10 January 2013

The begotten of God conquer the world

Thursday after Epiphany
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Our faith is the triumph that conquers the world. Not swords or bullets or boycotts or drones. But faith: our steadfast trust in God's promise that all we need do to win victory over sin is receive His forgiveness through Christ and live in the spirit of love he sent to dwell among us. John announces two triumphs when he writes, “. . .the victory that conquers the world is our faith.” There is the victory over personal doubt and delusion; and there is that victory's win over the world. The first win—the personal triumph—is won against the temptations fired at each one of us from the Enemy's camp, the steady pounding of noise, stench, illusion, and distraction. This battle is won when you and I return the enemy's fire with prayer, good deeds, compassion, and mercy. The second win—our victory over the world—is won against the besieging spirits of despair, hatred, violence, and self-indulgence. This battle is won when all of us together show those besieged by evil the power of hope, love, peace, and generosity. All who are begotten by God conquer the world b/c the world is always defeated in love. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian martyred by the Nazis at Flossenberg in 1945, wrote, “Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.” Courageously and actively doing God's will certainly entails avoiding sin but carefully maneuvering around temptations is only the beginning of holiness. When Jesus rolls up the scroll containing Isaiah's prophecies, he leaves in the air the ringing word of our mission: bring glad tidings to the poor; proclaim liberty to captives; announce the recovery of sight to the blind; release the oppressed into freedom; and declare a year favorable to the Lord. This is not merely a social justice mission or an agenda for worldly political liberation. That kind struggle hardly needs a Christ. The revolution we fight for seeks the overthrow of humanity's greatest oppressor: the Father of Lies. The one who impoverishes nations families with greed; enslaves the foolish with their own lusts; blinds the innocent with fables of pride and wrath; oppresses the many through envy and gluttony; and declares every year, every day good for rebellion against the One Who loves us despite our disobedience. Simply avoiding sin cannot spark a votive candle much less set loose a firestorm of holiness. For that we must seek to do the will of the Father. 

And what does God will for us? We already know that He wills that we live with Him forever. We know too that He wills for us to live lives of holiness in love so that His glory may increase among the nations. To see His will accomplished, we must, above all, love. Love Him and one another. We've heard this a gazillion-zillion times. It's almost become a formal noise, like the mumbled “hey, how you doing?” we use to greet strangers. But for the sake of Christ and the salvation of your immortal soul, listen: “. . .we love God because he first loved us.” If you love anyone—mom, dad, kids, spouse, anyone—you are able to love them b/c (for the reason that) God loves us all. IOW, when you love someone, you establish and maintain your participation in Divine Love. And it is only through Divine Love—God Himself—that we are saved from sin and made holy. This is why Jesus' announcement in the temple is so important: he is saying, “I am here as promised. The Word made flesh. Love given flesh and bone.” He shows us that we too can be love given flesh and bone. In fact, if we entertain any hope at all of eternal life, we will spend our days and nights finding ways to love better and more, much, much more. Do the will of the Father with courage. And each time you do, witness the Enemy's defeat by love. 

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  1. Holy homily, Batman!

    "Simply avoiding sin cannot spark a votive candle much less set loose a firestorm of holiness. For that we must seek to do the will of the Father."

    I have had discussions with several people, all many years older than I, along these lines. Without exception, they stated the "avoid sin" message was pushed much more strongly, perhaps exclusively - your third paragraph would have been something to which they would have said: "why didn't anyone tell me this before?" I've been surprised at the reactions to things I have taught in these informal faith-formation groups - so it's good to remind people of things we have heard a "gazillion-zillion times" because someone may never have heard it! And, I at least, can always use the reminder.

    Great homily. Thanks!

    1. It's weird what's not taught in the Church these days. . .

  2. That was weird - if my original comment didn't come through, let me know and I'll try to remember what I said - if you want to know :-).

    1. I had a phone conference and comment moderation was delayed.

    2. No, I got some bizarre message after I tried to prove I wasn't a robot...so I wasn't sure if it had gone through. But it did, so I don't have to try to remember anything :-).