Posted September 19th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

Robert loveIt’s true.  I thought I was preaching at a local parish on Sept 3.  The Gospel reading was on “take up your cross and follow me” from Matthew 16:24-26.  However, I had decided to focus primarily on the 2nd reading from Romans 12:1-2.

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.  Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.  Romans 12:1-2

I prepared all month to give a homily that would engage the congregation; “work the text,” as the Protestant preachers say, and be within a 10 minute time frame.  I practiced with Lori over and over again and was SO READY! Alas, I got the date wrong and showed up to preach only to find out I was not on the schedule.  AGH!  I’m giving you the homily below.  Picture yourself at Mass (or Sunday worship). Notice the congregation’s response; post your comments!

Good evening, Church.  Wow, these are some tough readings. “Take up your cross…lose your life for my sake…offer your bodies as living sacrifices…”  But…wait a minute.  We know the meaning of these readings.  Our parents and grandparents and the good nuns taught us the meaning of these readings in this one succinct phrase:  “offer it up.”

When I say, “Rob,” you say, “Offer it up.”  Let’s practice. 

When I was a kid, and I complained when Mom would not let me go out to play baseball because I had to do homework, Mom would say, “Rob…”

All:  “Offer it up.”

When I was a teenager in religion class, and my friends and I asked Sr. Holy Agony what to do with all that hormonal energy as we saved sex for marriage, she said, “Rob…”

All: “Offer it up.”

And when I got married and was complaining to my wife about changing plans for grad school and getting a job because we were going to have a baby, she said, “Rob…”

All: “Offer it up.”

And when Lori was in labor and the pain was almost unbearable, she looked at me with fierceness in her eyes, grabbed my shoulders, and said, “If you tell me to offer it up, I will kill you!”  I had to let it go. I couldn’t use those words on her, so I just told myself, “Rob…”

All: “Offer it up.”

The Church today is reminding us to do what we have been taught since childhood: to bear the suffering that comes from being a disciple of Jesus in a crazy, mixed-up, and confused world.  And not only to bear it, but to give that suffering back to God as a gift. 

Let’s review what Paul wrote:  I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. 

When Paul writes, “offer your bodies,” he’s talking about the “whole self.”  Paul is writing about something Fr. Jack invites us to do week after week during the offertory of the Mass: along with the bread and wine, to place our lives, our hopes and dreams, our struggles and sufferings on the Lord’s table, and to surrender them to God.

So, we might ask, on a practical, day-to-day basis, how do we do this, how do we offer to God our very selves as a living sacrifice?  The key is found in Paul’s next line.  “Do not conform yourselves to this age…” Please repeat that phrase: “Do not conform yourselves to this age.” 

partyingWhat does Paul mean by “this age?”  “This age” refers to the dominant culture of human self-centeredness, selfishness, greed, and sin that has existed from the time of Adam & Eve.  Paul writes, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator.”   Worshiping the creature rather than the Creator, or “self-worship,” is what Paul means by “this age.”  Paul is telling us that if we want to offer our lives to God as a living sacrifice, our spiritual worship, we cannot conform to this age of collective “self-worship.” 

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr describes “this age” as the age of the Poison P’s: position, possessions, power, and privilege, all made possible by money.  He writes that all of us are immersed in the world of position, possessions, power, and privilege.  They are called the Poison P’s because, without even realizing it, we get sucked into seeking them for life’s meaning, rather than seeking God.  However, when we make the “Poison P’s” the goal of life, they suck the life out of us; we become “self-worshipers” rather than God-worshipers.  There is a religious version of the Poison P’s popularly known as the “Prosperity Gospel.”  To paraphrase Jesus, what good is it to gain the Poison P’s – position, possessions, power, and privilege – and to lose our life with God?

But wait a minute, Paul; we have to live in this world.  How do we keep from conforming to it?  Paul gives us direction in the next line; “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  Repeat those words.  “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” 

Paul is teaching sound mental health principles: that if we change the way we think, we will change the way we feel and behave.  Paul is saying “Live in the world of self-centeredness but don’t identify with it.”  Ultimately, we are not to define ourselves by our jobs, our looks, our favorite sports team, historical heritage, ethnicity, nationality, and/or children or grandchildren, however awesome they may be.  We identify as daughters and sons of God, disciples of Jesus, and servants of the Holy Spirit.  We do not identify with this age of “self-worship, but to the age of the Trinity.

  • This age seeks power to rule over others; the age of the Trinity uses power to serve others.
  • This age seeks the accumulation of possessions; the age of the Trinity possesses only what it needs.
  • This age uses privilege to exclude and separate; the age of the Trinity uses privilege to include and unite.
  • This age seeks to win at all costs; the age of the Trinity follows Jesus who gave his life that others may live.
  • This age chooses to self-medicate with alcohol, porn, drugs, shopping, gambling, television, and video-gaming; the age of the Trinity copes through prayer, liturgy, and community fellowship.
  • This age abandons the unborn, the poor and elderly, ignores social justice, and cares little for the environment; the age of the Trinity carries the cross for life, justice, peace, and a greener world.

brown-1851-christ-washing-pThe law of this age is “survival of the fittest.”  The law of the age of the Trinity is LOVE.  Not the hippie-dippie love of 1968 but the self-giving, sacrificial love of Jesus. 

Let’s get to the last point Paul made: he wants us to conform ourselves to the age of the Trinity so that we “may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Paul understands that life is complicated.  We have to make difficult moral decisions that are shaped by our unique circumstances, personalities, and histories.  Pope Francis, Fr. Jack, and Helen aren’t sitting at our kitchen tables helping us to decide what to do in this situation and that.  If we confront our challenges with a transformed mind – as sons and daughters of God, disciples of Jesus, and servants of the Holy Spirit – we will be able to discern how we are to act in our own situations, in a way that is pleasing to God.

Let me give you an example from my own life.  My mother suffered from mental illness, bi-polar disorder.  Once or twice a year Mom would sink into a world of depression, darkness, and despair that could last a month or two months.  If my father were a man of this age, how would he have coped?  Have an affair?  Drink or turn to porn?  Divorce her? 

Probably.  But Dad was a man of the age of the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Spirit.  He had a cross to bear as a man of the Trinity, and he bore it by serving Mom.  He found strength from personal prayer, from his neighbors and prayer group, and from going to Mass.  Though many doctors and treatments were tried, there was no curing the mental illness that gripped my mother; there was only managing it.  As a man of the Trinity, Dad was guided by sacrificial love.  During the dark days of depression there was no romance; he “offered it up.”  There was no friendship; he “offered it up.”  There was no joy; he “offered it up.”  Eventually there was a “payoff” for all that “offering it up.”  When Mom came out of her depression, she knew what Dad had done for her.  Romance, friendship, and joy returned.

Church, the word of God for us today is a demanding one, but it is not a new one.  We have learned since childhood that there is a suffering we must bear in following Jesus.  Sometimes we get tired of it, sometimes we don’t like it, and sometimes we want relief; we want to zone out.  At these times we don’t have to be able to quote Jesus or St. Paul.  We just have to recall that age-old wisdom from the nuns and, say it with me, “offer it up.”


  1. Donna says:


  2. Bob Kane says:

    Robert, your parish missed out on an excellent homily!