The title of my homily this
Christmas is, “’Sin-itis’ and how to get rid of it.”
When you have a chronic or
serious illness—and you know you have a chronic or serious illness—you normally
become very interested in it (which is a good thing!).
And you become especially
interested in how to cure it (if there is a cure available out there).
Prior to December 23, 2010, for
example, I had no special interest in Parkinson’s Disease.That was something “out there,” so to speak.It was something Michael J. Fox had; it was
something some of my friends and parishioners had.I knew that researchers were working very
hard to find a cure.I prayed for them (for
all those doing morally acceptable research),
and I prayed for all those afflicted with the disease.
But I didn’t feel any great
urgency or compulsion to learn more about it and the treatments that were
available for it—until two days before Christmas in 2010 when the neurologist
told me I had it.
Then I suddenly got REALLY
INTERESTED in the subject!It became a
top priority, such that now rare is the day when I don’t go to “Google News”
and plug in “Parkinson’s Disease” to see what’s going on in the world of
research.I want to know if and when a cure
is found—and how to get it as soon as it becomes available.
I usually also ask the Lord in prayer
every day to grant me a healing if it’s his will—just in case he wants to take
the direct route in making me well.
A cure or a healing: either is
fine with me.
I’m not fussy!
Now some people have chronic or
serious illnesses, but they’re not at all interested in them.That’s
usually because they don’t know they have them.I now realize that I had Parkinson’s long
before I was ever diagnosed.Since I’ve
learned what the symptoms of the disease are, I realize that I had some of the
more minor ones as long as a decade ago.
“Well, thank you for sharing
these things with us, Fr. Ray, but what does all this have to do with
The answer is: Quite a lot.
You may be in perfect physical
health right now (and I hope you are); you may just have a few of those
middle-age aches and pains that can’t be avoided; or you may have a chronic or
serious illness like yours truly—it really doesn’t matter.Spiritually speaking, we’re all the same!Spiritually we’re all afflicted with the very
same disorder.If you want to make it
sound like a medical condition, you might choose to call it “sin-itis”. But this is not a physical disease; it’s a spiritual disorder—a sickness of the
soul—that we’ve all caught from Adam and Eve.(Obviously it’s highly contagious.)
Simply stated, it’s the condition
of being a sinner, who sins—every day.
Some people, unfortunately, don’t
know they have this disease—like I didn’t know I had Parkinson’s for many
years.Others don’t want to know they have it; and some, sad to say, don’t care
that they have it.
But that doesn’t change the fact
that they do!
It’s a universal condition.
And since it’s sin that messes up
our lives—the anger, the selfishness, the lust, the unforgiveness, the
materialism, etc.—we should be
extremely interested in finding the cure!
And there is a cure
available!That’s the good news.But the cure—the antidote—doesn’t come from a
purely human source!Because, it
can’t.You can’t cure yourself of “sin-itis,”
even if you’re a medical doctor; you can’t cure yourself of this spiritual illness
even if you’re a priest.
Because you’re not God and
neither am I!Only God can cure it; only
he can provide the antidote to this ailment.
And he has, through his divine
Son, Jesus Christ, born for us on Christmas Day!That’s what this feast is all about.
As the angel said to Joseph,
“[Your wife Mary] will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their
He came to do for us what we
could never do for ourselves.
Pope Francis described our human situation
perfectly, when he wrote these words in his recent apostolic exhortation: “The salvation which God offers us is the
work of his mercy.No human efforts, no
matter how good they may be, can enable us to merit such a gift.” (Evangelii
The name Jesus literally means
“Savior”—not “teacher,” not “guru,” not “philosopher,” not “all-around nice
guy”.His name signifies what he was,
first and foremost: the one who saves us
from our sins.
If we let him!
And that really is the key to the
whole process. In Titus 2 it says, “The
grace of God has appeared, saving all . . .”
Saving all!That means there’s
no other work that needs to be done to save a person—even the worst sinner on
planet earth—from his sins and the eternal consequences of those sins.By his passion, death and resurrection Jesus
has stored up enough antidote for everybody.
But we don’t
actually experience eternal salvation
unless we first access and then take the antidote—the cure—and then keep
taking it as often as we need it.
