One Monk of the Order of Saint Benedict

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The Word of God and the Body of God reveal each other -- the homily worships both.

June 14, 2006

For Thursday of the Tenth Ordinary Week of the Church Year

[In the universal calendar of the Church, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ falls on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, which is today, June 15, 2006. However, the Vatican has approved the U.S. observance of it on the following Sunday.]

Matthew 5:20-26
1 Kings 18:41-46

Yesterday in the Liturgy, we witnessed the final Old Testament showdown between the 450 prophets of a false religion and the one and only remaining prophet of true religion, Elijah.
The reading ended yesterday with the Lord God answering the prayers of Elijah by sending down fire from heaven— fire that not only consumed Elijah’s sacrificial offering together with its water-soaked firewood, but also annihilated the stone altar, the surrounding trench and the water that filled.
Upon the seeing that, the people prostrated in worship, and cried out, “Yahweh is God!”
Yahweh is God!”
Yesterday’s reading ended there at verse 39.
Today in the liturgy, that story of Elijah has continued, beginning, however, at verse 41.
The lectionary skips one verse, verse 40.
In that omitted verse, we see that Elijah commanded the people to round up the 450 false prophets.
Then Elijah himself, one by one, cut open the throats of those 450 men.
This violent and horrifying verse, this violent and horrifying event has been skipped by the lectionary.
I take the trouble to point this out in order to dramatize that today in the Gospel, while nothing has been omitted, there is a specific essential detail which we of the later twentieth century are quite guilty of minimizing and even entirely ignoring.
It is the threat, the liability, the risk declared by the Lord of being punished by burning in hell.
If anger provokes me to insult and hold in contempt my brother, the Lord tells me today in his Gospel that I risk “fiery Gehenna”.
Today in his Gospel our Lord is continuing his “Sermon on the Mount” that he began this past Monday.
When we call to mind the “Sermon on the Mount” we usually think of the comforting “Beatitudes”, the eight blessings, with which the Lord began his sermon on the mount.
Yet, throughout this whole sermon, side by side with the promises of blessing, the Lord pronounces warnings and explicit references— as he does today— explicit references to the possibility of imprisonment and burning.
Surely, we can exaggerate or improperly fixate on the topic of hellfire and damnation.
And yet, never to consider the possibility is also an exaggeration.
Nonetheless, the Lord himself incites us to hope and not to despair.
When we stand before the Lord, he sees everything that we are and do— both the good and the bad.
When we look upon the Lord in his Gospel, we should see and hear, look and listen to everything he does and says.
Otherwise, our picture of the Lord and our relationship with him are both unrealistic and even dishonest.
Our “relationship” and our “picture” of the Lord….
Later in his Gospel, the Lord tells us that when he returns in glory he will sit on his glorious throne [Mt. 25:31-46]:
Before him will be gathered all the nations,
and he will separate them one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
and he will place the sheep at his right hand,
but the goats at the left.
Then the King will say to those at his right hand,
“Come, O blessed of my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” . . . .
Then he will say to those at his left hand,
“Depart from me, you cursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” . . . .
And they will go away into eternal punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life.

Sheep and goats— right and left— the blessed and the accursed— the kingdom of God or the eternal fire with the devil
Punishment in hell does not appear in the Old Testament.
It was Jesus himself who brought the definitive news of the existence of hell.
Acknowledgement of punishment in hell is an unavoidable part of HONEST acceptance of the Gospel and our relationship with God.
Yet, fear of punishment can be self-centered.
The desire for the reward of paradise also is a real part of our relationship with God.
Yet, the desire for reward can also be self-centered.
Only one thing can draw us into unselfishness— only one thing lasts and counts forever— only one thing is worthy of our desire: the goodness and love of God.
This we now approach with hope, wonder, thanksgiving and worship in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

That God Be Glorified in All


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