Sunday, September 29, 2019

It’s Not Just a Competition—it’s a Fight!

(Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on September 30, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Amos 6:1-7; Psalm 146:7-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-sixth Sunday 2019]

It’s not just a competition—it’s a fight!

That’s my message to you today in one line (of course, the homily will be slightly longer than that!).

The word “competition” can describe many different types of activities.  A football game, for example, is certainly a competition—but so is a game of scrabble or a game of tiddlywinks!  A fight, on the other hand, is a very specific kind of competition, namely a VIOLENT ONE!  A fighter’s intention when he enters the ring, as we all know, is to knock his opponent out—to render his opponent unconscious—to put his opponent into a physical condition where he’s incapable of doing any more harm.

Now, why do I mention this today?  It’s because of our second reading—that passage we just heard from 1 Timothy 6.

First, a little background is in order. In the early 1990s, a new version of the New American Bible was published.  It contained a revised and re-translated New Testament (for the most part, the Old Testament remained the same in both the old and new editions).

This revised New American translation is the one that we use for our New Testament readings here at Mass on Sundays.  It’s been that way for a couple of decades now.

I do not know who the translators were who worked on this new edition of the New American Bible—I couldn’t tell you any of their names—but I can tell you one thing about them with absolute certainty: when they did their translating THEY DID NOT KEEP IN MIND THE DISTINCTION I JUST SHARED WITH YOU BETWEEN A COMPETITION AND A FIGHT!

Look again at that text from 1 Timothy 6.  There Paul says to Timothy (and, by extension, to all of us): “Compete well for the faith”—or at least that’s how it’s translated in this revised New American version.

Compete well for the faith” . . . Doesn’t that sound inspiring?  Isn’t that a powerful line?  Doesn’t it just make you want to go out and conquer the world for Jesus?

Well, if it does, God bless you—because it does absolutely nothing for me!  To me that line sounds blah—and lifeless—and wimpy!  It’s as if St. Paul were comparing the spiritual challenges of this life to a game of scrabble or tiddlywinks! 

I like the way this line was translated in the older version of the New American Bible—which is also the way it’s translated in the New Revised Standard Version and the King James Version and just about every other English version that’s out there! 

It reads: “Fight the good fight of faith!”

Now there’s a verse that has some power and conviction behind it!  There’s a verse that conveys the real truth of what this life is about for the true believer!  There’s a verse which makes it crystal clear that ultimately this life is not a friendly game of tiddlywinks with satan; it’s a fight of faith—a fight in which someone wants to knock us out—permanently!  This is why St. Peter says in his first letter, “Stay sober and alert.  Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, solid in your faith.”

Now the good news is this is a fight we can win—by the grace of God, through faith.  (Peter makes that clear in this verse; Paul certainly believed that as well.)

But to win the fight we’ve first got to know that we’re in a fight—a fight for our soul!

And the fight is not primarily with those worldly and ungodly people out there who are actively promoting moral evils like abortion and sexual promiscuity (although it definitely does include opposition to those evils).

In my attempt to fight my “good fight of faith,” for example, my most troublesome opponent is not the woman who wrote an unkind note to me last weekend because I spoke the truth about homosexual activity and transgenderism in my homily. My most troublesome opponents are not the folks at Planned Parenthood or the pro-abortion politicians in our government who annoy me constantly.

In my attempt to live out this Scripture passage from 1 Timothy 6 on a daily basis, my most difficult opponent is me!  And that’s the way it will always be until the day I die!

By the same token, your most difficult opponent in your “fight of faith” (whether you realize it or not) is YOU!

You see, we each have a unique set of inner temptations and inner struggles that are constantly pulling us away from Jesus Christ.  These are the forces that we must constantly fight against! 

The inner temptations relate to the 7 deadly sins: pride, lust, greed, gluttony, anger, envy and sloth.

The inner struggles we have are rooted in the circumstances of our lives and the defects in our personalitiesSome of us, for example, have to battle moodiness; some of us tend to make rash judgments; some of us tend to lose our tempers easily; some of us tend to hold grudges—those are just a few possible personality defects.

But don’t feel too bad, because even the great saints of the past have had these inner struggles!  St. Paul had his “thorn in the flesh,” which he spoke about in 2 Corinthians 12; Thomas the apostle was prone to doubt; Peter’s weakness appears to have been his hot temper.

For St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) it was the spiritual darkness she had to deal with for many years.   That was one of the areas of her life where she had to fight her good fight of faith.

And it wasn’t easy, as we know from the things she wrote over the years to her spiritual director.

But she did it—and she won!

She was victorious—through Jesus and his saving grace—in her personal fight of faith.

We can also be victorious in ours—if we do what she and the great saints did and go on the offensive in the fight!  That’s key! We go on the offensive when we make our relationship with Jesus Christ the most important relationship in our life, and when we actively pursue the virtues, some of which St. Paul mentions in this passage: “righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.” 

This, by the way, is the purpose of the ChristLife program that we’ll be starting here at St. Pius in a few weeks.  It’s designed to help you to go on the offensive, and become a better fighter in your own personal fight of faith.

And that’s extremely important to do, my brothers and sisters (to become a better fighter), because this is one fight—one competition—that you definitely do NOT want to lose!