Someday, God willing, there will
a cure for Parkinson’s.But that cure
won’t do me any good whatsoever if I don’t go to the doctor to get it and then
take it—and take it as often as necessary.
Well, as Catholics, Jesus has
given us the means to access and receive from him the cure for sin-itis.He’s given it to us in the sacraments: first,
Baptism; and then, after Baptism, Confession.
Some of you here at this Mass
have probably not been to Confession in years.I encourage you to consider going.If you had a serious physical illness and a knowledgeable doctor told
you, “Here’s how you get cured,” you’d probably follow that doctor’s advice
I know I would!
All the more should we be
concerned with our souls and their health, since our souls will long outlast
If you’ve been away from the
sacrament for a long time, don’t worry, the priest will help you to make a good
confession.And if he doesn’t, go find
another priest!There are still plenty
of us around.
The powerful effect of confession
was illustrated beautifully for me last Thursday night after youth group.One of the teenage girls there said to me,
“Fr. Ray, I’ve got a good idea: I’ll trade you my sins right now for your absolution.”
(That was a very creative way to
ask me to hear her confession.)
I said to her, “Sounds like a
And it was—for her, because her “sin-itis”
was cured instantaneously.
Let me give the last word today
to our new Holy Father, who, when he was asked to describe himself at the
beginning of his papacy answered the interviewer by saying, “I am a sinner.”Do you remember that?Pope Francis knows he has “sin-itis,” but he
also knows how to access the cure.
And he does—often (which is why
he’s always smiling!).
Let me leave you with something
he said a couple of months ago in a talk he gave in St. Peter’s Square.It’s very appropriate for Christmas.He said:
“Jesus is all mercy, Jesus is all love: he is God made man. Each of us,
each one of us, is that little lost lamb, the coin that was mislaid; each one
of us is that son who has squandered his freedom on false idols, illusions of
happiness, and has lost everything. But God does not forget us, the Father
never abandons us. He is a patient father, always waiting for us! He respects
our freedom, but he remains faithful forever. And when we come back to him, he
welcomes us like children into his house, for he never ceases, not for one
instant, to wait for us with love. And his heart rejoices over every child who
returns. He is celebrating because he is joy. God has this joy, when one of us
sinners goes to him and asks his forgiveness.” (Pope Francis, excerpted
from Sunday Angelus, St. Peter’s Square, September 15, 2013)
May God give us all the grace to respond
to Pope Francis’ words and go to confession—and get rid of our “sin-itis”.
That’s an expression that St.
Paul uses in today’s second reading, which is taken from the first chapter of
his letter to the Romans.He writes,
“Through [Jesus Christ] we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring
about the obedience of faith.”
Now we know that this idea was
very important to Paul because 16 chapters later—at the very end of Romans—he
uses the exact same expression.He says, "To him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the
revelation of the mystery kept secret for long agesbut now manifested through the prophetic writings
and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to
bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God,
through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
It’s the thought he begins the
letter with, and it’s the thought he wants to leave us with as we finish the
My question is: Was he thinking
of Mary and Joseph when he wrote it?When
he was writing about “the obedience of faith,” were Mary and Joseph on his
They certainly could have
been—and I dare say they should have
been—because I can’t think of two people who demonstrated faithful obedience to
Almighty God more completely than they did.
Remember, neither Mary nor Joseph
understood all that we understand concerning the events surrounding the birth of
Jesus.Neither of them saw the complete
picture.Neither fully understood what God was doing in them and through them.But whenever Mary and Joseph did come to
recognize what God wanted them to do in a particular situation, they obeyed
God’s instruction—immediately, and regardless of the cost.
Joseph, for example, as we heard
in today’s gospel, did not initially understand how Mary got pregnant.But once he did understand, he acted as God
wanted him to act—even though it probably tarnished his image in the eyes of
The same was true for Mary.She was pregnant during the betrothal period, which typically lasted
for several months.During that period
of time a couple was actually considered married according to Jewish
law—although they did not live together as husband and wife.
Which means, quite simply, that Mary
was pregnant at a time when she should not have been!
Can you imagine what the talk
around Nazareth was like concerning this situation?The gossip must have been flying around all
over the place!
