human existence:
we were no longer at peace with God, each other, or with ourselves.
We call this effect of the original sin
—this disharmony with ourselves— “concupiscence.”
And while we won’t find this word in scripture, we will find the reality that it names.
For example, in today’s 2nd reading we hear St. James tells us:
“Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?”
“Concupiscence,” or “lost innocence,” is what we call the fact that
our passions are constantly in conflict with each other.
And by “passions” I mean essentially the feelings associated with
natural desires and attractions we have inside of us.
The passions in themselves are good things—God created us with them.
So, for example,
we like to eat so we can be healthy,
but we also like to eat because it tastes good.
But sometimes our desire to eat for our health,
conflicts with our desire to eat food that we enjoy.
It’s a very real problem: something as simple as watching our weight
is the result of an internal ~war of passions among our members~,
or concupiscence, or lost innocence.
So, as St. James says,
–you covet or want what you cannot possess
–you want to possess things, but you don’t ask for them
–or you ask, but you ask for things that are bad for you.
This is all a result, in part, of original sin and the loss of innocence by our first parents,
Adam and Eve,
and it passes down from one generation of mankind to the next,
as part of our fallen nature.
And it doesn’t stop inside of us as a person, or with our families
—it is the root of all disputes
between people in society and between nations,
And we see it all throughout history.
In fact today’s Gospel tells us how it happened one day 2000 years ago.
It tells us that once when they walking with Jesus the apostles were
“[arguing] among themselves on the way who was the greatest.”
And then it tells us:
“Taking a child, [Jesus] placed him in the their midst,
and putting his arms around him, [Jesus] said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.”
In St. Matthew’s version of this incident he adds:
“unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
But how do we–who are no longer in any way innocent children—
become “like children”?
Nicodemus asked Jesus a similar question elsewhere in the Gospel:
“How can a person once grown old be born again?”
Jesus’ answer is simple and direct:
“no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
Only by the re-birth of baptism in Jesus Christ
and the power of the Spirit he gives us through the sacraments,
can we become like little children.
Only by receiving his grace, that is, and cooperating with it.
Now, we have to be careful:
being “Child-like” is not the same thing as being “child-ish.”
“Child-ish” is what we are
when we act like children who have no control over their desires.
–like the apostles arguing about who’s the greatest,
or like children arguing over a toy.
On the other hand, to be child-like is not to be naïve like a child:
it doesn’t mean we have to forget everything we’ve learned,
all of our maturity and experience.
What being child-like or innocent is,
is taking all those gifts acquired over the years
and placing them in the context of innocence:
seeing them with the eyes of God,
applying them without a trace of sin or confusion.
St. James tells us today that:
“the wisdom from above is first of all pure [or innocent].”
In other words, to be truly wise is to see without the confusion and corruption of sin,
since sin is nothing less than a corruption of the truth.
St. James goes on to say God’s wisdom is “peaceable and gentle”:
it calmly sees things without the confusion of
the “passions that make war within” us.
He also says that wisdom is not “inconstant” or “insincere”:
wisdom is consistent in performance and in attitude:
it is, in other words, absolutely logical and well ordered.
Finally, we read that the wisdom of God is “compliant,” or “docile”:
it is open to hear the word of God, and to obey his will.
That’s not to say it is blind or stupid:
but trusting in the infinite wisdom of the God who made us.
Imagine if Adam and Eve had had that trust in God in the garden
or if Judas had had that trust in Jesus.
Now imagine if we were wise like this: if you were truly innocent and child-like.
A husband and wife could calmly listen to each other and
clearly understand each other’s needs
and see the right and perfect response to those needs.
You could see the purpose and goodness of work and study,
and feel neither oppressed nor consumed by it,
but rather find joy and satisfaction in it.
You could see the real purpose and the true meaning of sexuality and marriage
and be a slave neither to lust nor to selfishness,
but live in the freedom and happiness
of loving as God created Adam and Eve
and all men and women to love from the very beginning.
You could see the errors of sin around you
neither being corrupted by it, nor drawn to hate the poor confused sinner.
And what would all this mean to society at large if everyone could return to innocence:
–injustice would be eradicated, as would war and violence,
and hatred, greed and envy
and every form of selfishness.
Of course the world is not like that–yet.
But Jesus calls us to be like that right now,
and in our hearts we all want this for ourselves and for our families.
How do we do this: how do we restore the innocence?
Very simply: we unite ourselves to the Cross of Christ,
on which Christ reversed the sin of Adam by His own perfect obedience.
And we join Christ in his perfect obedience to the Father.
And we receive the grace that pours forth from the Cross,
most especially in the Eucharist.
And we cooperate with that grace, and we become compliant to His teachings.
And by His grace we work to remove all the sins from our personal lives,
and we remove the corrupting influence of the sins around us,
including the corrupting influence
of sinful relationships, jobs and entertainment.
And we approach every detail of our lives with
innocence, peace, compliance, mercy, constancy and sincerity.
Children are our most precious gift:
and their most precious quality is their God-given innocence.
We look at the innocence of children and we grow sad because we see
what we once were, and what we could have been;
how child-ish we are, and how child-like we are not.
But we also look at them and find hope:
as we see what we can be again, today and always, by God’s grace.
Today Jesus places the innocent child in our midst, and tells us
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” He says, “let me help you become like this child and enter the kingdom
–turn to me, and return to innocence.”