Sunday, August 03, 2003

St. Paul: The Pagan Life Begins In the Mind!

(Eighteenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on August 3, 2003 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Ephesians 4: 17-24.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eighteenth Sunday 2003]

Our second reading today was taken from Ephesians, chapter 4. There St. Paul writes these very important words: “Brothers and sisters, I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do [in other words, as the pagans do], in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart.”

As Fr. Francis Martin and others have rightly pointed out, St. Paul is telling us here that the pagan life actually begins in the mind: it begins, in other words, with how a person thinks—not with how a person acts. Of course, if a person does think like a pagan—that is, like an unbeliever—then he will certainly end up living like an unbeliever. (St. Paul also makes that clear in this chapter.)

Now I hope you realize what all this means, my brothers and sisters: it means that it’s possible for a baptized, professed Christian to be a pagan at heart. Oh yes, the person’s name may be in the baptismal register at the local parish rectory—he may even come to Mass every Sunday—but on the practical level he will be no different from those who do not know the Lord, because his thoughts will be guided and shaped by the world and not by the Word of God.

Let me give you a few concrete examples now of how a contemporary pagan (baptized or unbaptized) thinks, and how a true Christian thinks.

A pagan (baptized or unbaptized) says, “It’s my body, and I’ll do what I want with it.”

A true Christian says, “My body is a gift from God. As St. Paul tells me in 1 Corinthians 6, ‘You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within. . . . So glorify God in your body.’ And that’s what I try to do.”

A pagan says, “It’s free speech.” (He usually says this to try to justify immorality or blasphemy in what he watches or listens to.)

A Christian says, “I will use my gift of freedom to do what’s right and to pursue what’s good. As St. Peter tells me in his first letter, ‘Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cloak for vice.’”

A pagan says, “Homosexuality is not immoral, and anyone who says that it is is a homophobe! Homosexuality is simply an alternative lifestyle.”

A Christian says, “Homosexual activity is contrary to the natural law and the teaching of Scripture. As it says in Leviticus 18, ‘You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; such a thing is an abomination.’ But even though I hate this sin, I love and respect the sinner as a person created in God’s image and likeness—although I will never support his sin in any way. I love and respect him too much to do that.”

A pagan—specifically a baptized one—says, “I am a Catholic, but I don’t accept all the official teachings of the Church.”

A Christian—specifically a Catholic Christian—says, “I am a Catholic, and I accept everything the Church authoritatively teaches as revealed by God. I accept these teachings, because the voice of the Church is the voice of Christ on earth, and Jesus Christ is the Truth! To reject the Church’s teaching is ultimately to reject Christ himself. And I always remember what Jesus said, ‘Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown before my Father in heaven.’” (Mt. 10: 33)

Now I could go on with many other examples, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Concerning the ones I just shared, let me ask you: Did you identify more with the pagan or with the Christian? Whose words would be more likely to come out of your mouth in casual conversation with family or friends?

Answering those questions, my brothers and sisters, will help you to determine where your thoughts are at right now—whether they’re with the Lord, or with the pagan world. And knowing where your thoughts are at, will help to determine where your soul is at—in other words, whether your soul is currently in the state of grace and “on the road” to eternal life.

Let us pray at this Mass that all our thoughts will get “with the Lord”—and remain with the Lord—so that we will live the faith we profess, and so that our souls will be saved on the Day of Judgment.