“I always thought Mary was such a
good girl.Do her parents, Joachim and
Ann, approve of this?Do they know
what’s going on?”“And how about
Joseph?Why is he still with that
woman?Why didn’t he do the honorable
thing and divorce her?”
Obviously, for both Mary and
Joseph, the obedience of faith was much more important than the gossip of their
And this is what we see
throughout the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke: constant obedience
rooted in trusting faith.After Jesus’
birth, for example, Joseph was told by the angel in a dream to take our Lord
and his mother down to Egypt and to stay there.Matthew describes the scene in this way (and here I quote): “Joseph got
up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt.”
The implication there is that Joseph
acted IMMEDIATELY!He didn’t even wait
until morning.Once God’s will became
clear to him, he carried it out without any hesitation whatsoever.
He acted just as quickly and
decisively when the angel told him to take Mary and Jesus and to go back to
Israel after Herod had died.
We see the same faith-filled
obedience in Mary:
Gabriel said, “Mary, Almighty God
is asking you to be the instrument through which his Son, Jesus, will be born
into the world.”
Mary answered, “Be it done unto
me according to your word.”
And, of course, given the fact
that our Blessed Mother was without sin, this was her attitude in every
situation of her life, not just in the events surrounding her Son’s birth.
“Be it done unto me according to
your word.”In other words, “Whatever
you want, God, I want.”
The kind of faithful obedience
that we see in Mary and Joseph is something we don’t see enough of in our world
today—as Pope Francis has been reminding us in many of his recent talks and
writings.There he’s been making the
point that Christians need to act according to what they say they believe!
Our Holy Father is well aware of
the fact that, nowadays—unfortunately—faith and obedience are often treated as
if they are separate and distinct realities.So people think they can profess faith without having to obey: “I
believe, but I hate that person who hurt me;” “I believe, but I steal from my
employer;” “I believe, but I cheat on my wife;” “I believe, but I don’t pay my
employees a just wage;” “I believe, but I contracept;” “I believe, but I don’t
care about the less fortunate;” “I believe, but I won’t forgive”—and on and on
the list goes.
And you’ll notice that those who
say these kinds of things will always have a “good excuse” for the
Is it any wonder that so many
people do not experience great blessings from the Lord?
The obedience of faith is what eventually brings us God’s greatest
Because of the obedience of faith
that was present in the lives of Mary and Joseph, the world was blessed with
the birth of its Savior—and through that Savior we have been blessed with the
hope of eternal salvation!We’ve been
blessed with forgiveness and mercy and the truth that sets us free—the truth
that leads us to eternal life!
And these blessings that come
from the obedience of faith can come to us even after we’ve first been
disobedient (which is very good news, since all of us are disobedient, at least
from time to time).
It reminds me of a young woman I
know, who, 18 years ago—back in 1995—got pregnant out of wedlock.She was (and is) Catholic; she has good
Catholic parents, so she knew the right thing to do in that situation.And she did the right thing—what her faith
required her to do: she took the child to term, and gave birth to a beautiful,
healthy baby boy named Eric.
Then she made another difficult
decision and gave Eric up for adoption, believing that it would be better for
him to be raised by two loving parents in a good, stable Catholic home.
She arranged the adoption through
Catholic Social Services, with the understanding that, if the adoptive parents
and Eric were in agreement, there could eventually be some contact—but it would
have to be through the agency.
Thankfully, there was some
contact over the past 18 years between them all (letters and such) and it was
But over the last several months,
a whole new dimension has been added, by the grace of God.
(Eric, by the way, graduated from
high school this past June, with honors.From what I know of him, he’s a fine young man with a very bright
future.He’s now a freshman in college
with a double major!)
But anyway, several months ago,
his birth mom sent him, through the agency, the journal she kept during her
pregnancy, in which she wrote about her experience, and about her love and
hopes for her child.
Well, it seems that Eric was so
moved by what he read that he said, “Forget about the agency, I’m going to
contact my mother directly!”
And he did, via Facebook (yes,
Facebook does have some good uses!).
