26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 27, 2015)
If everyone could do me a favor and hold their hands up and keep their eyes open… It appears to me that everyone has both of their hands and both of their eyes. So why in the world does Jesus say in today’s Gospel reading that, “If you hand causes you to sin, cut it off” and “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck if out.” Call me crazy, but I have a hunch that everyone in here, including myself, has used our hands or our eyes to sin at some point in our lives. But as I said just a minute ago, everyone in here has both of their hands and both of their eyes. So what’s the deal?
Before I answer that, I want to tell you a story about a young girl named Catherine. She was the youngest of 25 children, many of which died at a young age. At the age of 6, she experienced a vision of Jesus, seated in all His glory with the Apostles Peter, Paul and John. It was believed that this vision helped her at a young age decide on her vocation. A year later, Catherine made a secret vow to give her entire life to God.
By the age of 12, Catherine’s mother insisted that she pay more attention to her physical appearance in hopes to attract the attention of a future husband. To please her mother, Catherine started to wear bright dresses and jewels that were what all the young girls wore in those days. However, remembering her secret vow to give her entire life to God, Catherine repented of her vanity and declared that she would never marry. And when her parents insisted that she pursue marriage, Catherine cut off the attribute that was considered to be her most beautiful and prized possession…her long, golden-brown hair. For those who have never heard this story before, it is about St. Catherine of Sienna, one of the great mystics and a Doctor of the Church.
Now, before all of your ladies go out and chop off your hair, realize this: beauty is not a sin…having long hair is not a sin…pursuing marriage is meant to be a good thing. St. Catherine did not become a saint because she cut off her hair or remained single. She became a saint because, in her short life, she clearly and consistently surrendered her life to Christ. She tried to cut out anything that interfered with her journey to God. And as a passionate young girl, that meant her hair.
So let’s get back to today’s Gospel reading from St. Mark. Is Jesus asking us to literally cut off our own body parts in order to avoid sin? Honestly, I don’t know. But think of all the ways we use our bodies to sin: our brains for evil thoughts, our tongues for gossip, our hands for fighting, our hearts for hate, our eyes for lust, our feet for walking past those who need our help, plus the other body parts that I won’t mention in the company of young children. If we were to cut off anything that causes us to sin, we wouldn’t have a body left!
Now, I do know that God’s original plan for our bodies was for good. I also recall that, according to 1 Corinthians 6:19, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” So logically, it appears that we are not to take this Gospel passage literally, but try to figure out what Jesus is convening to us with such graphic imagery.
So here’s the message that I believe Jesus is trying to convey to us with urgency– do whatever it takes to get to heaven. Sin cuts you off from heaven…so you need to cut sin out of your life. If your brain causes you to sin due to evil thoughts, try filling your mind with prayers instead. If your tongue causes you to sin by gossiping, try using your tongue to confess your sins in the sacrament of reconciliation instead. If your hands cause you to sin by fighting, instead try extending your hand for a handshake or give a hug to someone who needs it. If your heart is filled with hate, ask God to remove the hardness of your heart and fill it instead with love. If your eyes cause you to sin on the Internet, buy a filter that limits what sites you can look up. If someone needs help, stop walking past and help them.
This is not something that can easily be changed in one day. This is a continual journey from now until your physical death. We all slip up from time to time. The glory of it all is that with each new day, we get a new chance. Remember, every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. A lot of what that future holds is out of your control. But how you handle what the future throws your way, now that IS something you can control.
So like St. Catherine of Sienna, whether you live a long or short life, make sure that each day you try to cut out sin by clearly and consistently surrendering your life to Christ. After all, he surrendered His life for you!