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2/12/23 Homily: Fire and Water

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]

I've heard somewhere God's wrath being described as God giving us what we choose, and his mercy being delivering us from the consequences of what we have chosen.

In our first reading today from the Book of Sirach, we hear: He has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil; whichever he chooses shall be given him.

This theme of being able to choose our destiny is a recurring one in sacred scripture, even from the first pages of the Bible. God told our first parents: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.” Adam and Eve had a choice. They could choose to obey the Lord and live eternally. Or they could rebel and lose their immortality.

On this theme, I'm reminded of a certain scene from the Book of Joshua, when the people of God had finally taken possession of the Promised Land. Joshua had said to the Twelve Tribes:

“… Fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went; and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land; therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

There are many other examples, scripturally. Time and again that power to choose between good and evil, fire and water, life and death, is recalled again whenever God institutes a covenant. Be faithful to the Covenant and live; forsake the Covenant and die. Choose and it will be given to you.

A terrifying thought, when one really considers the full implications. In the end, God may simply give us eternally what we have chosen for ourselves. Even heaven and hell are within our grasp.

Ultimately, heaven means being with God eternally; God, who is goodness, truth, beauty, life, and love itself. And hell is nothing more than being separated from God eternally; being separated from all goodness, truth, beauty, life, and love.

When we look around us, we see who has chosen heaven; this heaven on earth. God is here with us in the tabernacle, and he will become present on this altar as the Eucharist. There is no difference between Jesus Christ as the Eucharist, and Jesus Christ as we will recognize him in heaven. He is one and the same.

Notice who's not here, and without good reason. We have work to do. We ought to want our loved ones, family, friends, and neighbors to be with us here with God. And so, the work of evangelization still falls to us, to bring others to the Mass, and to teach them about Jesus Christ.

God respects our choice. If we want to be with him, he will be with us. If we don’t want to be with God, he will not force himself upon us. We choose one or the other in this life, and that choice becomes ratified in eternity.

In this life, our choice between heaven and hell does go beyond our Mass attendance. It also involves our thoughts and actions in our daily lives. Jesus reminds us of this in our gospel today.

It’s not enough to simply choose not to kill. Our choice for heaven must also transform our thoughts, so that we don’t even hate another person in secret. It’s not enough to simply not commit adultery. Our choice for heaven turns us away from even lusting after another person. And so on.

Our choice for life over death, good over evil, heaven over hell is made at the deepest level, guiding not only our actions, but transforming our very hearts. May God’s grace that we receive at this Mass penetrate us at the deepest level; may our righteousness surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees; and may we one day and forever enter into the kingdom of heaven.


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