"If your hand should cause you to sin cut it off"
Avoiding occasions of sin and overcoming evil

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

A woman bought a very expensive dress and when she went home her husband said to her, “When you were trying it on why didn’t you say, ‘Get behind me Satan?’” She said, “I did say ‘Get behind me Satan,’ and when I looked at it from behind in the mirror it was just as nice!”
(unfortunately I do not know the source of this story.)

There is a battle going on in the lives of each of us, a battle going on for the lives of each of us, a battle between good and evil. At the end of that battle in the next life we will either hear Jesus say, “you are mine” or hear Satan say, “you are mine.” Through his cross Jesus has won the battle but it is up to us now to accept his grace and live as those redeemed by Jesus. There are manifestations of grace and manifestations of evil all around us but we can take the side of Jesus in the battle for our lives by overcoming sin and temptation.

How do we overcome sin and temptation? In our Gospel Jesus said,

if your hand should cause you to sin cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled than to have two hands and go to hell…if your foot should cause you to sin cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell…if you eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell… (Mark 9:43,45,47)

Jesus was speaking metaphorically. In Palestine at that time it was common to speak in this exaggerated way to make a point (hyperbole). But if something is leading us into temptation and sin then we avoid that. We call this avoiding occasions of sin. When Jesus says to cut off our hand or foot or pluck out our eye if it causes us to sin he is asking us to avoid whatever it is that leads us on to commit sin. Jesus is asking us to reflect on our lives to see if anything is leading us in the wrong direction and if so to take steps to remedy it.

Perhaps for some people alcohol is an occasion of sin because it leads on to committing sin. I think we could say the same about much of the trash that is on our TVs or in print or in other media (phone apps, internet sites etc.) because various sins are presented as glamorous which could gradually breaks down our defenses and then we think it is okay to sin. It is no wonder that Mother Teresa of Calcutta is reported as saying about the TV, “we have a tabernacle to Jesus in the Church and we have a tabernacle to Satan in the home.” If she were speaking now she might say the same about the computer or the phone. I know of one community of lay Catholics who decided not to have any TV or newspapers in their community. That is their way of plucking out the eye that would lead to sin. In today’s Gospel Jesus did not say anything about the tongue but if he did it would be something like this, “if your tongue causes you to sin cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life dumb than with speech and go to hell.” I know of one cloistered convent in which one of the convent rules is one sister may not talk to another sister about a third lest they say something bad about the third sister. These are the efforts two communities I know have made to avoid occasions of sin. What are you doing to avoid occasions of sin?

Apart from avoiding occasions of sin we can also strengthen ourselves against evil in many ways. We can pray to overcome evil. The greatest prayer is the Mass. During one of his Wednesday audiences on June 1st 1983 Pope John Paul said,

Every Eucharistic Celebration is stronger than all the evil in the Universe. It means real, concrete accomplishment of redemption and even deeper reconciliation of sinful man with God in prospect of a better world.

Reading Sacred Scripture is also a great remedy because there we encounter God's words to us, his love letter to us.

Our Lady has repeatedly told us in her apparitions that the Rosary is great weapon against Satan. The first day of the retreat I attended last year (2002) was led by Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the chief exorcist of the diocese of Rome, and he told us that once when he was expelling a demon the demon said to him, “every Hail Mary is another blow on my head. If Christians knew the power of the Rosary my power would be finished.” Last year (2002) Our Holy Father Pope John Paul wrote a beautiful letter on the Rosary Rosarium Virginis Mariae encouraging us to pray the Rosary again. May I encourage you to take up the Rosary again if you have neglected it. Let Mary take you to Jesus.

Holy Water is a powerful sacramental that helps protect us from evil. When a priest blesses Holy Water he asks God to protect us from evil when we use the Holy Water. Some of the prayers (from the third edition of the Roman Missal 2012) which the priest may say as he blesses the water are,

“Almighty every-living God…be pleased, we pray, to bless this water, by which we seek protection on this day…grant that by this water we may be defended from all ills of spirit and body and so approach you in hearts made clean and worthily receive your salvation.”

An alternative prayer for the blessing of Holy Water is this one,

“bless this water, which we use in confidence to implore forgiveness for our sins and to obtain the protection of your grace against all illness and every snare of the enemy.”

When Holy Water is blessed, salt may be mixed with it and this is part of the prayer to bless the salt,

“we humbly ask you, almighty God, to bless this salt…Grant, Lord, we pray, that wherever this mixture of salt and water is sprinkled, every attack of the enemy may be repulsed and your Holy Spirit may be present to keep us safe at all times.”

These prayers remind us of the importance of blessing ourselves with Holy Water and sprinkling our houses with Holy Water.

There is a battle going on in the lives of each of us, a battle going on for the lives of each of us, a battle between good and evil. Through his cross Jesus has won the battle but it is up to us now to accept his grace and live as those redeemed by Jesus. Jesus is asking us to reflect on our lives to see if anything is leading us in the wrong direction and if so to take steps to remedy occasions of sin and live in the grace of Jesus so that we may hear him say to us at the end, “You are mine.”

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2003 and later modifications

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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