Saturday, July 2, 2016

Let Us Not Grow Weary Of Doing What Is Right

Fr. Dale Matson

My homily is taken from a portion of our Epistle Lesson from Galatians.

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

For the entire month of June and this, the first Sunday in July our Epistle lessons have been from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I would like to begin by offering a brief overview of Galatians and then discuss why this letter is as appropriate for today as when it was first written. I think of Galatians as ‘boot camp’ for new Christians and seasoned Christians seeking renewal. The following overview of Galatians is from an Internet posting by the U.S. conference of Catholic Bishops

“The Galatians to whom the letter is addressed were Paul’s converts, most likely among the descendants of Celts who had invaded western and central Asia Minor in the third century B.C. and had settled in the territory around Ancyra (modern Ankara, Turkey). Paul had passed through this area on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6) and again on his third (Acts 18:23).”

The new Christians whom Paul is addressing were converts from paganism (Gal 4:8–9) who were now being enticed by other missionaries to add the observances of the Jewish law, including the rite of circumcision, to the cross of Christ as a means of salvation. For, since Paul’s visit, some other interpretation of Christianity had been brought to these neophytes, probably by converts from Judaism (the name “Judaizers” is sometimes applied to them); it has specifically been suggested that they were Jewish Christians who had come from the austere Essene sect.

These interlopers insisted on the necessity of following certain precepts of the Mosaic Law along with faith in Christ. They were undermining Paul’s authority also, asserting that he had not been trained by Jesus himself, that his gospel did not agree with that of the original and true apostles in Jerusalem, that he had kept from his converts in Galatia the necessity of accepting circumcision and other key obligations of the Jewish law, in order more easily to win them to Christ, and that his gospel was thus not the full and authentic one held by “those of repute” in Jerusalem (Gal 2:2). Some scholars also see in Galatians 5; 6 another set of opponents against whom Paul writes, people who in their emphasis on the Spirit set aside all norms for conduct and became libertines in practice.

When Paul learned of the situation, he wrote this defense of his apostolic authority and of the correct understanding of the faith. He set forth the unique importance of Christ and his redemptive sacrifice on the cross, the freedom that Christians enjoy from the old burdens of the law, the total sufficiency of Christ and of faith in Christ as the way to God and to eternal life, and the beauty of the new life of the Spirit. Galatians is thus a summary of basic Pauline theology. Its themes were more fully and less polemically developed in the Letter to the Romans.

In his vigorous emphasis on the absolute preeminence of Christ and his cross as God’s way to salvation and holiness, Paul stresses Christian freedom and the ineffectiveness of the Mosaic law for gaining divine favor and blessings (Gal 3:19–29). The pious Jew saw in the law a way established by God to win divine approval by a life of meticulous observance of ritual, social, and moral regulations.

But Paul’s profound insight into the higher designs of God in Christ led him to understand and welcome the priority of promise and faith (shown in the experience of Abraham, Gal 3:6–18) and the supernatural gifts of the Spirit (Gal 3:2–5; 5:16–6:10). His enthusiasm for this new vision of the life of grace in Christ and of the uniquely salvific role of Christ’s redemptive death on the cross shines through this whole letter.”

I believe the letter to the Galatians is the best description of what it means to live the spiritual life. It is the transition from the carnal life of a pagan to life in the Spirit. St. Paul makes it quite clear that the spiritual life is NOT obtained by living according to rules of conduct. It is NOT a life lived according to the Old Covenant under the Laws of Moses. In short, one’s eternal salvation is not earned by obeying a set of rules. We want to obey the commandments because we are saved.

In fact, Abraham the father of the Israelites was a pagan who believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. (Galatians 3:6) It is faith that saves us. But then you may say to me, “Well then, faith itself is a good work. It is something we must do.” Even the faith to accept the Gospel is itself given to us by God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Paul states in Romans (12:3) that each is given a measure of faith. If only my faith were as great as a mustard seed!

At the same time, the spiritual life, while a life of liberty is NOT a life of license. While the Christian that is led by the Holy Spirit is no longer under the Law, that Christian is not above the Law.
When we are saved we cannot do whatever we want. In fact while we are set free from the Law, Christians become slaves to Christ. Paul previously stated in Galatians, “For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” I think the best way to understand this verse is with another verse. “My yoke is easy, My burden is light.” A yoke of oxen is a pair of oxen. Being a slave to Christ means He rightfully owns us because He paid for us with His own flesh and blood. He has freed us from sin and death. We recoil at the idea of slavery yet five different New Testament writers refer to themselves as slaves of Christ. As we say in our Morning Prayer collect, “To know Him is eternal life and to serve Him is perfect freedom.” In answering the question, “What is the right thing for the Christian to do?” we should think of ourselves first as slaves to Christ. Will our actions bring glory to God?

For me, the following verse from Galatians is something I meditate on often.

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

“It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” This is not just the idea that we live for Christ and no longer for ourselves. This is not just the idea that our lives no longer belong to us but to Him Who rescued us. This is also a literal understanding that Christ lives in us. This fact is stated twice in our celebration of the Eucharist. In the Great Thanksgiving, the priest states, “And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Thee; humbly beseeching Thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of Thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with Thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with Him, that He may dwell in us, and we in Him.”

In Rite One in our Prayer Of Humble Access we pray, “Grant us therefore, Gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood, that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen.” Could we be any more closely united to Christ than He in us and we in Him? As we live out our lives this begins to show itself in the fruits of the Spirit that manifest themselves in our actions. These fruits are also listed in Paul’s letter to the Galatians chapter 5. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (22-23).

It is easy to say, “let us not grow weary of doing what is right” but it is harder to put this into action. We often hear about “compassion fatigue” and how it causes us to turn away from those who need help. Lately God has been reminding me through encounters with the poor and homeless.

Sharon and I know a man who retired as general manager and vice president from a local TV station. He started a day care and boarding business for dogs and we have taken our dogs to him for nearly 20 years. The other day we were on our weekly Costco run and meal out at the food court. As we were driving home we saw a street person asking for money on the corner of Abbey and Alluvial. It is pretty standard fare to see someone on this corner and we are usually prepared to offer help but I am often left with the nagging doubt whether these folks are authentic. Some have the weathered skin of folks on the street however. I reached out the passenger window with a dollar and the unshaven man thanked me. I said to Sharon, “Isn’t that so and so?” She agreed. It was the same man. We looked on the Internet and someone else owned his dog care business located at his former home. How far this man had fallen.

Friday was July 1st and that means it was time for my monthly weigh-in at Weight Watchers. As I approached the building in the Villagio Shopping Center, a woman yelled something to me. I sensed she wanted money as she began to approach but I quickly walked into the building to weigh-in hoping she would be gone when I was done. Of course, God is patient with me, once again giving me a second chance to be merciful. She was waiting for me when I stepped out the door. She said her husband had recently died and she had lost her house. “Can you help me?” Christ in me overruled my suspicious cynical self and I gave her some money. She said, “There is no one to help me”. I said, “God will help, don’t lose heart.” She agreed and I gave her a blessing too.

My compassion meter was again on “normal” and out of the red zone. It is not me that is compassionate. It is Christ in me and in those I am asked to help. Let us not grow weary of doing what is right. Amen


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