20 June 2012

Don't waste your time hiding from God

11th Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Jesus is giving his poor disciples whiplash! He appears to be jerking them around, intellectually and spiritually. One day, he tells them to let their good works shine—don't hide your light under a bushel basket, he says. The next day, he tells them not to stand around praying on the street corners like hypocrites—go pray in your inner room, out of sight, he admonishes. He tells us to go out into the world and preach the Good News. Then he tells us to hide away so that only God knows our faith in Him. Are we supposed to be evangelical extroverts or monastic introverts? Should we be shouting the glory of God to the rooftops, or whispering our thanks and praise inside a closet? We could say that both options are legit, depending on one's personality. The boisterous Christian is called to preach and pray on the corners. While the shy soul is called to a much quieter, contemplative witness. However, Jesus doesn't divide his disciples this way. When he teaches, he teaches to all his students. He expects each of us to be both a public and private witness, both a shouter and a whisperer.  The key to a consistent witness is spiritual sincerity—the earnest desire to belong wholly to God. 

One of the most spiritually damaging hypocrisies for a follower of Christ is double-mindedness, or double-heartedness. Jesus refers to this malicious condition as “serving two masters.” When the CIA discovers an agent selling U.S. secrets to an enemy, they label this person a “traitor.” When a husband or wife discovers that his/her spouse is carrying on an affair, the offender is named an “adulterer.” In religious terms, a believer who works for the mission of two gods is called an “idolater.” We give our heart and mind—that is, our whole selves—to Christ and to Christ alone. If Christ reigns from the throne of your heart and teaches from the lectern of your mind, then nothing else, no one else may rule your will or shape your intellect. Others may influence, help to guide, but “taking on the mind of Christ” means adopting and installing—for all practical and educational purposes—the comprehensive worldview of God's sacrificial love. How we pray in private shapes our public witness. How we publicly witness guides our private prayer. To preach Christ's love in public, for example, and then seethe with vengeance in private is treasonous, adulterous. Our Lord demands the loyalty of our private souls and our public face. Anything less is idolatrous. 

Achieving a workable harmony between the private soul and the public face is no easy task. Most of us probably find it much simpler, less strenuous to slap on a Happy Face for the market and quietly roll our anger and spite around inside. Unfortunately, such a strategy is dangerous—beyond dangerous—b/c what our neighbors cannot see, the Father most certainly does see. In other words, there's not much point in hiding the ugliness we enjoy nurturing. Even if the neighbors can't see the full extent of our illness, eventually something of it will ooze out; it will show itself in the unguarded moment, a moment of stress or panic. Living a double life of external holiness and internal damnation (or vice-versa) is exhausting; such a life burns away trust, hope, mercy, all the fruitful virtues that bring us closer to God. The cure is painful, messy: bring your whole heart/mind to the altar and sacrifice yourself—that is, by surrender make holy—your entirety of your person. Give it all—your public face and your private soul—to Christ. Mend your double-heart and double-mind in the One Love who died so that you might find peace. 

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  1. Oh yeah. Yeah. Dear God, yes!

  2. You had me chuckling in the first paragraph, since I do pray in the closet every morning. My husband thinks I'm a bit off :-), but who would look for mom in the closet? And I think I am probably an evangelical introvert - you left out that category!

    But then it got serious with "the earnest desire to belong wholly to God." So, in demanding loyalty from both the private soul and public face, are we not therefore asked to let go of our ego and allow Him to fill our soul so that He can shine out from our "face"? So, complete transparency: the beauty of God is the light that emanates from us so that while we may be humble internally, no matter where we go the light shines out of us through no effort of our own? Yes?

    And paragraph three, illustrating both the difficulty and danger - doesn't the "exhaustion" of which you speak come as well from a lack of trust in God? We don't/can't/won't (lack courage?)let God be God; we try to deal with all the "wickedness" (our own? other people's?), of which you spoke yesterday, with our own strength and forget to let God into the equation?

    You sure packed a lot into such a sort homily! There's even more I want to explore and ask and clarify. Next time I'm down your way we'll have to have a deep theological conversation over a plate full of beignets ;-). Thanks!