It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.
Two heavy readings today remind us of death and judgment, heaven and hell. I have written enough invective about the one percent that supposedly controls most of our wealth; I think I can let Saint James have the last word about them. If they will not listen to Moses and the scriptures, or even one who rose from the dead, they certainly won’t be bothered by the ranting of hospital chaplain.
In today’s gospel Jesus reminds us of the urgency to choose wisely. I assume he is speaking of “spiritual amputation” when he talks about cutting off hands and plucking out eyes. I see enough amputations in the hospital to know that having one’s foot severed doesn’t do much for one’s spiritual life.
But, the older I get, the more amputations I have to do on myself; or at least, I have to ask confessors, counselors and friends to help me cut it off.
Three years ago I took a few hundred dollars’ worth of pipes, pipe cleaners, pipe lighter and tamper, plus some stale tobacco and tossed the whole kit caboodle in the dumpster. As I did so, I said, “I’m going to regret this.” And I do. I would often like to tamp down a pipeful and puff my way through another "homily." There's something about nicotine that loosens the creative juices. But -- alas -- I threw my pipes away.
And so what? The time had come to quit the practice of smoking. So I regret doing a good thing. I’ve got enough bad things to regret, God knows! I might as well add a good one to the pile.
The teaching reminds us how difficult it can be to alter one’s self. The older I get the more attitudes I have to give up, the more foods I cannot eat, the more distractions I cannot afford, and so forth. Were I to pursue all my favorite activities I would have no time to do what my Lord has sent me to do. So I amputate them. I take them off my bucket list and defer them to eternity.
But, you might say, this really is impossible. How difficult it is to change one’s eating habits, spending habits, and self-comforting habits! All things are possible in God -- even the amputation of a limb.