26th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
It seems that disobedience comes naturally to us. Our first impulse is to say NO to God and hope we can get away with saying NO. We can. For a little while at least. In the end though – disobedience comes around to bite us in the. . .the rear. If we're smart, we'll take that bite, jump in surprise, and mend our ways, returning to the straight and narrow that leads to eternal life. Like the first son in Jesus' parable, we might say NO at first but then realize how dumb that is and repent. Saying NO and repenting later is certainly better than the path taken by the second son – saying YES to God and then doing nothing. This is both a lie and an act of disobedience. The bite that comes after this little charade will hurt. . . forever. So, how do we overcome the vicious habit of saying NO to God? How do we get into the habit of obedience, the habit of listening for God's will and following Him? Paul helps us out here: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves. . .Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” Disobedience grows out of pride; pride is conquered by humility; and humility is nurtured by repentance.
Disobedience grows out of pride. Fundamentally, pride is the vicious habit of thinking and acting as if I can become god w/o God; that is, that I can achieve perfection w/o any help from God. If I can achieve my end – perfection in heaven – w/o any help from God, then there is no reason for me to be obedient to God's will. This is the lie that the Serpent told Eve in the Garden – “You can be like God.” How? By disobeying Him. This tendency to ignore God and outright defy His will is part and parcel of our fallen human nature. How much time and energy do we waste trying to find the perfection we long for and at the same time ignore the only Perfect Way available to us? DIY religion is quite the trend these days. Pick and choose, buffet-style from a wide diversity of options and blend them all together into a comfortable, happy little spirituality that soothes the seared conscience and provides an incredibly shallow sense of spiritual depth. Or we could substitute political activism for religion and feed self-righteousness with outrage, believing that our anger will somehow propel us into a secular saintliness. If we choose anyone or anything but Christ, we are choosing Self. We are choosing pride and willful ignorance. And this path leads to destruction. Every single time.
Fortunately, pride is conquered by humility. If choosing the Self above all others – including God – leads to destruction, then choosing Others over Self perfects humility. Humility is nothing more than acknowledging the truth that I am totally dependent on God for everything I have and everything I am. Nothing I have, nothing I am is truly mine. It all belongs to God. Whatever gifts I have belong to God. My education, my experiences, my talents, my memories, my priesthood, my religious life – all belong to God. My family, friends, colleagues; those who call themselves my enemies – all of them belong to God. The more deeply I acknowledge and live out this truth, the more deeply am I able surrender to God's will and use all that He has given me to preach and teach His Good News. And the more deeply I surrender, the closer I get to being perfected in His Christ. IOW, the less I struggle to take control of my own perfection, the freer I am to receive the perfection He freely gives. Pride clings to Self. Pride stubbornly controls and seeks control. Pride urges me to proclaim myself the god of my life. Pride makes ME into an idol for me.
How do we depose the idol of Self and turn toward Others? Humility is nurtured by repentance. The first son says NO and then repents. Saying NO to God is certainly a sin, but repenting and turning to obedience is salvation. We are free to say to God NO. But saying NO to God traps us in slavery to sin. Once we say NO, it gets harder and harder to say anything else. Over time, we become fools, unable to distinguish Good from Evil. We can hold pride in check and put off becoming fools by naming our sins, repenting of them, and receiving God's always, already offered forgiveness. This is simply a process of saying to God, “I belong to You, Lord. Everything I have and everything I am is Yours! What would You have me do with what is Yours?” Think of repentance as the daily, hourly intentional return to the Truth of who you really are in Christ. When some other god worms its way onto the throne of our heart, repentance is only tool you need to accomplish a coup. Turn to Others and give freely from all that the Father has freely given to you. Turn to God and freely give back to Him everything you have and everything you are. Pull down the idol of Self. Be free to become Christ!
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