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The Greatest Romance


Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)



According to its website, The Pew Research Center is “a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.”[i]

 Recently, The Pew Research Center[ii] asked people in 40 countries questions about morality.  People were asked what they considered to be morally acceptable or morally unacceptable behavior on a range of issues that included married people having an affair, gambling, homosexuality, having an abortion, sex between unmarried adults, drinking alcohol, getting a divorce and using contraceptives.

Across the 40 countries where people were polled, 78% said that extramarital affairs are morally unacceptable.  7% said that they are acceptable and 10% said that it is not a moral issue.

Moreover, 59% said that homosexuality is not morally acceptable whereas 20% that it is, while 13% said that it is not a moral issue.

56% agreed that abortion is morally unacceptable.  15% said that it was and 12% said that it is not a moral issue.

46% said that pre-marital sex is not moral, whereas 24% claimed that it is and 16% said that it is not a moral issue.

Finally, 14% said that contraception is morally unacceptable.  54% said that it is, while 21% did not consider it a moral issue.

Regarding morality in our own country, the study shows a vast majority of Americans believe that extramarital affairs are morally unacceptable.

However, fewer Americans maintain that abortion is unacceptable (49%), with 17% saying abortion was morally acceptable and 23% saying it was not a moral issue.

At the same time, 37% find homosexuality unacceptable and only 30% say that premarital sex is morally unacceptable.  Concerning the issue of contraceptive use, only 7% say that it is unacceptable.

My dear friends, as we break open the Sacred Scriptures from this Sunday’s liturgy, we find that the Catholic Church continues to invite us to conversion.

In the first reading we hear these words from the Prophet Ezekiel: “When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.  But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18: 26-28).

What is sin?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us a concise definition. “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law” (CCC #1849).

Scripture tells us that actual sin is divided into two classifications: mortal sin and venial sin. “There is a sin that leads to death…” (1John 5:16).  “Every kind of wickedness is sin, but not all sin leads to death” (1John 5:17).

Mortal sin is forgiven through the Sacrament of Confession. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance. All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession…” (CCC #1456).

Just like all the other sacraments of the Church, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Confession.  The Church has always understood the Scriptural reference for the Sacrament of Confession to be John 20: 22-23: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”

The Sacrament of Confession is an enormous source of interior peace.  The priest raises his hand, and then with a blessing pronounces those amazing words: I absolve you from your sins.  At that moment, we know that God has heard our cry for forgiveness, and we have been pardoned of our sins.

We need to form the habit of going to Confession whenever necessary and to keep going on a regular basis.  The frequent reception of the Sacrament of Confession is our greatest weapon against sin and our greatest means for continual spiritual progress.

If mortal sin is not an issue in our personal life or if it occurs once and awhile, it is a very good practice to go to confession for our venial sins, even though it is not necessary to do so.

The Sacrament of Confession does not only forgive sin.  It provides us with immense graces for spiritual growth.

It is essential that we never receive Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin.

Because our society is morally out of control, I recommend that young people go to Confession once a week or at least once every other week.  Sexual sin is not the only sin, but it is certainly the battle of our times.

Adults that have moved on from habitual mortal sin should go to confession at least once a month.

What is the cause of why the lines for Confession are so short?  Why has the Sacrament of Penance become a forgotten sacrament?

This Sunday’s gospel passage provides an answer to these important questions.

We fill our parishes on Sunday and this is excellent, but do we change?

How real is our conversion?

In this Sunday’s gospel passage Jesus asks the chief priests and the elders of the people a question regarding a story about two sons and their decision to work in the vineyard.  The first son refused to go into the vineyard, but then he changed his mind and went.  The second son said that he would go, but he did not go.

The Parable of the Two Sons illustrates the human tension between intention and actualization, between sincerity and hypocrisy, between change and stubbornness.

The parable indicates that the father goes to the sons.  He does not summon them to come to him in his office.  The fact that the father goes out to ask the sons to work in the vineyard shows that discipleship is an invitation.  God does not force us to live the Gospel.

Our decision is rooted in human freedom and God respects the gift of freedom that he has given to us.

Our decision, rooted in freedom, can be a gradual one, developing over a long period of time.

This is why God is always patient and merciful, always waiting for our repentance and conversion.

Pope Francis writes: “A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties.  Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings” (Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, 23).

My dear friends, a decision needs to be made.  We cannot go on in life like the second son who refuses his father’s invitation to go into the vineyard.

Perhaps our response is not the same as the disciples who were called and responded immediately.

Perhaps our decision is slow, weak and superficial.

But, today, Jesus calls us to be generous and to make a firm and joyful decision to live the Gospel with joy and enthusiasm.

If you have not been to Confession in a long time and if you have a hard time getting yourself to go, you can help yourself by meditating on the reality of death, judgment and eternity.  Not everyone gets to heaven.  Having a clear idea of eternity and the eternal consequences of our actions could help us gain a sense of the seriousness of sin.

Pope John Paul II wrote: “Nor can the Church omit, without serious mutilation of her essential message, a constant catechesis on what the traditional Christian language calls the four last things of man: death, judgment (universal and particular), hell and heaven.

In a culture which tends to imprison man in the earthly life at which he is more or less successful, the pastors of the Church are asked to provide a catechesis which will reveal and illustrate with the certainties of faith what comes after the present life: beyond the mysterious gates of death, an eternity of joy in communion with God or the punishment of separation from him.

Only in this eschatological vision can one realize the exact nature of sin and feel decisively moved to penance and reconciliation” (Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 26).

The regular use of the Sacrament of Confession is the best way to begin your journey and to maintain the freshness of your decision.  We encounter Jesus by recognizing and accepting who we are: sinful human beings in need of salvation.