Sunday September 27th, 2020
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Dear Pastorate Family,
In the second reading, St. Paul makes an important point about life in community. He says: “Brothers and sisters, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.” In the present pandemic, I hope it makes all of us think twice about how our actions impact others, whether positively or negatively. By keeping others in mind, we can do things that help keep others safe. By failing to keep others in mind, we may end up doing things that put others at risk. St. Paul invites us to be mindful of others, so that whatever we do will help others and not put them at risk.
That’s what genuine love of neighbor looks like. Jesus showed us that love in how He lived, how He died, and how He rose again. Again, in the second reading, St. Paul exhorts Christians and tells them to “Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus…” St. Paul then elaborates on the attitude which Jesus had in His earthly life, even to the point of death. St. Paul says Jesus “emptied himself” – what can we suppose this means? In His humanity, Jesus completely divested Himself of self-interest, and became totally obedient to the will of God, even to the point of death. And because of that self-emptying, “God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name…” The self-emptying of Jesus led to His glory. It will be the same for us as well. When we die to self-interest, we become more open to the will of God; and the same God leads us on to glory.
How do we die to self-interest?
There’s an old Catholic idea (which is not so common these days) of “mortification.” What is “mortification”? Ultimately, it’s the exercise of self-control, not allowing ourselves to give into every impulse, but restraining ourselves, with the realization that not all of our impulses are healthy and many of them may in fact be sinful. The spiritual practice of mortification is often practiced during Lent, when we give up something for the sake of gaining a greater spiritual good (i.e. becoming more patient, more loving, etc.). However, Lent is not the only time when we can profitably practice mortification. In fact, it should be a regular part of our spiritual lives. We should regularly practice “mortification,” dying to self, in order to become more virtuous and thus more like Saints (and by that same measure, more like God). This is what St. Paul is advocating for in the second reading. He exhorts Christians to imitate Jesus in His self-emptying humble obedience to the will of God. How can we do this in our modern context? Spouses can focus on how they can be more loving to each other and less focused on their individual interests. Children can focus on how they can choose not to make a big fuss about being asked to do simple chores. Grandparents can inquire about how they might help out their son or daughter and spouse with child care if they want to have a date night. Neighbors might think about how they can help another neighbor in need get groceries or rake leaves or take care of some yard work. These sorts of things take us outside of ourselves and our own concerns and make us more conscious of others in need. We then become willing to humbly serve others, without thought of reward, save that of the satisfaction of knowing that our actions made a difference in the lives of others. Can we die more to ourselves in the context of this present pandemic? In so doing, we’ll become more and more like Jesus.