Dead to Sin and Living for God in Christ Jesus, 6th Sunday after Pentecost (EF), July 16, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Extraordinary Form
July 16, 2017
Rom 6:3-11, Mk 8:1-9

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

Today in the Epistle St. Paul helps us to see the extraordinary difference that is supposed to happen in a Christian by baptism. Immediately before today’s passage, St. Paul, after describing that where “sin increased, grace overflowed all the more,” asks whether for this reason, “Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound?” If God’s mercy superabounds where sin abounds, why, St. Paul says, shouldn’t we just “sin boldly” so that God may respond by pouring out his mercy even more?

He replies by saying, “How can we who died to sin yet live in it?”

That brings us to today’s passage and allows us to understand it more deeply by knowing its context. This is the passage that in the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite is proclaimed as the New Testament reading in the most important Mass of the year, the Easter Vigil. It’s the passage that is read at most baptisms. It’s the passage that is read at so many funerals. That’s how central and synthetic it is meant to be in the Christian life, in your life, in mine.

In it, St. Paul describes first that when we become a Christian we die by entering into Christ’s death. He says, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?,” responding, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death.” He goes on to explain, “We have grow in union with him through a death like his. … We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin, since a dead person has been absolved from sin.”

But that is only part of the story. We haven’t just died. We have also been raised from the dead. St. Paul tells us that our spiritual death happened so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life,” by being “united with [Christ] in the resurrection” and “liv[ing] with him.”

He finishes by describing for us the moral consequence of all of this: “Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”

The Christian life involves these two elements: first, being dead to sin; second, living for God in Christ Jesus. It doesn’t involve presumptuously persisting in sin so that God’s grace may abound. It means seeking to eliminate sin, killing it, metaphorically plucking out our eyes and chopping off our hands and feet if they lead us to sin, as Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount. Are we dead to sin? Are we cutthroat with regard to any sinful habits we have, seeking to eliminate them more than a struggling small business owner seeks to eliminate what is dragging his company into the red and toward bankruptcy? Do we seek to eliminate even the near occasions of sin? Or, on the other hand, do we keep sin alive, by revisiting the situations of sin like an alcoholic visits a bar, readily indulging what we know poisons and kills our soul and our communion with the Lord? Do we come regularly to receive the Lord’s help in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to restore our soul to its baptismal splendor and give us his help to finish the job and stamp out the embers of sin? There are some Christians who go through life abounding in sin without much contrition or any at all, who break several of the commandments routinely without compunction, who basically live like those who do not know Christ live, some of whom think that the Church’s pastoral response should involve building bridges to them not to draw them from sin to holiness, but to meet and confirm and even bless them in sinful lifestyles. No. To be a serious Christian means to seek to eliminate each and every toxin of sin in a determined way out of love for God, love for others and love for ourselves, because sin is spiritually (and sometimes physically) suicidal, fratricidal and ultimately Deicidal.

But it’s not enough to eliminate sin. “Repenting” is just the first step. The second is “believing in the Good News” in such a way that we live for God in Christ Jesus. Is that a fitting description of our life: that we are living for God in Christ? Or are we living for money, for fame, for human love, for food and drink, for our favorite sports team to win a championship, for the conclusion of our favorite television series, for a change in political office — in short, are we living primarily for anything or anyone other than God? A Christian, St. Paul says, through baptism and the sacraments is meant to live a “newness of life,” a newness that never grows old, because God is ever new, the same yesterday, today and forever. God constantly seeks to give us new wineskins to receive ever new wine of his overflowing grace, but many times some of us prefer to live “same old, same old.” Today St. Paul is sounding an alarm clock, giving us a wake-up call, and reminding us of who we are, of the power of the Sacraments we’ve received, and the consequences those gifts are supposed to have in our life.

If we are alive for God in Christ Jesus, then many things will flow. I’d like to make two applications based on today’s Gospel.

The first is to charity, to our cooperation with God in loving our neighbor together with him. In today’s Gospel, we see that there was a vast, famished crowd following Jesus, hanging on his word for three straight days. Jesus’ heart burst with compassion on them and he worried that they might collapse on their way home if they didn’t eat anything, for most did not live “around the corner,” but would have traveled dozens of miles to be with him. When the disciples asked, “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?,” Jesus replied, “How many loaves do you have?” The one who created all the fruit bearing trees, all the fish in the Sea of Galilee, all of the animals throughout ancient Palestine, the one who fed the Israelites in the desert with manna and quails from heaven for 40 years, could have immediately produced an extraordinary banquet of filet mignon, lobster and the finest wines to satiate the crowd, but he didn’t. He wanted his disciples, his followers, those whom he was trying to lead to live for God, to participate in that miracle. And so he worked the miracle with the seven loaves and few fish they provided. Similarly God wishes to incorporate our efforts into his saving works of mercy. We might not have much to give, but it’s plenty in his hands. But he wants us to share his compassion on the crowds and to do all we can, allowing him to multiply it and make it adequate. Those who live for God in Christ Jesus are constantly offering the Lord their loaves and fish, their minds and their elbow grease, their time and their resources — in short, whatever God has given them — to build up his kingdom of charity. Are we living for God in Christ Jesus through our seeking to love others as he has loved us first?

The second application is what this miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish points to: the miraculous multiplication of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist to feed our souls. Those who live for God in Christ Jesus live Eucharistic lives, they eagerly seek to unite their life with Christ on the altar, they make him their root and center, the source and summit, the starting point and goal of all they do. In the Orate Fratres, the priest prays that this sacrifice, his and yours, may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father. Each of us is called to add our sacrifice, specifically the sacrifice St. Paul says later in the Letter to the Romans, when he writes, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your logike latreia” (Rom 12:1). Logike latreia is normally translated “spiritual worship,” but it literally means “the only worship that makes sense,” namely to give not just excess loaves and fish, but to give our bodies, our all, as a living sacrifice in response to the love of him who was crucified out of love for us. And it’s here at Mass that we offer that sacrifice, uniting our loaves and fish to Christ’s open and powerful hands. Getting to Mass involves first “dying” to other priorities and “living” by Christ’s priorities, and if we’ve prayed, “Lord, give us this Bread always,” and “Give us this day our daily [supersubstantial] Bread,” and God responds by sending down his Son not just each Sunday but every day, we should be doing everything we can to be present with him. If other true obligations prevent our attendance, we should be seeking to unite our lives spiritually to this most important thing that ever happens on any given day, on this altar. The more we make Jesus in the Eucharist the true center of our life, the more we will be living for God in Christ Jesus. Jesus looks at us and the great crowd of our contemporaries with a heart bursting with compassion and in response doesn’t offer us fish and bread, but himself, so that he may bring us into the heart of the Paschal mystery, to the very death and resurrection St. Paul today for us describes.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

A reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

The continuation of the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark
In those days when there again was a great crowd without anything to eat, he summoned the disciples and said, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a great distance.” His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?” Still he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” “Seven,” they replied. He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to distribute, and they distributed them to the crowd. They also had a few fish. He said the blessing over them and ordered them distributed also. They ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over — seven baskets. There were about four thousand people. And he dismissed them.