Homily: Put on a New Self

August 1, 2021 – Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15 / Ephesians 4:17-24 / John 6:24-35

The following is the homily I will be delivering today at St. Pius X Church in Indianapolis:

Before I begin, I would like to ask for a show of hands — and be honest — how many of you, when referring to our new pastor, have accidentally called him POPE Francis? (Note for the reader: Our new pastor is Fr. Francis)

I have…at least three times that I know of.

I called him Pope Francis once when a friend asked who our new pastor was and didn’t even realize I had said it. My friend said, “The Holy Father is your new pastor? That’s awesome!”

************

I’ve just returned from an extended vacation. I assisted at all the Masses on Father Francis’ first weekend here…then abandoned him for nearly three weeks. Thank you for your understanding, Father. Carol and I enjoyed our time away; I am rested and ready to get back to work.

While the vacation was great, I did receive some sad news. You may remember hearing stories about my neighbor, Shirley, in past homilies. Shirley passed away last week at the age of 85. I was the only person close to her and she was adamant she wanted no funeral or memorial service. Actually, what she told me was, “When I die, don’t make a fuss. Tell them to put me in a box and bury me.” I learned a long time ago to do as Shirley says.

Had I gone against her wishes I would have paid for it eventually. I can picture myself arriving at heaven’s gate and seeing Shirley standing there with St. Peter. Shirley would tell Peter, “Don’t you let him in. I told him not to make a fuss and he did it anyway.” And Peter would have said, “Yes, ma’am” and that would have been it for me.

I am, however, going to try to offer a hidden eulogy for Shirley within my homily. I just hope she does not consider it fussing over her.

Today’s second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians speaks to our responsibility to grow in our faith, to work daily on becoming the best version of our Christian selves. He wrote: You must no longer live as the Gentiles do…you should put away the old self and be renewed in the spirit…put on a new self, created in holiness.

The majority of Paul’s work was focused not on Jewish disciples, but rather, on Gentiles living hundreds or thousands of miles from Jerusalem. They were unchurched and completely unfamiliar with Jesus Christ.

When Paul was in Ephesus, many Gentiles were baptized and accepted Christ as their Savior. After leaving them, Paul wrote the Ephesians a letter encouraging them to grow in their faith.

“You must no longer live as the Gentiles do” he wrote. In other words, baptism and bringing Christ into their hearts did not signal the end of their journey, but the beginning.

Their days as Gentiles were over; Paul challenged them. If they had taken their baptism seriously, an observer should be able to tell the difference between a Gentile and a Christian by simply watching how each lived his life.

They had been given the gift of faith. They must continue to grow and develop that faith every day.

The same is true for us today. Our faith is a gift. We cannot allow it to become stagnant. Because the world is constantly changing, our faith calls us to take on new challenges. Doing the minimum is not good enough; much is being asked of us. We can’t continue to be the same Christians we’ve always been. If we fail to expand the breadth and depth of our faith, our world suffers.

I will address two of the more challenging ways we can expand our faith, challenging because both require accountability.

First, we should hold ourselves accountable. We should make it a practice to self-assess, to take an inventory of how we live our lives.

For instance, we can listen with our hearts to the words we are using. I saw a quote the other day that offered criteria for the language we use. It suggested before we speak, we ask ourselves three questions: Is what we are about to say true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

We can evaluate our actions and determine what they say about our faith. Think of the song lyrics, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Will they? Do our actions reflect that love?

We can reflect on possible ways to grow as Christians. When the racial tensions in our country were at their peak, I reflected on my life and asked myself some difficult questions. The process was uncomfortable; accountability is often uncomfortable. I was painfully honest. I came to the realization that I had failed to reveal Christ to others many times in the past. I had allowed myself to be a stagnant Christian, rather than growing and being open to what was needed of me.

Second, we should be open to others holding us accountable, or at least be open to listening. This is even more challenging. Who wants to have his life critiqued? It requires us to take off our I-know-what’s-best glasses and consider the perspective of others, especially others that have our best interest at heart.

Which brings me back to Shirley. No one in my life has held me accountable more often than Shirley. She was the master.

With Shirley, I had to learn over time that she had my best interest at heart because it was not always clear in her presentation.

Shirley was very direct. She was demanding and could be unreasonable. She was unafraid to call me out or second guess me. She was cranky most of the time and glass half-empty all of the time.

How’s that for a loving eulogy?

Ironically, despite these less than endearing qualities, I grew to love her. Shirley offered me countless opportunities to grow in my faith, to be a better Christian. She did this by holding me accountable.

It is also ironic that these lessons were taught while I was in the very act of being Christian, when I was going above and beyond on her behalf. It was at the height of my Christian glow – when I was thinking “look at how nice I’m being” – that Shirley would call me out.

When I told her I wouldn’t have time to cut her grass for a few more days, she pointed out that I had somehow found time to cut MY grass.

When I raked her front yard – in the pouring rain – she questioned why I had not raked the backyard, too. After all, hadn’t I promised I would get it done that day?

When I ran to the grocery for her, she had no problem sending me back to get the correct brand of an item on her list. She did this in her very passive-aggressive Shirley way – “Oh, did they not have the brand I told you to get?”

I was at times driven crazy by her demands. Fortunately, I learned to open myself up to the possibility of growth. I learned to appreciate her perspective and gain a better understanding of the one I was serving. Yes, I was being a good Christian by helping her, but I could be an even better Christian if I responded to HER needs first.

Paul held the Ephesians accountable; Shirley held me accountable. Are there people in your life that are trying to hold you accountable? Can you open your heart and your ears to listen to them?

As Paul reminded the Ephesians, the work of being a Christian is ongoing; it is never done. If we aren’t moving forward, we are falling behind. The world needs active Christians now more than ever. 

Our responsibilities as Christians have grown with the needs of society. We can’t remain the same Christians we’ve always been; there is too much work to do.

Paul speaks to us in the words he wrote to the Ephesians: “You should put away your old self and be renewed in the spirit…put on a new self, created in holiness.”

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