Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, blessings on this Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity. In the Gospel reading for today, we come upon a nobleman; a man no doubt accustomed to the many privileges of his high estate; a man set apart from most others in the time that he is able to devote to his own leisure. Some noblemen make good use of their fortunes. They become patrons of artists, provide for charities for the poor, and maintain in their private customs the higher ideals of the prevailing civilization. Others misspend their fortunes in an excess of wine, women, and song. We do not know if the nobleman in the Gospel reading hangs his fine linen hat among the saints or the sinners. What we do know is that, contrary to the privileged, easy life with which he is much more accustomed, the nobleman is at the end of his rope. He loves his son; his son is dying; and there is nothing he can do to reverse that. His enormous fortune, his exclusive privileges, his high-end connections, none of that can keep death from snatching away what really matters in his life. As much as he is confronted with the imminent loss of his son, he is also facing his own frailty. The illusion of power and prominence is falling away like a half-forgotten dream. He has no choice but to set aside his conceits and to walk with the little people as glaringly needful as them. We should never wish for hardship, but when inevitably it comes in one form or another we should pray for that grace by which we may learn something from it. The lesson is clear: We are weak, needful, and sometimes very much alone in whatever troubles our hearts. The poor are mindful of their vulnerability all the time. They know that life is lived on the edge. A missed paycheck, an intemperate boss, a bout of sickness or starvation, can push them over that edge and into the abyss. Think of the prostitutes who go missing and are soon forgotten. Think of the unnamed dead in a potter’s field. Think of the man screaming epithets on a street corner to an unseen listener. These people do not have the luxury to fancy the world through the eyes of a sophisticated agnostic. The harshness of their lives forces them to choose: Either they embrace God, or they embrace alcohol, drugs, sexual depravity, or some other sin they find out there on the streets. Among the poor and the despised will be found the strongest believers and the most hardened atheists. On the other hand, the well-bred often can afford the luxury of a middling approach to life. They can indulge the full spectrum of soft ideas about God, sin, and salvation, without ever having to commit to any one position. For them, the sudden imposition of hardship is a kind of rude awakening. They can turn mad, or they can turn to Christ Jesus. The nobleman in today’s Gospel reading chooses the latter. This is why his son is saved. Salvation is a gift, but it is a gift we must embrace. Even if we do not truly believe we are worthy of it, even if we harbor wrong ideas about the God who can provide it, we must at least try to make the first timid step in the direction of the God of our salvation. Christ Jesus laments how the crowd demands to see “signs and wonders” before finally they will believe, and yet the nobleman persists notwithstanding Our Lord’s denunciation. He is making his first timid step. It may be a step that the nobleman never would have made had he not been confronted with this hardship. It may be that the nobleman does not know all that clearly who Christ Jesus actually is and what His ministry is all about. In other words, what we see here may be the first timid step of a weak and confused man with a faith no deeper than that he wants his son to live. Still, he is making that first step, and God is doing so much more with that. Give God an inch, and He will give you a mile’s worth of grace in response.

This begs the question: Why does God give so much more to us than we do to him? Why is God so much more generous than, say, a credit card or an equity line of credit? With credit, so long as the card or the line has not been cancelled, when we pay off a hundred dollars of prior debt, we get a hundred dollars of new credit restored to us minus interest and fees. With God, when we pay off a hundred dollars of sin, by giving that sin to Christ Jesus on the Cross who actually is paying it for us, we get millions upon millions of dollars’ worth of divine grace. Of course, this is an imprecise analogy at best, since in truth there is no dollar amount for grace, notwithstanding how our Roman Catholic Brethren in Christ used to sell indulgences. The point is that God gives us so much more than we even try to give to Him. He does this because He is God, the perfect, eternal expression of selfless love. He does this also because He knows better than we do just how weak and precarious our situation is. For we are not only at war with our own sins. We are at war with Powers and Principalities; Demons and other Dark Entities literally Hell bent on our destruction. The Devil hates us, because we are made in God’s Image and so loved by Him that He gave us His only begotten Son to die for us. The Devil tempts, deceives, and perverts us; and when we sin he augments the impact of that sin so that as many people as possible may be hurt by whatever we have done. When God heals us, as Christ Jesus healed the nobleman’s son, God also protects and strengthens us for the battle ahead. He cannot just bandage the wound, for if crippled we shall be easy pickings for the Devil and his minions. So He bandages the wound, and goes on to reinvigorate the whole body, to encourage higher resolve in the heart and wisdom in the mind, and to lift up our souls. He lends us His holiest angels in the direst moments, for as St. Alphonsus Liguori proclaims: “The powers of hell will assail the dying Christian, but his guardian angel will come to console him.” One of these angels is Raphael, the archangel saint for whom we pray in this Mass. Raphael is a derivative of the Hebrew word meaning, “one who heals.” In the Jewish Talmud, Raphael is described as one of the three angels who appeared to Abraham in Hebron. The Church Fathers identified Raphael as the angel who stirred the pool of Bethesda. The Church regards Raphael, along with Michael and Gabriel, as angels whose intercession may be sought through prayer. Raphael is an expression of the divine power in healing. He fights the Devil for us and beside us, for there can be no real healing if we remain vulnerable to the wiles of the Prince of Darkness. Let us pray, then, that as the nobleman came down from his exalted pedestal to make his first timid step toward Christ Jesus, we too may put away our conceits and continue step by step to go to the God of our salvation. Let us pray that the angels will be there with us every step of the way as we struggle to put the snare of the Devil behind us for all time.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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