28 March 2012

Making & Maintaining Room for Christ

5th Week of Lent (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

In our readings for most of last week and all of this week (so far), Jesus shocks and outrages the religious believers of his day with increasingly ridiculous revelations about his true nature. He starts by claiming the authority to heal the sick by forgiving sins. He goes on to reveal that he is the Son of God. Then, yesterday, he makes his most blasphemous revelation, “. . .if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” In other words, if you do not accept me as the Lord your God, you will die unforgiven. For the Pharisees, this is more than mere heresy, more than blasphemy—it's suicidal insanity! Surely, this man Jesus is demonically possessed or dangerously brain-damaged or both. And just in case the Pharisees aren't outraged enough, just in case they aren't already prepared to tear him limb from limb, today, Jesus throws a truckload of gasoline on the roaring fire, “. . .you are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you.” Why is this so inflammatory? Our Lord is accusing his accusers of being the ones in rebellion against their God! Jesus' string of gobsmacking revelations raises an essential question for us: is there room among us for his word? If not, how do we make room?

Before we can answer these questions, we need to understand what “making room for his word” means. We've all heard—ad. nau—pastoral admonitions about “clearing out the clutter of our lives” during Lent. We've heard the demands for more silence, more contemplation, less work, less worry. There's no doubt that Lent provides us with the spiritual reasons and necessary excuses to slow down and pay attention to our personal and ecclesial relationships with God. But Jesus accusation here—there's no room in you for my word—is substantially more serious than a teacherly finger-wagging about the need to calm our busy lives. If I say to you, “Here's a 45ft. statue of the Sacred Heart for your house. . .”; or “Here's a pet elephant for your kids;” you would probably say, “Um, thanks, Father, but we don't have room for that.” You mean, “We have no place to properly store, properly house such a thing.” When Jesus accuses the Pharisees of having no room for his word, he means that they are completely unprepared to store, to house, to live with, to thrive in his teachings; they are unable and unwilling to build room into their lives, or renovate their lives so that his word can take up residence in them. Therefore, they will die in their sins.

At the moment of our baptism a room is built for us. Our parents, our godparents, the Church all pitch in and construct an indestructible room for us to store Christ's word. The room is permanent, but who lives in our room is a decision each of us makes day to day, hour by hour. If Christ's word is not in residence, something or someone else is. How do we make sure that we are keeping Christ and his word thriving in our room? There's no magic here. . .just the hard work of virtue, the good habit of trusting in God's promises; loving Him by loving each other; by seeing in the people we meet everyday a daily revelation of God's truth, goodness, and beauty; by sacrificing for the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the lonely, and the helpless; defying sin by forgiving those who sin against us; by wantonly throwing ourselves on the mercy of God and receiving every blessing He has to give us. With this kind of busyness, we keep our indestructible room filled to the ceiling with the Word of Christ. "If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

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