daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Friday, Fourth Week of Lent, March 31, 2017
Wisdom 2:1, 12-22, Psalm 33, John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.


Tag: Ascetical living


"Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth. Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass by us" (Wisdom 2:6-7).

Here is the hedonistic philosophy of the worldly wicked. When we die we will cease to exist, they think, so they have no fear of punishment in the afterlife for their sins, nor do they have any motive for living a good life, for they think that there will be no reward after death. They say, "We were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been; because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts. When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air" (Wisdom 2:2-3).

So they decide to live a life of worldly pleasure. They say, "Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither. Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot" (Wisdom 2:8-9).

They, of course, are badly mistaken. They will be punished for their sins, and they will lose out on a heavenly reward. They live for themselves, not for God. Needless to say, this is not God's plan for our life. They are operating contrary to God's design for man. Man was not made to live this way, and he cannot find happiness in living this way.

The wicked show their cloven foot in their attitude toward the righteous man. Instead of loving, being attracted to, and wanting to imitate the righteous man, they rather despise and hate him and say, "Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is ... Let us condemn him to a shameful death" (Wisdom 2:19, 20).

The righteous man lives a completely different kind of life than the wicked. He is not a hedonist, living a life of worldly revelry. So we may presume that he lives a simple life. He lives not for himself but for God, and so he is careful to keep his commandments.

We can get an idea of what the righteous man's life is like by observing what these wicked worldly hedonists say about him:

"He is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training" (Wisdom 2:12). They are not comfortable with him. He makes them feel uncomfortable in his presence. They can see that he lives on a higher level than they do, following nobler goals, avoiding evil and doing good. He lives not for his own pleasures but for the truth, for what God wills. They feel sinful in his presence. He makes them feel guilty and unworthy. He reproaches them for not following God's laws, for not following the teachings of their faith.

"He became to us a reproof of our thoughts" (Wisdom 2:14). His mere presence makes them even feel guilty about their thoughts. And their conscience agrees with him. He awakens their conscience, and it begins to attack and accuse them.

"The very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange" (Wisdom 2:15). They begin to feel bad even by catching sight of him. He lives in a completely different way from everyone else. To them his ways are strange. But they sense the goodness of his ways, the superiority of his very different way of life, and it puts them down, makes them feel morally inferior in his presence, on a different and lower level.

He harms their self-esteem and makes them feel inferior. Just seeing him makes them feel bad because the mere sight of him awakens their conscience, which agrees with him and attacks them. Their own conscience attacks them and makes them feel bad and guilty when they see him. They feel that he looks down on them and despises them.

"We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean" (Wisdom 2:16). Surely he does see that their worldly lifestyle is not good, and he wants to have nothing whatsoever to do with it. He completely rejects their worldly lifestyle, their worldly values system, and their whole worldview. He has chosen a completely different kind of life.

What, then, is the basis of the righteous man's life? What is his motive for acting so differently, and how does he live that is so far from the worldly lifestyle of these wicked hedonists? Here I think it is best to make this question more contemporary and ask: How would such a righteous man live today as a Christian?

He would be a follower of Christ. The rule guiding all his behavior would be: How can I best follow Christ and best live according to his teachings? This Scripture would be key for a righteous Christian today: "For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

Since Christ has died for us to change our life, we have all died; that is, our former worldly life has died. We have died to our former worldly way of living, to our former understanding of life, and to our former worldly life goals. We are now dead to our former worldly lifestyle, because of the death of Christ, which has justified us and transformed our life and our whole way of behaving in this world. The difference now is this: formerly we lived for ourselves, but now we live no longer for ourselves but for him who for our sake died and was raised.

This means that we now seek our delight in the Lord rather than in unnecessary worldly pleasures. Gone are the worldly revels and banquets of former days. Now we live simply and eat plain, simple, unadorned, healthy food. We don't want our heart to be divided and distracted by unnecessary worldly entertainments and pleasures, secular movies, etc.

All these things distract and confuse our minds, emotions, imagination, passions, and heart so that we are no longer living for God alone with all the love of our heart. But how can we live for God alone with all the love of our heart? Married people do this together as a couple. Celibates do it in a still more radical, literal, and complete way. The righteous person leaves everything else for Christ to follow him alone with all his heart and soul, mind and strength. Those righteous ones who do this and leave everything for Christ will receive a hundredfold reward.

The righteous ask St. Peter's question: "Lo, we have left everything and followed you. What then shall we have?" (Matthew 19:27). They will receive the same answer that St. Peter received: "Every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:29).

Jesus wants to make us fishers of men. So we must, like Saints Peter and Andrew, leave all to follow him. "And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Immediately they left their nets and followed him" (Matthew 4:19-20).

This is now to be our goal that guides all our behavior, which is no longer to follow a worldly, hedonistic lifestyle.

As far as the lifestyle of the world goes, we are to be dead to the world, and the world to us, as St. Paul says, "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). This means living in a completely new way with an undivided heart, devoted to the Lord alone, either as a couple in marriage or more radically and literally as a celibate.

If we die to the world, we lose our life in the world but find it in God. Worldly hedonists rather save their life in this world, but lose it with God. "For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35). This verse clearly sets the wicked hedonist off from the righteous. One is seeking to get everything he can out of the world, while the other dies to the world to be found in God with an undivided heart.




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