Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time


January 22, 2023
Holy Family of Nazareth Parish
Vernon, TX

1 Kings 3:4-13
Psalm 127
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 5:1-12

The prophecy of Isaiah is meant to be a consolation for the people of Galilee who were conquered by the Assyrians and sent into exile. It expresses hope that God will bring light to their darkness and return them from slavery to freedom.  Saint Paul also speaks about the darkness that the Corinthians face, which is their inability to find unity and harmony. They contribute to this darkness by placing their personal opinions above the truth of the faith that unites. They have rejected the Communion and fellowship of the Church and have replaced them with factions and cliques.

Saint Paul begs us in the name of Jesus to be united in mind and in judgment. What divides us is that we too frequently place our political and theological opinions in front of what God has revealed fully in Jesus Christ all that He has taught and all who He is. What divides us is our inability to see the goodness and God’s presence in others not like us, and our inability to recognize and appreciate their faith and charity. In a word, what divides us is sin. What unites us is the unconditional love made present in the Cross of Christ. The Cross of Christ manifests perfect and selfless love. This selfless and sacrificial love unites us and shows us the need to be converted and to bring God’s love and Kingdom into the world we have been given.

Each one of us, from the holiest mystic to the most-hardened atheist, stands before God as a sinner called to repent of our sins and be converted from sin and our attachment to sin, a conversion that only ends when we die and receive a favorable and merciful judgment from God to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Not one of us can presume upon the mercy of God or upon the kindness of others, nor can any of us attain eternal life on our own power or abilities. We can only repent of our sins and be converted with the divine gift of the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is that grace that the Apostles received at Pentecost through the gift of the Holy Spirit promised by Christ. It is this same grace that you will receive tonight through my ministry as a successor of the Apostles.

Two aspects of the grace of the Holy Spirit are the virtues, both theological and moral, and also the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You received both the virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity, and Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude, and Justice) and also the gifts at Baptism, and now you will be confirmed in them by this sacrament of Confirmation. As your bishop, ordained as an unworthy successor of the Apostles about whose call from Jesus we have just heard in today’s Gospel, I am called to be here to confirm you with the Holy Spirit and the seven gifts of His grace. The same gifts that you received first at Baptism. What is the difference between the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Saint Thomas Aquinas offers an insight into the gifts of the Holy Spirit that is most beautiful and profound. “The virtues are given simply that we may do good works, but the gifts, in order to conform us to Christ, chiefly with regard to His Passion, for it was then that these gifts shone with greatest splendor.” The gifts perfect human beings for acts that are even greater than acts of virtue. The gifts of the Holy Spirit dispose you to trust the direct promptings of God.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit conform us to Christ in the saving mission of His Cross. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are more particular to each of us in our personality and help us to know and to accept our vocation from Christ — a vocation that is specific to the mission of salvation entrusted to the Church. The gifts shape us for marriage, they shape us for priesthood, they shape us for religious life, they shape us to accept the particular challenges that we encounter to saying “yes” to Christ and to rejecting sin and embracing love especially when that involves suffering and sacrifice.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit teach us to hate our sins as Christ hates them and to love His cross and our share in it as He accepted and loved it in obedience to His Father. As Pope Benedict XVI once observed. “This truth by which every Christian life is enlightened thanks to Baptism completely overturns our way of life. To be converted means, also for each one of us, to believe that Jesus ‘has given Himself for me,’ dying on the cross, and risen, lives with me and in me. Entrusting myself to the power of His forgiveness, letting myself be taken by His hand, I can come out of the quicksand of pride and sin, of deceit and sadness, of selfishness and of every false security, to know and live the richness of His love.”

The Holy Spirit’s gifts enlighten your minds and strengthen your will with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, that you might see the world in truth, challenge the world with fortitude, and embrace the world with love as Christ loved it — with His arms open wide upon the Cross — and to do this as your true and very best selves. By being confirmed today the Holy Spirit gives you the grace to accept the responsibility of belonging as Jesus’ friend in sharing this friendship with others by loving your neighbor as yourself, by being honest, and by keeping the Commandments and living as a friend of Jesus amidst the darkness of very hostile circumstances in today’s world.

The Holy Spirit imbues His gifts within you today. The Spirit of Truth, who is rejected by the fallen world remains in you and will be in you. It is precisely into the darkness of our current society and to those blinded by the darkness that you are sent by Jesus with love and the gifts of the Holy Spirit to reject sin and to keep the Commandments because “you are a people who have walked in darkness but have seen a great light.” It is this light that Christ wants you to share with those who do not know Him or who have rejected Him. Remember Jesus’ call to the Apostles because He gives you the same call with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Today, the Lord asks you to leave behind the nets of sin that ensnare you and to follow Him.

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