30 June 2008

Separation Anxiety

1st Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church: Rom 8.31-39 and Matt 24.4-13
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

Are we comforted by Paul when he writes to the Romans: “…in all things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us,” or does the idea scares us just a little bit? Conquer overwhelmingly? All things we conquer overwhelmingly? Maybe I’m overwhelmed by the idea that our conquest will be overwhelming. Like you, I am pretty much happy just to win one here and there. As long as the win column stays a bit higher than the lose column, I thinking: hey, not bad for a sinner. Then I have to remember that those are all Christ’s wins not mine. The losses…well, the losses go to my side of the table. After all, Paul writes that our overwhelming conquest is accomplished “through him who loved us” and not through my good nature or my iron will or straight-shooting determination. Since Christ’s love never fails, it follows that all the failures must be mine alone. But even here—right in the center of my failures—I find Christ, abiding, faithful, always eager to forgive. How much more then must I guard against letting my love grow cold?

Jesus says to the disciples, “See that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will deceive many.” Exactly how important is it for us not to be deceived by false Christs? If Paul is right when he writes to the Romans that our overwhelming conquest of persecution and trial comes through the love God has from us, then it is vitally important that we not let ourselves be deceived by wolves dressed as shepherds. How then are we deceived? Jesus and Paul both hint at an answer. Jesus says that as deceitful gospels are offered by the false prophets, evil-doing increases and “the love of many will grow cold.” But Paul notes that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ—not anguish, distress, persecution, peril, or the sword. Who is right? Will our love grow cold in deception or will we never be separated in Christ’s love? Both.

Cold love is still love. Weak, easily lead astray, prone to evil though it is. This is the love we have for Christ when things get scary for us as lovers of Christ. However, it is Christ’s love for us that never grows cold, never waivers, or blinks. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” So, Paul is telling us that in our worst moments, Christ is always with us. While Jesus is telling us that when we are most tempted to fail by following false prophets, we know our love for him has gone cold.

But what can a false prophet preach that will turn our fervor into stone? He can preach that our salvation is our own work and not Christ’s. He can preach that our worries are God’s punishments for sin, or that we are hungry, sick, imperiled because God is bringing judgment against us. He can preach that there is someone else who intercedes for us before the throne of God rather than Christ alone. He can preach that God’s kingdom is present in some political system or religious organization, or that our faith must be invested in human justice, or the good works of a few. He can preach that the Church born at Pentecost is not the Body of Christ but an institution, a man-made association made for man. Most viciously, he can preach that death was not conquered on the Cross and lead us to believe that all we have is the moment, this day, and nothing more.

How do we persevere? Remember: “if God is for us, who can be against us?...It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ?” No one, no thing. Nothing, nothing at all.

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