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22nd Sunday of the Year (B)

If I had a dollar for every time over the years someone came up to me and said something like:  “Jesus, never said anyone ever goes to hell, did he?” or “Show me where Jesus said we have to go to Church every Sunday,” or “I don’t remember Jesus saying pre-marital sex is wrong,” I’d have a big problem, because Jesus does say that it’s harder for a rich man to enter into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  Questioners like the ones I’ve described must have a hot-line to heaven or get direct information I’m not privy to.  My information about what Jesus thinks comes from the Bible and the teaching of the Church He founded, and these are pretty clear about hell, Church-going, and sexual morality.

Take today’s gospel, e.g., but before we do that, let’s look up the word defile in the dictionary.  I’ve taken the trouble to do that for us.  “Defile:  to make dirty, to pollute, to render impure, to corrupt or profane or sully.  To make unclean or unfit for ceremonial use.  To desecrate.”  Pretty harsh word, isn’t it?  And we hear Jesus use it today.

He says:  “Hear me all of you . . . From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.  All these evils come from within and they defile.”  And remember what defile means:  to pollute, to corrupt, to profane or sully or desecrate.

How could a loving God not care if we did things that do that to us, that defile us?  What parent would be crazy enough to say, “O, sweety, just so long as you’re happy, do all the heroine you like; I’ll even buy you some”?  What sin does to the soul is a lot worse than what heroine does to the body, not to mention that sin crucified Jesus.  It’s not likely that He’d be sentimental about it or take a permissive attitude toward it.

We can organize the sins Jesus mentions today into four groups of three each.  There’s unchastity, adultery, and licentiousness—sins of lust that pervert our vision of others and render us incapable of seeing God.  “Blest are the pure in heart; they shall see God,” Jesus taught.  If you want to know why there’s so much unbelief in the modern world, one reason is the pervasiveness of lust promoted as harmless entertainment.  It’s not harmless.  It defiles and it blinds.

A second group of three is theft, greed, and envy.  These are sins of covetousness and acquisitiveness, all destructive of human relations with, again, a tendency to blind people to God and the spiritual by riveting their attention on the material.

Next come murder, deceit, and malice—sins of violence to persons and the truth.  Such sins do harm not just to others; they poison the heart and mind of the sinner.

And finally we have blasphemy, arrogance, and folly.  We might call these sins of irreverence, reverence being the appropriate attitude toward things holy and toward persons having the dignity of the children of God, irreverence being the inappropriate attitude and,  again, one that defiles us.

You see, sin has two terrible effects.  One is that it defiles, it damages us; the other that it incurs a debt we can never pay.  We need a Savior because we’re deeply in debt and because we’re damaged.  Jesus addresses both issues.  He pays the debt and He restores health to wounded souls, but in order to benefit from what He has to offer, we have to recognize that we’re defiled and in debt, and we have to want to rectify both situations.

It’s kind of like having cancer.  If we want a cure, we’d better admit we’re sick and be willing to take our medicine.  The bad news about cancer is that even if we take our medicine we may not be cured.  The good news about salvation is that if we accept what Jesus has to offer and cooperate with His grace, we’re guaranteed a cure and a ticket to heaven.

The goal of Christian living is greater and greater intimacy with Jesus:  Jesus in all whom we meet, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus in heaven.  Such intimacy renders us little by little pure in heart, full of love, debt free, at one with God.  And as St. Augustine, whose feast we celebrated August 28, once said:  “Our hearts are made for God, and they will not rest until they rest in Him.”  To be enduringly defiled is to be doomed to eternal unrest.