Toying with the worm

Have you ever wondered why there is a worm in a bottle of mezcal (Tequila)? Have you ever eaten the worm? For some to do so is considered an act of machismo; personally, I feel queasy and shudder just thinking about it.


No doubt, many if not most of us have at some time in our lives chewed on a worm, done something that now turns our stomach, makes us cringe with disgust, or makes us ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?” I know I have and then some.

I used to smoke cigarettes; four packs, eighty cigarettes a day. It was and is a nasty habit and incredibly addictive. Quitting was the most difficult thing I have ever tried to do; I tried many times and failed as many times as I tried, save one. I smoked my last cigarette Thanksgiving Day, 1977, nearly forty-one years ago.

No one has ever done anything with the clear intention of becoming addicted; no one has ever smoked that first cigarette, swallowed that first alcoholic drink, popped that first pill and thought, “It’s so great to finally be an addict!” Anyone who has ever puffed, popped, or swallowed has done so initially for much the same reasons as anyone who would dare eat that worm: machismo, social acceptability, pleasure, relaxation, or simply because it carries a trace of naughtiness, a taste of rebellion or a small sip of sin.

To paraphrase an old Chinese proverb: Every addiction is a journey that began with the first puff, drink, or swallow. And so also with sin. Sin is addictive; it is more addictive than anything we humans can possibly imagine. We are born into sin, we come into this world with a weakness, an addictive inclination to do the forbidden, the wrongful, the sinful. We are not born addicted to sin any more than any other addiction. But, like any journey, addiction to sin begins with the first sin, no matter how small or insignificant it might be.

Just as I did not begin by smoking four packs of cigarettes a day, no one begins life sinning against God and his commandments. No one is born a murderer, adulterer, or thief; no one starts out hating God or their parents; no one begins life blaspheming the name of God, denying God, or worshipping false gods. No, our first step toward an addiction to sin is always a small one.

One of the most predictive results of any addiction is denial; addicts always deny their addiction and the more addicted they become, the stronger their denial. In their denial there is always the assertion that they can quit whenever they choose to do so, but, they are only fooling themselves; their assertions fall flat, sounding every bit as much as Saint Augustine, who in his Confessions prayed “Lord, make me chaste — but not yet!”

We have heard and said it many times: “We are a broken people” or “We are all sinners,” and yet, those words sound as hollow as any addict who has ever proclaimed they could quit whenever they wished. Why? Because we are in denial. We no longer fear the worm that does not die nor the fire that cannot be quenched. We have lost the sense of sin, the fear of losing our soul, the fear of the unquenchable fires of Gehenna. We pray to God, “Lord, make me pure — but not yet.” It is in our “not yet” that we deny the seriousness of our addiction and in our denial, we reject all sense of condemnation and everlasting loss of heaven. We have come to believe that tomorrow will never come, that there will always be another tomorrow, another opportunity to remedy ourselves from our addictions; always tomorrow, always not yet.

Our first reading comes from the Book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Pentateuch. God told Moses to select seventy elders upon whom the spirit would come to rest and they would prophesy.

However, we do not hear verse 25 in its entirety and what is left out is important. The verse ends with this sentence: “But they did so no more.” They prophesied one time, when the spirit came to rest on them, but then no more. Yet, when the spirit came to rest on two of the seventy who had remained in the camp and they began to prophesy, Joshua and the others were indignant and jealous that others could prophesy when they no longer could.

Later, in Chapter 20:7-8, 11, which we did not hear today, we read:

And the Lord said to Moses,
“Take the rod, and assemble the congregation,
you and Aaron you brother,
and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water;
so you shall bring water out of the rock for them; …”
And Moses lifted up his hand
and struck the rock with his rod twice;
and water came forth abundantly, … 

For this, Moses was banned from entering the promised land! Where was the sin? God told him to “tell” the rock, but Moses “struck” it twice with his rod, in other words, Moses ignored God’s instruction and in his pride he disobeyed God, and for that he was punished.

The disciples did much the same. Their inner pride and their selfish desires caused them to reject the idea that others not of their group could receive the Holy Spirit. Whether inside or outside all were mortal human beings, all were subject to the same frailties and weaknesses that every person, in our humanity, encounters. Temptations and allures of worldly pleasures are ever present for everyone.

Saint James rebukes those who have enjoyed riches and pleasures of life but cheated others, treated others badly, and showed no regard for the hungry, poor, weak or oppressed. Sadly, this is characteristic of our human condition;. for even the poor and the hungry can oppress those who are less fortunate. Evil is not the sole domain of the rich and powerful.

The message is clear: any sin, every sin, all sin turns us away from God, effectively placing barriers between ourselves and the Lord. Jesus does not equivocate, he does not compromise, he does not condition any sin for he knows that sin inevitably leads to the fiery gates of Gehenna. That is why he says it is better to put a great millstone around your neck if you cause a child to sin. That is why he says it is better to cut off a hand or a foot or to pluck out an eye than to sin. But we simply cannot leave well-enough alone. We find ourselves parsing our sins, sorting our sins into neat categories, then placing them into cute little boxes labeled: grave/mortal, serious, not so serious, small, and too small to bother. All but the most grievous/mortal sins are summarily placed on a shelf in the attic of the soul and subsequently forgotten, dismissed as inconsequential.

What sin deserves what punishment? All sin, every sin, it matters not the size or shape of it.

Jesus reopened the gates of heaven for all and thru our faith we can come to know salvation. Attending Mass is not a mere pleasant Sunday ritual, it is a reminder that our goal is salvation and eternity with God. There is of course a corollary, one which we should fear above all else: the loss of salvation and eternal damnation. That is a fearsome thing to contemplate.

So, the next time you are tempted, remember the worm, and perhaps you might want to skip that last shot of Tequila.


Homily #184
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Numbers 11:25-29
James 5:1-6
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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