Finding Your Place Week 4

(Homily for Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

Message: If you feel jealousy swelling into hateful envy, remember Hippolytus.

First, let me bring you up-to-date on the homily series. We have been talking about finding one's place in relation to Israel - both the original Israel and the new Israel, the Church Jesus founded on Peter the Rock. Last week we saw that Jesus gave Peter the keys not because he was the smartest or the most successful or even the most holy. No, he chose Peter because of his faith. We saw something similar regarding a successor of St. Peter. In 218 AD they chose a man named Callixtus - a former slave with some serious skeletons in his closet. Well, Callixtus turned out to be the right man at the right time. His own failings and weakness made him compassionate to sinners.

Today we see what happens when a person begins a ministry of service. The devil counterattacks. That happened after the election of St. Callixtus. Now you and I can see that it is good and beautiful that the Church in Rome elected a former slave as pope. Well, not everyone saw it that way. The devil stirred up envy in a man named Hippolytus. He was the greatest theologian in the third century Roman Church. From him we get the Second Eucharistic Prayer - the one most often used by priests. It is safe to say that of all the early Christian writers, Hippolytus is the most frequently quoted!

Hippolytus was an intellectual giant - a great gift to the early Church. His name, however, means "horse turned loose"* - and he lived up to his name. As soon as Callixtus was elected, Hippolytus started criticizing him. We know negative details about Callixtus' life because Hippolytus dug them up and broadcast them. He thought they could have found a much better man for pope and Hippolytus knew exactly who that better man was. Hippolytus set himself up as the first "anti-pope."

When Pope Callixtus died in 223, Hippolytus didn't give up. He continued almost 20 years as anti-pope. Finally God used the Roman emperor to solve the problem. Emperor Maximillian arrested both the pope and the anti-pope and sent them to forced labor in Sardinia. On that island Hippolytus asked forgiveness and reconciled himself with Pope Pontian. Today we celebrate the two saints on the same day (August 13).

God sometimes has to use extreme means to bring us to himself. In the first reading we hear Jeremiah complain that he has become "an object of laughter." God allows this not because he enjoys seeing us suffer but because he wants our humility - to acknowledge our dependence on him. God did something like that for Hippolytus. Forced labor in a tin mine was no picnic - especially for an elderly scholar. Hippolytus perished quickly but he died in the arms of the Church and in the arms of God.

Hippolytus is the patron saint of the envious. A person should ask his intercession when he finds himself agitated because of what someone else has. You know what I mean: Why did he get chosen? I am just as good as he is. Why is everyone making a big deal about him? What about me?

I'd like to apply this to a specific type of envy - one that I hear a lot about as a priest: the problem of "jealousy" or envy in marriage. Remember our distinction between jealousy and envy. A little jealousy in marriage can be OK. A guy might notice that his wife admires a man who is courteous and spends time with children. The man reflects, "I can do that." I can be more gentlemanly and take more time to play catch with my son. That's a good kind of jealousy.

The problem is that jealousy can turn into envy. A husband may start imagining that his wife values someone above him. That envy can drive a man crazy. Instead of trusting his wife he becomes suspicious of everything she does. I have known women who have lived with that persecution for years. It's obvious she loves her husband and that he is the most important person to her, except for God. Otherwise she would leave him, but she sticks with him hoping for a change.

The root problem is envy. The man constantly compares himself with someone else - usually an imaginary person - and he feels he does not measure up. That type of destructive envy can only be solved by discovering one's real place - ultimately in relation to God.

St. Hippolytus had to lose everything before he could let go of his envy. I pray that does not happen with any of our husbands. But a husband can lose everything - his wife, his family, all that really matters.

Envy can destroy a marriage. It can ruin other relationships as well. If you feel jealousy swelling into hateful envy, remember Hippolytus. Maybe even remember the meaning of his name - horse turned loose. God wants you to be workhorse or a racehorse or even a warhorse, but not a horse turned loose trampling others. St. Hippolytus repented, turned to God - and so can you and I.

I have focused on envy among men because that's what I know best. Envy of course can affect women. Like men they constantly get messages comparing themselves to other - especially in our culture. Next week I will address the comparison trap. The bottom line is that you and I need a new way of thinking - a new way of seeing ourselves and other people. St. Paul alludes to that new way of thinking. In today's second reading he says, "be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God." More next week.

When you and I start comparing ourselves to others, when we begin to feel jealousy and envy, when we start feeling down and dejected like poor Jeremiah, that's when we need to turn to God. As the Psalm says,

"I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory, for your kindness is a greater good than life." Amen.


*Even my puppy knows that ;)

To listen to the homily as it was delivered at St. Mary of the Valley click here

Finding Your Place Week 1
Finding Your Place Week 2
Finding Your Place Week 3
Finding Your Place Week 4
Finding Your Place Week 5
Week 6: Exaltation of the Cross
Week 7: Summing Up - Are You Envious Because I am Generous?

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-Second Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2017: Spiritual Warfare Week 11: Costly Grace
2014: Finding Your Place Week 4
2011: The Real Cross
2008: Not Spiritual, But Religious
2005: Get Behind Me, Satan!
2002: A Satanic Temptation
1999: Mater Sí, Magistra No?

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources)

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)

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