Homilette for Thursday, June 5, 2008

Memorial of St. Boniface, bishop and martyr

(Mark 12:28-34)

In a classic philosophical debate Socrates holds that knowledge of what is right results in a desire to do it. Aristotle disagrees claiming that weakness of the will can interfere with doing what one knows to be good. Anyone who has ever been given the choice between chocolate fudge and an apple for dessert should agree with Aristotle. What would Jesus say?

In the gospel today Jesus makes a telling comment to the scribe who congratulates him on his choice of the greatest commandment. He says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” One may interpret this statement as meaning that the scribe is not in the Kingdom because he does not profess faith in Jesus. Perhaps, but it is more likely that Jesus too recognizes the difference between knowing something as right and actually doing it. The scribe is not yet in the Kingdom because he only acknowledges the need to love God and neighbor. He still must humble himself to love.

Knowledge moves us along considerably on the road to the “good life.” It pinpoints what we should do, provides viable options, and assesses the risks of each alternative. But actually doing what is right – true morality – also requires will-power – the virtues of temperance, fortitude, and prudence. For example, young adults know they should practice abstinence from sexual intercourse to live rightly. But sitting with their partners on Saturday night, they need will-power to prevent being swamped by desire.

Homilette for Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wednesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Timothy 1:1-3; 6-12)

As we are about to begin the Jubilee Year of St. Paul, let us take a look at the first reading. The Second Letter to Timothy comprises one of the three so-called Pastoral Epistles. Biblicists have conferred this distinction because these letters deal with pastoral problems of the early Church. Because the problems appear to be related to times after the death of St. Paul, most biblicists believe them to be pseudonymous. That is, they were written by a person or persons other than Paul of Tarsus. The present letter, however, does not touch on pastoral problems to the same extent as I Timothy and Titus, the other two pastorals. For this reason it is regarded as written earlier than the other two and possibly containing historical data regarding Paul’s final days.

Pseudonymous or not, II Timothy has helped form the popular idea of Paul as a tireless apostle. Toward the end of the letter, it pictures Paul describing his struggle for authenticity: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” No doubt, these words have inspired many Christians to hold on to virtue until the end. Today’s passage should likewise inspire us to exert ourselves on behalf of Christ. Paul is said to prod Timothy to stir into flame the gift of God received through the imposition of hands. Although the gift here is probably related to Ordination, we can also think of it as dealing with Confirmation. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit to arrest vice and to bring about justice. This requires ceaseless effort that often leaves us exhausted. So from time to time we must rekindle the flame of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.