Pastoral Sharings: "26th Sunday in Ordinary Time"

WeeklyMessage  Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
  Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
  September 28, 2014 

  The themes of the First Reading and the Gospel are all
   about changing one’s attitude and behaviour. In one 
  word this is what the Christian life is all about: change.

  Unfortunately we human beings are normally quite 
  resistant to change and yet we do acknowledge its important role in our lives. We acknowledge that the alcoholic has to make a decisive change and has to reorient his life and begin to live soberly.

To take other cases the same is true for the drug addict, the gambler, the habitual criminal or the serial adulterer. We can think of plenty of other examples for ourselves.

Without a decisive change of direction such people face personal disaster. The only problem is that when we look at things in this way we tend to disassociate ourselves from such people. We think that alcoholism, addiction and other serious problems involve other people and not ourselves.

In the scripture readings today however all this is summed up in the word sin. And sin as we know affects every single person in the world. Sin affects each and every one of us; and we fool ourselves if we think that we are an exception.

And make no mistake about it sin is addictive. The child who starts off by stealing sweets from the supermarket can all to easily end up involved in far greater thefts and frauds. It is therefore vitally important that we instil good habits in our children. The more children learn to do what is right, in other words to have a well formed sense of morals, the better people it will make them in the long run.

I worked for many years as a prison chaplain and it very soon became obvious to me that crime runs in families. Being brought up in a home with practically no morals inevitably meant that the children too inevitably became criminals; sometimes even ending up in the very same jail as their parents.

Habit is what it is all about. Helping your children to acquire good habits is the best gift you can give them. The task of each parent is to help the child to develop good behaviour and to acquire the virtues necessary to live a good and fulfilling life.

The worse thing is for a child to acquire bad habits and warped ways of thinking. We all know getting rid of a bad habit is anything but easy. It requires a great deal of determination and involves us in making hard and inflexible decisions.

Jesus gives us today the rather fine little parable about the two brothers one who says he won’t go to the vineyard but then relents and does so and the other brother who says that he will go to the vineyard but in fact doesn’t.

Both changed their minds; one positively, the other negatively. Objectively we easily know which one did the right thing but we have no difficulty seeing ourselves in either role. We know that sometimes we do the right thing and at some other times we do the wrong thing. In Christian terms we call this falling into temptation.

Resisting temptation is an essential part of the struggle that is the life of a Christian. And it is not easy, however there are some helpful steps that we can take.

First we have to acknowledge the particular temptation and be conscious of any inappropriate desires that arise within us. Be clear about it if we don’t openly face our weaknesses we can never overcome them.

Then we have to avoid those particular temptations by taking evasive action such as never going into a particular shop where we might spend inappropriately or avoiding the company of someone we are inappropriately attracted to. This is the classic advice given for avoiding temptation and can be summed up in one word: flee.

After this we have to exercise our willpower and make decisions in relation to our temptations. In many cases this means making the choice to stop doing certain things. In this way we can build up a sort of moral barrier against falling into sinful ways.

And lastly we need to substitute good behaviours for bad ones. This is important because after resisting temptation we need to reward ourselves with a virtuous act, something we can feel good about. By doing this we reinforce good behaviour.

Let me repeat these steps: First acknowledge the temptation, then take evasive action; after this make a decision to do better and then finally substitute good behaviour for bad.

Taking such steps to avoid sin is vitally important for us all. By taking these steps we gradually build up our good character and so become better people; we then find that we have acquired high standards and begin to see that others look up to us.

The other important thing for Christians to learn is the lesson of repentance, something which is highlighted in the Gospel reading. The first son said he would not go to the vineyard but repented and eventually did go there.

So on those occasions when we do give in to temptation we must programme ourselves to feel remorse and then immediately repent of our sin. Of course, the Church gives us an excellent mechanism in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to enable us to express our repentance and to experience healing and forgiveness.

Reconciliation is a sacrament that we might not need to use every week but it should be used every few months to help us stay on the right track.

This whole area of temptation and how to avoid falling into sin is of vital importance to anyone who is serious about following the Christian life. We are all too aware that our life can be a struggle but it is important to know who the real adversary is. We minimise the role of the Tempter at our peril.

When you read the lives of the saints you often come across periods of their life when they struggled with the Devil, sometimes in an almost literal way. We tend to gloss over these incidents and sometimes think that these are pious imaginings. But they are not. The Devil is battling for the soul of each person in this Church, and indeed each person in the world.

Do not underestimate your adversary. Realise that the real struggle in life is against sin and temptation and that whenever we try to minimise the deadly effects of sin we are making a big mistake. Lulling ourselves into a false sense of security actually puts us in much greater danger.

So I urge you to keep those two sons in mind. Think about them often. Ask yourself often which of them you are at any given moment and then ask yourself which of them would you more life to be.
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SaintJohnChurchMiddletown.com

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September 28, 2014

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