14 November 2012

Before & After the bath of rebirth

32nd Week OT (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

“Foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy,” hating ourselves and one another. This is the Before Picture that Paul draws for Titus. It's not a pretty picture, but it's probably one we all recognize as pretty accurate. The After Picture, the picture that comes after God “saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” sometimes looks a lot like the Before Picture. But it doesn't have to. And that's the principle difference btw the two. Before our rebirth and renewal, we were slaves to sin, captives of our passions and unable not to sin. After our rebirth and renewal, we are no longer slaves to sin—free and clear—both washed cleaned and released from domination by sin. If this is true, then why do our After Pics so often look exactly like our Before Pics? Lots of reasons. Here's two: 1) we forget or choose to ignore that we are “heirs in hope of eternal life”; and 2) we take our gifts from God and run celebrating down the street w/o saying, “Thank you, Lord.” We are heirs in hope to a life lived eternally with God; and for this, we must be eternally gratefully.

Gratitude builds and fortifies humility, and humility is the key to receiving all of God's gifts. Ten lepers beg Jesus for his compassion. He says to them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they are walking away from him, they are cleansed. One of the ten, realizing that he is now free from his disease, returns to the Lord, “glorifying God in a loud voice; and [falling] at the feet of Jesus. . .[thanks] him.” In the center of this public drama, this healing miracle, Luke inserts a telling note: “[The man] was a Samaritan.” The grateful former leper is a foreigner, an idolatrous heretic, and an unclean survivor of the northern kingdom's destruction by the Assyrians 720 yrs earlier. His people claimed to be the descendents of the lost tribes of Israel. In other words, religiously speaking, this man was the lowest of the low in Judean society. And yet, he returns to Christ shouting praise to God and giving thanks for his freedom from disease. Jesus asks, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine?” They took their gift of healing and ran. “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God? Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” Ten were healed; only one was saved.

When we forget or choose to ignore that we are heirs in hope to eternal life, we fail to give God the thanks and praise He is due. Does He feel cheated? No. He has no need of our praise. Our desire to praise Him and give Him thanks is also His gift to us. When we give God His due in thanksgiving, we grow deeper in our understanding of our dependence on Him for all that we are and all that we have. Deepening our understanding of humility, in turn, prompts us to set aside all those vices that prevent us from receiving His gifts, all those insolent passions that stunt our growth in holiness. Pride, arrogance, envy, malice. Ten lepers beg Christ for his compassion, and he gives it. They are all cleansed. Only one returns to give him thanks. This one, the least loved of the lot, is not only healed of his disease but saved as well. Because he turned to Christ in praise and thanksgiving, he is now an heir in hope of eternal life. His Before and After Picture (and ours) can remain absolutely different, utterly unalike, if he (and we) lives “in all circumstances, giving thanks” to God. Living as heirs in hope of eternal life means living right now as if we live already and always in the face-to-face presence of God. And there is nothing more that we should want.

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1 comment:

  1. Ok, I enjoy when you preach this way but this "feels" choppy as a written piece - there are some small things missing in a few places, which I cannot put my finger on in a single read-through.

    I appreciated much in the final paragraph though: reminding us that God has no need of our praise, yet through the exercise of thanking and praising Him we grow in wisdom and humility...and I found myself comparing this final paragraph to the homily you gave last week "Wincing at easy Mercy": this leper, least loved, and the despairing despicable sinner from last week both can more easily turn back to Jesus to thank Him because they know the depths of being without - they know the "lack-of" in a very personal way - and perhaps because of that are able to accept Right Now the reality of a present, Living God, knowing and believing from their own experiences that there is "nothing more that we should want."

    As always, thank you.