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What's wrong with the world? I am - Homily by Fr. Dominic David Maichrowicz, OP

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.

At one point in the early 20th century, the London Times sent out a request for articles and comments to a number of journalists and well-known writers and thinkers of the time with the simple question, “What is wrong with the world?” And they received various responses infused with different political and ethical ideologies, each with its own theory of what was wrong. But the shortest answer they received was from Catholic author and wit G.K. Chesterton who, to the question “What is wrong with the world?” simply put, “Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton.” 

What’s wrong with world? I am. I, who so often fail to live up to my priestly call, fail to live up to my vows, fail in charity towards you and my Dominican brothers, fail in detachment from the things of this world. What’s wrong with the world is that though the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus, I remain a sinner.

St. Paul today apparently finds himself in the same boat. In fact, he calls himself the foremost, the greatest of sinners. This is not a pious platitude, nor is it an obviously false statement. St. Paul is not speaking absolutely; he is not comparing himself with others. He has not weighed himself against the atrocities of the Emperor Nero and found himself the worse. Rather, St. Paul is speaking of what he has done relative to that grace God has poured out to him. He recognizes, perhaps more clearly than us, the unfathomable grace that has been given to him throughout his life and how poorly he has actually used it. And yet despite this failure, St. Paul has found God to be patient, and to continue to call him to the ministry to which he has been appointed. 

So if St. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, considers himself the foremost of sinners; if he has found his work terribly lacking in comparison to the grace he has been given, what does that mean for us?

It means there is hope. 

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Not the righteous, not those who thought they had fulfilled everything they were asked, but rather the sinners, those who recognize the fullness of what God has given them and how much they’ve squandered it, how little they’ve returned.  

It raises the question, then, of just who the prodigal son is. The younger son has certainly squandered his Father’s wealth of material goods – but material goods are rather insignificant in the scale of value. One of the ways we can see how values really are objectively ordered is by looking at what happens to them when they’re shared. If I have a loaf of bread and I decide to share it with you – it means less bread for me – and the more we share it with others the less and less each of us gets. Compare that, though, to things such as beauty in art, truth in knowledge, and right conduct. The beauty of a masterpiece of art is not in any way diminished by putting it on display so it can be shared. This is why we make sacrifices and why we should make sacrifices of our material goods and passing pleasures for the sake of encountering and preserving true beauty, for the sake of gaining knowledge, and for the upholding of what is right. 

But there are also values that are still greater than the beautiful, the true, and the right – things that as they are shared are not only not diminished but actually increase and abound all the more – things like the grace of God and of course love. This is why God is not egalitarian – why he has not dealt each of us an even hand – because the more we have to share his love and the more we respond to each other’s needs in his love so much more does his grace increase and abound – so much more is his love is multiplied exponentially. 

Love is so great and so fruitful that the single prayer of love from Moses is enough to save the people. Of course he didn’t really change God’s mind – God does not actually become wrathful and then repent – but just as we like to say that the sun rises and sets, that it is especially hot or bright today, when in reality we are not describing a change in the sun but a change in our orientation to it – so indeed we can encounter the just punishment of God not because he has changed but because we have changed with respect to him. Moses’ love, then, was not something that swayed God’s personality – it’s more like something that was able to change the rotation of the earth – to shift the world of the Hebrews. 

It is therefore not the younger son in the Gospel who has the greatest sin – the younger son has squandered the material things that were of little importance to begin with. The older son, on the other hand, has squandered his Father’s love. Rather than sharing that love that he has known throughout his life he has hoarded it and caused it to wither and fade. The younger son’s entire world is shifted by the love of the Father – the older son in his greed, and envy, and pride remains completely unmoved.

We have all failed like the younger son to be good stewards of the material things given to us – in a desire for passing pleasure, comfort, or utility we have all been wasteful with our time, talent, and treasure. But our identification with the older son is a far more grievous situation – and perhaps a far deeper problem as well.

And yet the response of the Father has not changed – even as he sees his younger son a long ways off and runs out to meet him, so he comes out for the older son as well – the only difference is that the younger son has repented of his sin and so God’s grace and love can flourish in a joyous celebration because he was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.  

That road that the younger son takes, the road the older son refuses to walk, is the road of confession, the road of penance, the road of reconciliation. God through his Church has made that road clear – has shown us where we can go, where we can walk knowing that he will run to meet us; and with the joy of the shepherd having found his lost sheep, with the joy of the woman having found her lost coin, will bring the finest robe and put it on us; put a ring on our finger and sandals on our feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it and begin to celebrate with a feast – where we have squandered his grace and his love he will absolve us and restore us again. 

And so, if it’s been a while since you’ve taken that road – if you’ve begun to realize how hungry you are not for the pods on which the swine feed but for the unconditional love of God which has not changed – which has never faded from the moment you were conceived, even if you cannot not see it and cannot feel it – if you are ready to take a few steps of repentance and see your entire world shift in abundant and abounding love – then it only takes a simple appointment with a priest. It’s okay if you’ve forgotten how the sacrament goes; it’s okay if you forget and like the younger son only get out half of what you wanted to say.  Come to your senses and come home.

What’s wrong with the world? I am. And what joy then, that God the Father, runs to meet me, embraces me and kisses me. What joy then, that with His abundant grace, with his abounding love, and in all patience he has sent his only son to come and save me. Jesus Christ is the sacrifice of that reconciliation – he is not the fattened calf but the Lamb of God who has come in love to take away the sins of the world. What joy, that we who are sinners, who have come home, who are not standing aloof outside in pride and presumption, and are ready to let God’s love flourish through us again, are called to this supper of the lamb. To God Our Heavenly Father, the King of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Reading 1 EX 32:7-11, 13-14

The LORD said to Moses,
“Go down at once to your people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,
for they have become depraved.
They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out,
‘This is your God, O Israel,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’
“I see how stiff-necked this people is, ” continued the LORD to Moses.
Let me alone, then,
that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.
Then I will make of you a great nation.”

But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying,
“Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt
with such great power and with so strong a hand?
Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
and how you swore to them by your own self, saying,
‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky;
and all this land that I promised,
I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’”
So the LORD relented in the punishment
he had threatened to inflict on his people. 

Reading 2 1 TM 1:12-17
I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord,
because he considered me trustworthy
in appointing me to the ministry.
I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.
Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant,
along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Of these I am the foremost.
But for that reason I was mercifully treated,
so that in me, as the foremost,
Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example
for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.
To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God,
honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Gospel LK 15:1-32

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them he addressed this parable.
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them
would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert
and go after the lost one until he finds it?
And when he does find it,
he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous people
who have no need of repentance. 

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one
would not light a lamp and sweep the house,
searching carefully until she finds it?
And when she does find it,
she calls together her friends and neighbors
and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’
In just the same way, I tell you,
there will be rejoicing among the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.” 

Then he said,
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.'
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns,
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’