In preparation for this coming Sunday's homily, I am mulling over the three chapters in Romans where Paul shares his anguish over his kinsmen’s not accepting Jesus as the Messiah. I see a clear link with our anguish over our own relatives who are not abiding by our Catholic faith. The fundamental issue is the same: the demand of the Gospel is faith, but the preference of Paul’s kinsmen (and of fallen away Catholics) is a different preference: both groups attempt to establish their own righteousness rather than submit to the righteousness God wants from us: that is, faith.
Oh, they may even have zeal for God, but their zeal is not discerning. They want to live not by faith, but they want to live as if a good life could be accomplished by doing good. The Lord makes very clear, however, that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Yet, how many of the baptized do not practice the faith. Have they not heard the faith proclaimed and taught? They have; but not everyone has lived according to what they heard.
Perhaps they did not understand what they were taught? It has more to do with a willfulness to be disobedient to the Word of God than not understanding. Does that mean that God rejects them for their disobedience? Of course not! God does not reject either the Jewish people or the baptized people! And even though it may feel like everyone has departed from the life of faith, it is not so. Look at us! Just as in the Old Testament, so in the New Testament: a remnant will be faithful. You and I are part of today’s remnant.
The rest, however, have become hardened in their hearts, or as Scripture puts it: "God gave them a spirit of deep sleep, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear.”
Can we, therefore, say something radical: that their loss of faith is the work of God?
Well, when we choose against God and God’s ways we begin a series of stumbles that have us fall again and again into a state of further alienation from God and the Church. Such as: I commit some deed I know is wrong, and then I find it all the more enticing, so I justify my decision and choose this sin rather than repent of it. How is this the work of God? God arranged our souls so that a choice against Him begets other choices against Him, until it gets bad enough so that we repent. The huge problem with self-justification is they we never get to repent because we have chosen to believe that bad is good. And that’s how we begin to abide in a state of enmity with God. It is the work of God whenever a soul recognizes that this state of enmity with God is no longer wanted.
Has God, therefore, rejected those who have chosen to be His enemies? No! But they do abide in a state of disobedience to God. That makes them enemies of God. There is a big HOWEVER here. The “However” is this: we are all enemies of God every time we choose sin against the ways of the Lord. Even the best of us can at times be an enemy of God. That’s why it’s so necessary to go the confession every now and then. But to choose sin and justify it against the clear teaching of the Church does indeed put us in an abiding state of enmity with God. In such a case we are seeking self-justification, not the justification that comes from recognizing oneself as a sinner in need of God’s saving grace. Until we come to know that we need God, desperately need Him, we abide in a state of enmity with God – even if we do lots of wonderful things.
We have the face the music that God has so set things up that there is a state of alienation (i.e. enmity) for those who fall away but a kindness for those who abide in faith – and not any faith, but the faith He called us to in Baptism.
So, in respect to the gospel, the fallen away are enemies of God; but in respect to having been chosen as sons and daughters of God, they are beloved because of the faithful witness of their ancestors and those who went before them, the saints.
“For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” This is the great message of hope and it means that God will not stop seeking the lost sheep. He is the Hound of Heaven chasing after us until we finally realized how loved we are. That is our hope; that is the hope of all who have been baptized; and this is the hope we can have for our fallen away brothers and sisters.