Since then there has been
personal, face-to-face contact and visits—and many blessings for everyone
involved: the birth mom, her parents, the adoptive parents, and, of course,
Let me close my homily now by
reading to you the brief note that Eric sent to his birth mother this past
Mother’s Day.This shows how her
“obedience of faith” 18 years ago, has been the source of countless blessings
from God—and continues to be so.This
was written, obviously, before they had physically met.Eric wrote:
Though I have never met you, I know that you love me more than anything
in the world.I just wanted to let you
know that I love you too.I am grateful
for your decision 18 years ago when you became a mommy.And you gave me up so that our lives would be
fulfilling.Look at where we are now and
what we have done.Separate paths slowly
becoming one.Happy Mother’s Day,
Somewhere in heaven, my brothers
and sisters, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mary and Joseph—and Jesus—are
That was the thought I had as I reflected on today’s gospel
reading from Matthew 11.
The one who had pleasure was Herod (who’s not explicitly
mentioned in the passage, but who was definitely in the background of the
story); the one who had joy (at least at the end of the scene) was John the
Here we have John in prison for
telling King Herod the truth about his adulterous relationship with his
brother’s wife, Herodias.Obviously for
the king, the immoral activity associated with this relationship was extremely pleasurable—which is why he had
absolutely no interest in giving it up.But
that shouldn’t surprise us because it seems that Herod was a man who was
literally “addicted” to pleasure.In
fact it was precisely this addiction which would eventually lead him to have
John executed.The Bible tells us that
Herod experienced intense pleasure
one day while watching Herodias’ daughter dance provocatively.Then he made a very foolish promise: he
promised the girl that he would give her whatever she wanted—even to half of
his kingdom!She immediately went to her
evil mother and said, “What should I ask for?”Herodias wasted no time in responding.She knew that this was her chance to get rid of her enemy for good, so
she said to her daughter, “You go to the king, and you ask for the head of John
the Baptist on a platter.”
Now I’m sure that after John’s
murder Herodias and the king experienced many more moments of great, intense,
overwhelming pleasure.I’m not so
certain that they’re still experiencing any pleasure—but I’ll leave that issue
for another homily.
The relevant question for this
homily is: Did the man also have joy?We
can discern from the witness of Scripture that Herod experienced a great deal
of pleasure in his earthly life—but pleasure and joy are not the same thing!
Sometimes they coexist, but very
often they don’t.
In fact, it’s possible for a
person to experience a deep and abiding joy, while at the same time
experiencing very little pleasure or none at all—just as it’s possible to experience
intense pleasure without any real joy.
I hope this doesn’t sound strange
to you. But I know that it might,
because in contemporary American society right now we are often given the
message that pleasure and joy are synonymous.
But they’re not!
Pleasure is a positive bodily and
emotional response to something.But
it’s only temporary.For example, I derive great pleasure from
eating as long as I’m eating—and as
long as I’m eating good and tasty food.I derive pleasure from sitting on a beach in the summer, as long as it’s
July, and I’m actually sitting in my beach chair and the sun is shining down on
me (although the pleasure can be reproduced to some extent in December if I use
my imagination).I derive pleasure from
sitting in front of a television set watching the Green Bay Packers win
football games (which means, of course, that I have not experienced too much
pleasure watching football games this year!).
Now, in and of itself, pleasure
is not a bad thing.The problem comes either
when the object of our pleasure is morally evil (like the death of an innocent
person such as John the Baptist), or when the desire for pleasure becomes the
driving force in our life (as it was for King Herod).
Many people today are addicted to
pornography for precisely this reason: they desire the pleasure that comes from viewing it—and that becomes the driving
force in their lives.But they very
quickly discover that the pleasure is only temporary, so they have to view the
porn continually—or whenever they have the opportunity.
So much for pleasure.Joy, on the other hand, is different.Joy is a state of the heart based, believe it
or not, on desires that areunsatisfied.Which means that as long as our desire is not
fully satisfied, our joy can persist.It
doesn’t have to be a temporary phenomenon.
(Here I'm presuming, of course, that the object of our desire is good.)
This insight about joy is one that C.S. Lewis
had. And I will admit that when I first read it awhile back, it didn’t make any
sense to me.It sounds like a
contradiction in terms, doesn’t it?I
mean, how can joy come to us in this life from unsatisfied desires?I
always thought that joy came when our wants and desires were satisfied and fulfilled.
