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Why be good? A homily for the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori

Salt and Light Media

August 2, 2019
Stained glass window of St. Alphonsus Liguori in the Church of Saint-Denis in Toury, France. Source: Wikimedia Commons
On August 1, 2019, Salt + Light was pleased to have Fr. Raphael Ma visit our Toronto office and studio and celebrate Mass for the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori in our chapel.
Read his homily below! (The readings for the day were Exodus 40:16-21, 34-38 and Matthew 13:47-53.)

by Fr. Raphael Ma CR

Why be good?
This is a pretty practical question I think. Why be good? There are many convincing reasons put forth by many people, and many books have been written on this subject, but since this is a weekday Mass, we’ll unfortunately have to skip over all those arguments, and get to the real reason.
St. Alphonsus Liguori, a Doctor of the Church well known for his contributions to Moral Theology, had this to say about it:
…to put into practice the teachings of our holy faith, it is not enough to convince ourselves that they are true; we must love them. Love united to faith makes us practice our religion.
In our first reading today, we hear about how Moses set up the tabernacle, which was where the Ark of the Covenant was housed before Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. If you’ve ever tried to read through the Bible front to back, most people tend to get stuck here, in Exodus and Leviticus, with all the details about the Jewish Liturgy, the exact measurements, colours, materials used in the tabernacle, the vestments for the Priests and Levites, and what was to be used in the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.
And if you combine this attention to detail with the potential consequences, not only in the Old Covenant, but even in the New Covenant, namely, the Last Judgment, that we hear about in today’s Gospel, it is easy to think that morality is based on fear.
Yet, the fear of the Lord, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit that we received in Baptism, and is strengthened in confirmation is not based on fear, or at least not the way we think it is. The kind of fear that not a few Christians have taken for their answer to the question “why be good,” is the fear of sin because of damnation. But that is just a starting point. Many of the saints themselves began there, and recognize it as a legitimate starting point.
But it is not really a place from which to live one’s life, or at least a Christian life as it was meant to be lived. The fear of the Lord that is the gift of the Holy Spirit is different. It too fears sin, and also fears eternal separation from God, but not because one is afraid for one’s own skin, but rather because one loves God so much, that they fear being separated from Him by their own action.
And so you see, this fear that is the gift of the Holy Spirit, is a fear entirely based on love of God. And that is the Gospel’s answer, and St. Alphonsus Liguori’s answer, to the question “why be good?” – because of the love of God.

Fr. Raphael Ma CR is a recently ordained priest, and a member of the Congregation of the Resurrection.  He is currently serving as associate pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Kitchener, Ontario.