Homily for March 8

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

 “Thou Shalt Not!”  
 (Can you hear God’s voice from those biblical epics?)
 Is it the vocabulary of the 10 Commandments
that makes them so daunting?
Would they be less foreboding if we heard them in simpler terms?
The old wild and woolly west was a simpler time
and very much in need of law and order.
How might God have given the 10 Commandments
to a bunch of cowboys?
Maybe something like this?
1) Just ONE sheriff in town: the Lord your God.
2) When ya use my name, ya better mean it.
3) Lay off the trail on the 7th day: stop by, pay a visit.
4) Do what your Ma and Pa tell ya.
5) No killin’ folks.
6) Dance with the one ya came with.
7) No thievin’, no cheatin’.
8) No lyin’.
9) Keep your eyes and your hands off the one next door.
10) And don’t go hankering after what ain’t yours.

Really pretty simple – and sensible.
The 10 commandments aren’t meant to take all the fun out of life.
The pursuit of happiness isn’t forbidden by God’s laws.
In fact, there’s a certain moral and social logic at work here,
such that keeping the commandments
makes more sense than breaking them;
and following the commandments 
will more likely lead me to happiness - than ignoring them.

What do the commandments ask of me?     They urge me:
- to enjoy a good relationship with God;
- to honor the Lord in my speech;
- to take a day off every week;
- to love my family;
- to respect and protect human life;
- to be faithful to my spouse;
- to respect what belongs to others;
- to tell the truth and not to cheat;
- to keep my thoughts clean;
- and to be grateful for what I have.

It’s actually easy to see how living by such norms
would contribute to my happiness.
• The problem comes, however, when I begin to think and believe,
to choose, decide and act as if  other things
and other persons and relationships, not mine,
will make me happier.
• The problem comes
- when I envy what I don’t have,
- when I want what’s not mine,
- when I lust for what my neighbor has,
be that my neighbor’s house, car, job, position, wealth or spouse.
• The problem comes when I begin to lie,
to see how much I can get -- and how much I can get away with.
• The problem comes when I’m willing to steal,
to take what’s not mine, to satisfy my own desires.
• The problem comes when I begin to cheat
on my word, my promises and pledges
and my responsibilities and duty
-  all to satisfy my own wants.

The problem comes when I begin to think and act
as if I’m the new sheriff in town – and that I make the rules.

God wants each of us to be happy and desires nothing less for me.
But in God’s wisdom, the path to happiness is defined
by leading and living a life that is, first of all,
in accord with what the Lord asks of me.

Just as all the commandments conspire to lead me to a happy life,
so my breaking one or another of them
often leads to my breaking more of them
and then to the hurt and disappointment that come
when I ignore the wisdom of God’s word.

Pursuing what’s truly good leads, ultimately, even if by difficult paths,
to greater peace and deeper joy.
Pursuing what I fantasize and imagine is going to make me happier
often leads me, even before I know it,
to estrangement from God,  from others and even from myself.

Lent might be a time for some of us
to sit down with the 10 commandments
and use them to examine our consciences,
perhaps to prepare for going to confession.

And Lent should be a time for all of us,
through prayer, fasting and caring for the poor,
to ask this one, very basic question:
 “Who’s the real sheriff in the town I call my life?”
Do I live by my own lights - or by the Lord’s word and wisdom?

Recall what St. Paul wrote to us today:
 “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.”
If there were any foolishness in God,
it would be wiser than any thoughts of ours.
The moral and social logic of the Commandments illustrate that clearly
in their understanding of human nature.
The 10 Commandments make sense.      
Breaking them doesn’t.

You and me, pardner  -  we’re trespassers at the Lord’s Table.
But Jesus understands human nature, too.
That’s why he sets a place for each of us here,
a place for each one of us Commandment-breakin’,
double-crossin’ drifters and desperadoes.

The extravagant, the nearly “foolish” mercy of God
makes room for outlaws like us            
that we might come to know and be grateful
for the law of love by which we have been saved.

There IS only one sheriff in town: the Lord our God.

May the Sacrament we receive here
make us faithful to his Word and to the Wisdom of his law.


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