Homily for the Eigtheenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2021
Brothers and sisters:
I declare and testify in the Lord
that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
in the futility of their minds;
that is not how you learned Christ,
assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him,
as truth is in Jesus,
that you should put away the old self of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self,
created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
-Eph. 4:17, 20-24
“Old self,” “new self,” what can these mean? We have a bit of clarity about our old self, since the apostle makes it clear that this is a matter of our “former way of life corrupted through deceitful desires.” We can say, “What is past, is past,” but it has been experienced and it is remembered, often with pain or shame. We have, alas, an awareness of what the old self is.
As the royal psalmist (who had quite an old self to contend with!) says, “Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart.”
But our “new self”—what is that? Can you remember it, can you define it, are you certain that you are in possession of it? Memory and experience are biased in favor of continuity, so that we may feel no different from our past self, even if we are in God’s grace as far as we can tell. Our faith tells us that if we avoid sin and make good confessions we have moral certainty of this new life to which the apostle refers, but this does not mean that we have a clear conception or imagination of what the new self is.
As with practically all our homilies, we take some direction from the insights of St. Thomas Aquinas on the lesson we have read and heard.
There are two notions that can explain this state of affairs. Notice that St. Paul says that the new self, the new man (as the Greek actually says) is created “according to God in justice and the holiness of truth.” Creation is strictly speaking a coming-to-being out of nothing, by sheer divine power. A creature precisely as a creature has no past—only a future, as it were. Creation is always instantaneous, and thus in a way outside time. It is what makes time possible, but it is not something contained in time, even if it appears at a certain point in time.
In other words, we can never form an image or have an entirely adequate grasp of what it means to be created in nature, much less to be re-created in grace.
It is only in the vision of God in heaven that, gazing on the divine Essence of the Most Holy Trinity, we will see ourselves being created at every instant, suddenly, completely, perfectly. That will be quite a sight. Then, as the apostle says elsewhere, “We will know as we are known.”
So the “new self” is not only new, it is created anew. It is the work of the power of God, not directly perceptible in this world of change and sense. We are each, in our restoration to the new life of grace, an impenetrable mystery. To know ourselves through and through and utterly would require that we see God himself.
The dignity of being a new self, a new man, is thus infinite and worthy of the greatest reverence and gratitude, but it is also a mystery of faith, as beyond us as the other revealed mysteries. Yes, we can have evidence of this new life by our good actions, but these are the merest signs of the infinite life within.
Does this mean that we can have no experience of our being new selves in the grace of Christ? No. We can, but this experience is different from the experience of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, beyond imagination and memory, beyond reasoning. We can experience the new self by one standard only.
To the new self, Christ gives a “new commandment.” He does so at the Holy Mass, the first in the cenacle in Jerusalem, and at every one after, as he teaches in the Gospel readings of these coming weeks, in the offering of the Bread of Life.
What is this new commandment whereby we can experience being new selves? “Love one another as I have loved you.” Begin to take the initiative, concretely to love another as Christ did. Love before you know you are loved. Love just to love. Love in order to give a gift, not in order to receive in return. Then you will love as Christ loves, as the crucified Creator of our new selves: almighty in bringing being out of nothing, extravagant in pouring out his Precious Blood on a world that can never repay his goodness.
It is this world of a redeemed new creation that is yours within, and which you can look forward to seeing as you look forward to seeing the face of God himself as “the new man created according to God in justice and the holiness of truth!”