Life in Disguise

This homily was given at Mater Dolorosa Parish, South San Francisco, CA on the Sunday after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, September 18, 2022.

It was a woman in a garden who first tasted death.

The serpent promised her life: if she would only take and eat that one fruit that God had forbidden, she would become like God and enjoy the fullness of life without end.

Tempted by the devil, our first parents let trust in the Creator die in their hearts, and abused their freedom in disobeying His command.

But when the woman bit into that forbidden fruit, she tasted, not the sweetness of life, but the bitterness of death.

And we, poor, banished children of Eve, know that taste all too well.

Death, in this world, comes wrapped in the trappings of life.

The serpent whispers to us, “If you want to live, seize life for yourself.”

“Don’t wait for God to give it to you; He can’t be trusted.”

“Just lay hold of that fruit; grab what is within your reach, what you can control, and you will be happy and live.”

But the serpent is a liar.

And all our attempts to procure life for ourselves turn to dust in our hands and ashes in our mouth, leaving us even emptier than before.

Life, true, everlasting life, comes to us in disguise … as death.

Jesus’ life was a constant death, from the wood of the manger to the cross.

Rather than grasping for what was His by right, He poured Himself out, giving Himself away out of love for His Father and for wounded mankind, heedless of the cost, to his last breath, to his last drop of blood.

And He, whose battered, broken body would have been death’s greatest prize … He rose from the tomb, trampling down death by death.

The dark kingdom could not contain such abundant life, any more than a shadow can swallow up the sun. 

We have chosen to follow Jesus in the way that leads through death to life.

Following Him, we have willingly renounced much freedom, pleasure, and control, undertaking the discipline of clerical and religious life.

But the sacrifice He desires above all is the sacrifice of faith: of trust in Him.

In the end, it is not what we do or what we give up that makes us holy.

Yes, we must deny ourselves, take up the cross, pray without ceasing, …

But it is loving faith, filial trust, that makes us holy, that makes our sacrifices meritorious, that makes our crosses easy and our burdens light, that fills our life with joy and sweetness and surrounds us with an aroma of peace.

Today, at this Divine Liturgy, we recall the love of Christ and the purity of faith that burned within our hearts as we first set out to follow Him.

We renounce the lack of love and grasping for control that leads to death.

As we drink the fire that is in the cup, the Body and Blood of Christ, unto life everlasting, we ask Him to renew in us His gift of loving faith.

As we follow Jesus daily in His way of living by dying, trusting Him to lead us to the life we long for, offering everything to Him as a sacrifice of confident, loving faith, we find one day that we can no longer quite remember that bitter taste of death we once knew so well … because we are filled to the uttermost fullness with the sweetness of life.

And when the day comes that we die for the last time and go forth into the kingdom of God, we will savor the unimaginable delights of life without end, with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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