But then I stopped and really
reflected on it, and I came to see that, as usual, C.S. Lewis was right!
I’ll now illustrate the truth of
his insight with two examples: one from our modern world; the other from
today’s gospel reading.
Consider, first of all, your
typical 5-year-old during the month of December.Needless to say, as December 25 approaches,
that child’s joy becomes more and
of an unsatisfied desire!All
through the month of December that child dreams of what he will find under the
Christmas tree on Christmas morning!He
longs for that new toy or video game or bike (or all of the above!).He doesn’t possess it yet—his desire is not yet satisfied—but his
heart is filled with joy because he knows (or at least he strongly believes)
that it’s coming soon!
And the irony is, five hours
after he gets what he wants on Christmas morning, his joy will dissipate and
he’ll probably be bored: “Mom, dad, there’s nothing to do!”
This, by the way, is one of the
biggest differences between life on earth and life in heaven.Here, joy often quickly decreases when our
desires get satisfied, but in heaven the object of our desire—God—is infinite, so the joy never ends!Our desire for perfect love, perfect life and
perfect truth is continually fulfilled there for all eternity.
Which brings me to the example
from today’s gospel that illustrates this idea of C.S. Lewis that joy is based
on unsatisfied desires: John the
John believed that he was called
to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.And for many years he presumed that the
Messiah was none other than his cousin Jesus.John desired the fulfillment
of all the hopes of Israel, consequently I’m sure he experienced incredible joy
as he was seeing God’s plan unfold before his eyes (in fact, in one of the
gospels John explicitly talks about the joy that was in his heart during his
But then, for a short time, I
think he lost that joy—or at least some of it.It seems that after John was arrested and thrown into prison by Herod he
began to wonder whether or not he had gotten it right.He began to wonder whether or not his cousin
Jesus really was the Messiah they were all waiting for.I think that’s probably because John, like
most Jews of the time, expected the Messiah to be more forceful and
heavy-handed than Jesus was.
So he sent his disciples to our
Lord to ask him the big question: “Are you the one?—are you the one who is to
come, or should we look for another?”
Jesus answered by saying, in
effect, “Go back and remind my cousin that I’m doing all those incredible
things that Isaiah the prophet said many years ago that the Messiah would do
[in passages like the one we heard today in our first reading]—I’m healing the
blind, the sick, the lame, lepers.I’m
raising the dead, and I’m preaching the good news to the poor.Blessed—happy—joyful—is the one who takes no
offence at me.”
John the Baptist never left that
prison cell—until the day he was beheaded by King Herod and was carried
out.He experienced very little, if any,
pleasure during his remaining days on
But he was definitely filled with
joy!I mean, how could he not be?!!His desire—his
hope—for the redemption of Israel had been rekindled!His purpose had been reaffirmed!He now knew that his work had not been in
vain.He now knew beyond a shadow of a
doubt that his Savior had come!And his desire—his
unfulfilled desire—to see the Savior
complete his work became the source of John’s joy.
He was like a 5-year-old child on
the morning of December 24!And I
believe John the Baptist stayed that way even as he went to his death.
I mention all this today because
we live in a world right now where many people relentlessly pursue pleasure
(much of it sinful!).And so they spend
their entire lives like King Herod: going from one pleasure to another without ever
experiencing any real joy—and they hurt themselves and other people in the
The lesson of this homily is that
if we really want to experience a joy that lasts, we need to cultivate in our
hearts a deep desire for heaven (the
kind of desire the great saints had)!Joy, remember, comes from unsatisfied
desires. Well, the desire for heaven
will not be satisfied until we leave this life.But that’s actually good news, because if we have the unsatisfied desire
for eternal life deep within us it means we can always have joy (or at least a measure of joy) within us—even
on the worst of days.
Actually, he didn’t wear the kind
that many of us wear (the bifocals we wear weren’t even developed until the late 18th
century, courtesy of Ben Franklin).
John the Baptist’s bifocals were
of the spiritual variety.
Now why do I say that?
