Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 22), 2020.
Flowing out of our liturgical life—the Liturgy of daily Office and Mass Sunday by Sunday and the appointed Holy Days—is our Personal Devotion: our loving of God and neighbor in our day to day, and in our neighbor loving God; seeking and serving Him in all people and doing so according to the Crucified and Risen Christ revealed in Scripture. Personal Devotion is anything we do that is done for the greater glory of God, and for greater intimacy with Him. Studying Scripture and giving to the poor are the classic expressions of personal devotion, but it also includes an innumerable spectrum of activities that bring beauty and goodness into the world: a spectrum ranging from tending a garden and arranging flowers to being a responsible citizen to private prayer and meditation, to reading about the lives of the Saints, to donate time, talent and treasure to a charitable organization, to serving the lonely, to being a good listener, a good husband, a good wife, a good parent, a good teacher, a good person when that adjective “good” always means “loves God” before it means anything else.
“Personal devotion” is described in the New Testament, in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, as “continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship”—the activity of studying the apostolic proclamation of Christ which is captured in Scripture, and living out that proclamation in Christian community where love for all abounds, and hospitality our primary characteristic. In the overall Christian life, personal devotion flows out of the Liturgy of Office and Mass, and is anything we do in this world and in our lives out of a desire to love God and love neighbor.
This is what Saint Paul is teaching us today, when he says “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s guidance is to seek a robust personal devotion based on how the Holy Spirit calls each of us personally—that is, according to our personal characteristics, temperament, life situation, background, gifts; in short, according to our personality. We are all members of Christ’s Body, members one of another in Him, but we never lose our personality, our uniqueness, our story—we do not lose our identity, but what is transformed is the horizon of our identity. In our baptism, our commonwealth, our citizenship, is stretched to heaven. This is a citizenship that begins in the Cross, and all of reality becomes cross-shaped. Reality is cruciform, that is, of the form of the Cross.
This is why when we confess our sins in the Liturgy we express our desire for mercy and forgiveness, that we may delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways. We must be accustomed to reality which is cruciform, reality in the form of the Cross. This is why we receive Eucharist, why we receive Holy Communion—for we must be accustomed to reality which is cruciform. This is why we celebrate the Liturgy of Office and Mass according to the Kalendar—for doing so accustoms us to the Cross. All temptation we face is ultimately a temptation away from the Cross, and turned away from the Cross, we are enemies of the Cross in Paul’s guidance. To be an enemy of the Cross is to live in purely worldly ways, to live as if our only citizenship is this world, and to order our lives around the values of this world—of wealth, of power, of possession.
True Christian spirituality, as Saint Paul teaches along with all of the other Saints, is based on our heavenly citizenship through Baptism—and indeed as Paul teaches to the Corinthians, in being a steward of the sacramental mysteries of Christ. When we live that way—summarized as Liturgy with personal devotion—we are living in the vineyard of God prepared for us. When our devotion to God flows forth from liturgical prayer, we are living in the Kingdom of God given to us—given to us to be stewards of the Sacraments, stewards of sacramental mysteries, stewards of God’s vineyard the bears the fruit of eternal and everlasting life; fruit that come of our hands, God ever working through our hands, through our words, through our deeds—fruit of beauty and goodness, that others may taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ that in our personal devotion, we bear such fruit.