29 September 2013

Woe to the spiritually complacent!

26th Sunday OT 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP 
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA 

Pursue righteousness. Fight hard for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life. Paul lays bare for his student, Timothy, the path of perfection, the way through to Christ, and writes to him, “I charge you before God. . .to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. . .” Do this and you will keep the commandment until he returns. The prophet Amos shows us the way of those who chase after the world, move along with the world, and follow strange gods: “Woe to the complacent. . .Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches. . .They drink wine from bowls. . .Therefore, they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.” Amos is chastising those who waste their time with material luxury, but we can easily see time—and lives—wasted in wanton spiritual revelry as well. Woe to the spiritually complacent. . .for they live in exile already. 

God's prophets were never ones to mince words or shy away from preaching tough love. Amos' “woe to the complacent” is the Third Woe of his three woe prophecy against God's people. The First Woe (or curse) is a curse against the unjust: “Woe to those who turn justice into wormwood and cast righteousness to the ground.” The Second Woe is a curse against those who long for the Lord's day of judgment: “Woe to those who yearn for the day of the Lord! What will the day of the Lord mean for you? It will be darkness, not light!” This Second Woe is directed against those who believe themselves to be righteous but are in fact only self-righteous. They yearn for the Lord's judgment against those they see as sinners but fail to see their own sin and the dark judgment they bring upon themselves. Injustice against the poor and self-righteousness in judgment arise out of spiritual complacency, what Amos might call “wanton revelry” and what we usually experience as religious pride. Our relationship with God is established at His initiative, governed by His will, and directed toward His purpose. Religious pride tempts us to believe that we control our spiritual lives; that we are in charge of how and when we will see and hear the Lord. Such pride is born of complacency, a self-serving self-satisfaction. 

Spiritual complacency can take on many forms. For example, when we pick and choose from among God's truths those that we find pleasing and reject those that we find inconvenient, we lend aid and comfort to the enemy. It's just easier to pick those divine truths that make our lives in this world less turbulent. We can coast for a while but eventually our accommodating niceness to the world isn't going to be enough. We hear louder, more strident demands for concessions; louder, more strident cries that we renounce even those truths that once pleased the world. Before long—just to get along, just to survive—we find ourselves immersed in wanton revelry, a pride-soaked spiritual binge that destines us for exile. How does this happen? Besides all of the smaller truths we surrender, we give up the larger truths as well, and the foundational truth—that our relationship with God is in His hands—even that truth falls. And our exile is complete. How do we avoid spiritual exile? Pursue devotion, not popularity; faith, not security; love, not vengeance; patience, not passion; gentleness, not severity. Pursue Christ, not the world! Chase after holiness, not hypocrisy. Walk with the Church. And in all things, follow him. 

Luke gives us a vivid illustration of what happens when we pick and choose from among God's truths, when we surrender the whole truth of what He has to teach us for the smaller satisfaction of believing we are in control. The rich man is richly blessed by God. Such blessings require a special dedication to charity and justice for the poor. The man celebrates his blessings in wanton revelry but ignores his obligations to charity and justice; specifically, he ignores Lazarus, a diseased beggar, and ends up in everlasting torment after he dies. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus down with just a drop of water to cool his burning tongue. When Abraham denies this plea, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers about the reality of hell. Abraham's replies: “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” If the rich man's five brothers have Moses and the prophets to teach them righteousness, how much better then are we taught when we have Christ, his Church, his Blessed Mother, and the saints to show us the Way? If any one of us should choose to exclude ourselves eternally from the company of God and His blessed, we cannot claim that we didn't know the Way to heaven. At most, we can say that when we picked the truths we wanted to believe, we picked the wrong ones. 

Now, if all of this sounds a bit depressing, it should. We are not only encouraged by our culture to be spiritually complacent, we are rewarded for it by the powers of this world. If that's not enough to frighten us into repentance, then maybe the story of the rich man will. If that's not enough, then all we have left is our gifted desire to seek out and find our perfection in God through Christ. In an interview last week, Pope Francis said, “The most important thing [for the Church] is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.” The fullness of God's truth, the Everything of His plan and will for us, the All of His method and purpose in our lives is given flesh and bone in Christ Jesus. We offer on that altar this evening the whole body and blood of Christ in thanksgiving. Not just his thumbs or his ears. Not just precious memories or a version of his teachings. We offer him, whole and entire. Not parts and pieces. Not symbols. But Christ. The one truth of God that cannot be divided, cannot be picked over and carefully parsed for our convenience. His Passion, death, and resurrection brought to life in us a seed planted at creation: the obtainable desire to live forever with our Creator. 

And this is where the Universal Church finds herself in the year of our Lord, 2013: always tempted; frequently challenged; persecuted at times and pressed on every side; offered compromises, negotiations, and treaties. Disparaged and demeaned, we respond with our best efforts, and our greatest weapon: our steadfast obedience to the first commandment—love. Not some fluffy-cute-little-kitty-mushiness but Divine Love! As far as we are capable, we love our enemies as God loves us. . .and our enemies. We love despite opposition, oppression, and persecution. Paul writes to Timothy, “. . .pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith.” We can none of these if we spend our days in wanton revelry, in spiritual complacency, picking which of God's truths we will believe and which ones we will discard. We accept Christ—the whole Christ—and follow him, or we do not. He died to save us from the darkness of the world. The world has its own plans for us. But we can love it, even as we leave it behind. 
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1 comment:

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this one. Liked how you laid it out in the first paragraph, and introduced "spiritual complacency." I laughed at the phrase "the Third Woe of his Three woe prophecy" - where did you come up with that!?! End of the second paragraph, beginning at "Our relationship with God...." was an excellent reminder about religious pride - and an easily understood explanation of such. Third paragraph reminded me a bit of Fra Chuck ;-). Fourth paragraph slowed down a bit, which provided a nice intensity change after the hard-hitting third paragraph. Reeled us in in the fifth paragraph - I very much appreciated your brief talk on what we offer on the altar. Brought us home in the final paragraph which made me want to stand up and yell OORAH!

    This one really sounded like "you", and felt like you were on a roll. There was a lot of good stuff in it, and for me at least, it was a great motivator. Thank you!