Fighting the Law of Sin at Work Within Us
Friday October 24, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 7:18-25a) Gospel (St. Luke 12:54-59)
Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, talks about this struggle we all have that we want to do good but we wind up doing the evil we do not want to do, and therefore he says, “I recognize the principle within myself that whenever I want to do good the law of evil is right there.” He makes this distinction between the law of God and the law of evil that is present within us, and he wants to know who is going to deliver him from this mortal body, from the struggles that we have with the concupiscence of the flesh, all those desires that we have within ourselves. We need to struggle against it.
If we look at what Our Lord is talking about in the Gospel and apply it to this particular problem with which we all struggle, we realize that the Lord is telling us, If you’re going before a judge, try to settle with your opponent along the way. Jesus is our judge, and our opponent, in this case, is ourselves; and we need to make sure we get this settled before we go to Jesus, that is, to make sure that we not only want to do what is right, because Saint Paul tells us the problem is the will. Why do I do what I do not want to do? Well, what we want and what we will are often two different things, and so we need to will it. We need to will to make the changes in our lives. We can all look at different areas in our lives and say, “Yeah, I wish I didn’t do that. I really would like that to be different. I want to do what’s right.” But we never will it, and so we just sit around wishing that things were different but we never take the bull by the horns to make the changes we need to make. That is exactly what Our Lord is telling us. He told us that if we do not take care of this along the way – and each one of us is on the way right now – we know that we are going to stand before the Judge.
And so we have these two principles: we have the principle of what Jesus taught us and then we have the principle of evil, the principle of sin which is present within us. We need to get rid of that. We need to get it completely out of ourselves before we stand before the Judge. Otherwise, He told us, the judge will hand us over to the constable and the constable will throw us into prison, and we will not be released until we pay the last penny. Well, He is not talking about hell here, because there is no release from hell, so He is talking about Purgatory. If we want to do what is right and we are in the state of grace but we are continuing to do what is wrong then we are going to be tossed into Purgatory to be purified. Why? Why would anyone want to do such a thing? It is one thing if what you really want is to get to heaven and you are really trying to cooperate with the grace of God so you can get there and you do not quite make it and you wind up in Purgatory for a while; that’s okay. But why desire Purgatory? Why look at it and say, “Oh, I’ll just keep doing the sinful things as long as it’s not mortal. It doesn’t matter. I’m in the state of grace so I’ll go to Purgatory for a while.” That is pretty lousy thinking. What you want is to go to heaven! You want to love God as much as you possibly can, not only here but for all eternity, why would you want to go to Purgatory if you can avoid it? That is exactly what Jesus is telling us to do: Settle with your opponent along the way.
Well, with this opponent, there is only one way of settling it. Get rid of it. You do not want him around. Why would you want the law of sin to be at work within the members of your body when you can get rid of it? Why play around with it? If you start saying, “Well, it’s okay as long as I’m not in the state of mortal sin. As long as I keep myself in the state of grace, it’s okay to give into these little things. That’s not such a big problem.” Until you start giving into too many of them and pretty soon you are going to be into some big stuff. If you play with the fire, you are going to get burned. And do not have this kind of arrogant idea that “I can just go ahead and commit these little sins because at least it doesn’t put me into mortal sin.” It will eventually, if you decide that you want the sin there. The nature of sin is that it just keeps growing. We give into it and it gets worse.
So we all know the struggle. The law of sin is definitely at work within our bodies, for some of us, even within our minds and wills. We need to burn it out. We need to kick it out. And so we need to take on the struggle. To settle with this opponent along the way is not to make a deal with him. Do not ever make a deal with the devil because the devil will always double-cross his dupes; it does not work. The only deal with the devil is the boot. Kick the blasted jerk out and do not play with him. That is the only way. Keep your focus on Jesus and ask yourself, “How serious am I about wanting to go to heaven?” Do not ask yourself, “How serious am I about wanting to go to Purgatory?” because then you are playing around with the possibility of going to hell. How serious are you about getting to heaven? If you want to get to heaven then get rid of the devil, burn the law of sin out of the members of the flesh, and strive to be on that path to Jesus. That is the way we have to be; otherwise, we are going to be turned over to the constable and thrown into prison, into Purgatory, and we will not be released until we pay the last penny.
One way or the other, we will have to deal with our sinfulness and with this law of sin within us. We can do it here, we can do it in Purgatory, or we will do it eternally in hell. In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus told us He came to light a fire. These things have to be burnt out of us one way or the other. We can burn them out now, we can wait until Purgatory and allow them to be burnt out, or we can give into them and they can burn in our flesh and we will burn in them for eternity. The choice is entirely ours and we have to choose which we really want. Do we want the principle of life? Or do we want the principle of death? Do we want heaven? Or do we want hell? It is just that simple. If you want to go to heaven, settle with your opponent along the way – kick him out, get rid of him, and make the choice for Jesus Christ – and walk the path that leads only to heaven.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.