NB. After the 5.30pm Mass yesterday, a parishioner said to me, "Father, you sounded like Savonarola up there!" Me, "Oh, that didn't end well for him, did it?" Him, "No. At least they hung him before setting him on fire." Me, "Somehow, that's not comforting." :-)
2nd Sunday of Lent 2012
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Amen, I say to you, you have heard it said—by pastors, preachers, confessors, teachers, the Pope, every Hallmark card you have ever received, and your mama—you have heard it said that God loves you. And indeed He does. He can do nothing else for He is Love. Our heavenly Father is not a being that loves us most of the time, or on occasion, or only when we deserve it. Love is Who He is and What He does—eternally, without conditions, and for a single all-encompassing purpose: to change those who will receive His love into a holy people. The question—does God love me?—should never cross your mind. Why? Let's exercise our logic muscles: God is Love. You live and move and have you being in God. Only existing creatures are capable of asking questions. “Does God love me?” is a question, therefore you exist. Therefore, God loves you. To put that a bit more succinctly: that you (an existing creature) can ask the question at all means that God loves you. So, let's retire the question of whether or not God loves us. If He didn't, He would not exist and neither would any of us. There is a question about God and love that must be asked, and asked daily: do I love God? If so, what purpose does my love for God serve? On Mt. Tabor—in the presence of Peter, James, and John—the transfigured Christ gives us the answer. We love God for the same reason He loves us: so that we may be made holy.
Since we've retired the question of whether or not God loves us (He does and can do nothing less), and we already know why He loves us (so that we may be made holy), and we've answered the question about why we love God in turn (so that we may help God make us holy), let's ask a more practical question: how do we help God make us holy? That is, what do we do/think/say/feel on a day to day basis that assists God's love for us so that we are actually growing in holiness? Loving God, yourself, your family and friends, your neighbors, and even loving your enemies is easy in the abstract. It's easy to sit back and radiate an aura of loving care; it's easy to say, “I love my neighbors and all my enemies;” it's easy to think sweet thoughts about the poor, the persecuted, and the sick. It is far more difficult to get out there and perform loving acts; to perform forgiveness; to show mercy; to treat everyone you meet—at WalMart, at the bank, at the office, in traffic—to treat everyone you meet as another soul deeply in love with God and eternally loved by God. This is why the Church has always bound faith and works together: our loving works demonstrate our trust in God and our trust in God is made real in our loving works. When we fail to love, we confess these failures as sins in thought, word, and deed. So, how do we help God make us holy? Well, first, we understand that loving God and those He loves is not simply an abstract, intellectual exercise; next, we understand that love is a behavior—like driving or walking or getting dressed. To love is to see, hear, think about, and treat yourself and everyone else the way God Himself treats us all. With kindness, compassion, dignity, patience, and forgiveness. Do this and you grow in holiness. You become more like Christ. You are transfigured.
Becoming more like Christ is we have vowed to do. But we need to hear this: loving God, self, and everyone else—becoming more like Christ—is dangerous. Dangerous how? Besides Jesus' promises of persecution, trial, and death for those who follow him, we can point to the forty days he spent in the desert being tempted by Satan. We too are tempted by Satan with the lures of popularity, prestige, worldly power, and personal satisfaction. The Devil always takes God's gifts and tweaks them ever-so-slightly and then presents them to us infected with his poison. God's love and His command to us to love is no different. With God's love and His command to love comes His truth and His command to obey the truth. Love and truth cannot be separated. When we love intensely, we dwell intensely in the truth. Note well that the Devil never lied when he tempted Christ in the desert. Everything he said to Jesus was true; however, he was motivated by a desire for worship and power not love. We find ourselves similarly tempted. The Devil plays on our desire to love by pointing out all the ways we appear to fail at love. He accuses the Church of not loving women b/c we truthfully name artificial contraception, abortion, and sterilization evil. He accuses us of hatred b/c we truthfully call sex outside of a sacramental marriage evil. He accuses us of not loving orphans b/c we cannot place them in homes with two fathers or two mothers. He accuses us of not loving non-Christians b/c we truthfully teach that Christ is the only name under heaven through which all are saved. What Satan is tempting us to do, want us to do, is sever truth from love and love without truth. This we cannot do b/c our Christ is the truth, the way, and the life. And we follow him so that we will be transfigured, made holy in love and truth.
Satan and the world he rules teaches that “Love” is to be practiced without Truth. Love w/o truth is nothing more than lukewarm tolerance or indifferent permissiveness, an emotion that feels good to emote but ultimately leaves those who live it living a lie. Godly love is always true. Never a lie. True love is always gives the glory to God. Never to man. Love always carries us to goodness; never to evil. Love always binds us in obedience; it never frees us to be disobedient. Godly love always heals, always cleans, sometimes hurts, sometimes cuts away. Love never winks at sin, shrugs at injustice, or ignores the poor. Love always looks to Christ, his church, and his Mother. Love never uses the bottom-line, the convenient, the practical, or the efficient to destroy God’s creatures, especially His unborn children. Love always encourages spiritual growth from faithful experience. Love never gives hope to novelty for novelty’s sake nor does love trust innovation for the sake of excitement. Love can be a terrible whirlwind, a stone-shattering blow, a heart-ripping loss. But love always builds up in perfection, grows in wisdom and kindness; love attracts questions about eternal things, discourages attachment to impermanent things; and, when necessary, love will kick your butt, take your name, and call your mama! The love that Satan and the world he rules wants to settle for is a passion for indifference, permissiveness, choice w/o consequence, and, ultimately, death.
Will you be made holy? Let's ask that differently: do you will to be made holy? If you will to become a well-oiled, surgical tool for God’s Word, you will love as He loves you. You will speak the truth and only the truth; you will spread goodness and only goodness; you will honor beauty and only beauty; you will correct error, confront sin, expose lies, forgive all offenses; and you will build up his Body with works of mercy and open the doors of your faith to the stranger. And you will remember—if you will to be made holy—that you are not alone. God is with us, who can stand against Him?
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