Well, very simply, it’s because bifocals
help you to see things both up close and
at a distance.(And when you get to a
certain age—like yours truly!—you desperately need that kind of help.)Bifocals, in other words, help you to see
everything. They help you to see the complete picture, not just one dimension of
And that’s the way it was for
John the Baptist, spiritually speaking.When John looked at another human being—and
when John looked at himself—he saw the complete picture.That is to say, he saw both the good and the bad.He saw someone who
was created in the image and likeness of God (and in that sense they were
“good”); but at the same time he saw somebody who was a sinner in need of
forgiveness and mercy.
It wasn’t “either-or,” it was
All this is clear from today’s
gospel reading from Matthew 3.There
John predicts that the Messiah, who is about to begin his earthly ministry,
will someday baptize people “in the Holy Spirit”.That prediction alone tells us a lot about
how John saw himself and others.God
does not pour forth his Spirit into beings that are evil; he pours forth his
Spirit into beings who have value, beings whom he loves, beings who are created
in his image and likeness.
So here we have an implicit
affirmation by John of the fundamental goodness of the human person.
But at the very same time John the
Baptist also recognized the reality of human sin—in himself and in everyone
else—which is why he was there at the Jordan River baptizing people and telling
them to repent!
He wore spiritualbifocals—always!
The problem with the Pharisees and
the Sadducees was that they saw only the goodness in themselves and not the
sin.They saw themselves only as “sons
of Abraham,” and completely forgot about the fact that they were also the “sons
of Adam”.Their self-understanding was
only one dimensional—until John enlightened them by calling them a “brood of
Spiritually speaking, they were a
lot like I am—physically—when I have my “TV glasses” or my “computer glasses”
on.You know, I used to own one pair of
glasses (actually two if you count my prescription sunglasses)—and they were
good both for distance and for reading.Then I reached my mid-40s and things got much more complicated, as my
doctor, Sam Montalto, sadly predicted they would.So now I have 5 pairs of glasses!I have my bifocal sunglasses; I have my
progressive bifocals without the line; I have my bifocals with the line that I
use for Mass.And I have two other pairs:
my so-called “computer glasses” which are perfect for everything within 4 feet
of my face.Beyond that, everything is a
big blur!(Obviously I use them
primarily when I’m working on my computer.)And I have my so-called “TV glasses” which are only good for
distance.I need them because it’s hard
to watch television from a recliner with bifocals!(Those of you who have them know what I’m
talking about.Those of you who are too
young to know what I’m talking about—don’t worry, someday you will!)
As I said a few moments ago,
spiritually speaking the Pharisees and Sadducees were a lot like me when I have
either my computer or TV glasses on: they only saw half of reality.They
only saw their goodness, not their sin.
Which makes them like a lot of
people in our world today.
This is one of the reasons why
some men and women don’t go to confession—ever!They don’t think they need it.Like
these religious leaders of the Jewish people, they have no trouble whatsoever seeing
their value and goodness as human beings created in God’s image and likeness,
but at the very same time they’re almost completely blind to their faults and
The other big reason, of course,
why some people don’t go to confession is that they have the exact opposite
problem: They see their sin, but not
their worth!They know the evil that
they’ve done; oh yes, they’re crystal clear about that!But, unfortunately, for some reason, they
don’t think that they can be forgiven (even though they can be).Or perhaps they don’t think that God wants to forgive them, even though he
In fact, he wants to forgive them
much, much more than they want to be forgiven!
To both these groups of people,
John the Baptist would say, “Take them off!Take off the ‘spiritual computer glasses,’ take off the ‘spiritual TV
glasses,’ and put on a nice pair of ‘spiritual bifocals’!And don’t ever take them off!Know your dignity and goodness, yes—but also
know and admit your need for forgiveness and mercy.Believe it or not, doing both those things is the only way to
find happiness; doing both those
things is the only way to find inner peace!”
If you’ve heard the message of this
homily today and do plan to
follow John the Baptist’s advice, let me now remind you that both Fr. Giudice
and I will be hearing confessions every Saturday of the season of Advent from
3:30 until 4:30pm here at St. Pius.The
two of us will also be taking part (along with several other priests) in a
special ‘day of confessions’ at Immaculate Conception Church on Saturday, December
21.So I will see you on one of those occasions—provided, of course, that I
have on the right pair of my glasses, and provided that you have on your