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.
Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
September 28, 2014
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A—September 28, 2014
Today, Jesus shocks the Jewish chief priests by telling them something about themselves that no one else would have dared to say. What was it?
Gospel (Read Mt 21:28-32)
Our reading is in a portion of St. Matthew’s Gospel that reports on the tangles Jesus had with the religious leaders of Jerusalem. In the preceding verses, they questioned His authority to enter the Temple to teach (see Mt 21:23). He answered their question with a question of His own first: “The baptism of John, whence was it?” They refused to answer, of course. If they said, “From God,” then Jesus would embarrass them by asking why they didn’t believe him. If they said, “From men,” the people would be up in arms. They pleaded ignorance, thus forfeiting any explanation of Jesus’ authority.
Twenty-sixth Sunday: Empty Means Full
Today’s second reading is from the second chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. The reading contains one of the most beautiful Christological hymns in scripture. Paul begins by telling the Philippians to care for each other, be united in one heart and do nothing out of selfishness and vainglory. He then tells us to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus. The Christological hymn follows: “who though he was in the form of God did not deem equality with God something to be grasped, but rather emptied himself….etc.”
Encountering God In Daily Life
New York City can be a daunting place for a Catholic, or anyone who wants to live a religious or moral life. While it is a most materialistic and secular city, I have managed to find inspiration and people who share my love for God. They are rare and very precious to me. Some I found in obvious places such as my church, and some through my cab-driving; my interface with the world. Either way, it is in the unexpected that I find small blessings.
Pope: ‘Our Strength Is the Love of Christ’
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has made an appeal for prayer and aid for the victims of the Ebola outbreak, which has been sweeping through several West-African countries.
Speaking during his general audience, the Pope expressed his closeness “to the many people affected by this terrible disease. I invite you to pray for them and for the many who have so tragically lost their lives.”
Let him who has ears, hear! The Parables that Portray the Drama of Human Choice
In yesterday’s post, I pondered the great drama of human life as Scripture sets it forth. We are caught up in a great and cosmic battle and must choose sides. There are two armies and no third way given. Sadly, most have lost any sense of the battle and of the drama of life, despite the battle lines being clearer than ever.
Signs From Heaven
I used to have a strange, very naive idea that I would be closely united with my father after his death. I know that we are united with the communion of saints, and that death no longer separates us (Romans 8:38-39). I believe we can pray to the saints, and even pray to and pray for our relatives who have gone before us. But I guess my interpretation of what that union would look like differed from reality.
I thought that all I had to do was pray and that my dad would visit me in my dreams, or that God would send me endless consolations to constantly comfort me. I believed that my father would send me signs of his present happiness from “the other side” in big ways.
Christ, the One Teacher of All (Mysticism and Magisterium: Part III of VI)
We might summarize the previous two posts in this series by saying that we are called to think with the Church because Christ and the Church possess same Spirit who is present throughout history in the details. When the Church teaches, Christ teaches, and those who depart from the Church depart from Christ. In this post, we shall examine than manner in which Christ is the one Teacher of all.
Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?
Last week I wrote a post here on David Hume, miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus. Some of the commenters took issue with my claim that “all the alternatives to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead are more incredible than the miracle.” I’d like to elaborate on that here.
Christians claim that the historical human being Jesus of Nazareth was executed then physically rose from the dead and stayed alive. He was seen by many people and then was seen to vanish into the invisible realm. Here we have the most revolutionary and radical question of human history. Did it really happen?
Moral Chaos Should Strengthen Your Faith
While many pious people are wringing their hands over the popular culture and wondering if God will save his people, I find that the moral decay and preposterous incongruities we witness daily actually reinforce all I believe about Divine Revelation. What else is to be expected when God is removed from the Public Square?
Hail Mary: The Invincible Victory of the Black Madonna
Pilgrim Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa Brings Global Unity to Battle for Life
“An icon is the visual image of the invisible, given to us so that our understanding may be filled with sweetness,” wrote St. John of Damascus in his eighth-century defense of the veneration of icons.
Our Lady’s Message in Wisconsin: Conversion & Catechesis
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 2010, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help located about sixteen miles northeast of Green Bay, Bishop David Ricken endorsed our country’s first Church-approved Marian apparition:
“I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful.”