01 February 2015

Our reason for living

4th Sunday of OT
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Paul writes to the always-anxious Corinthians, “Brothers and sisters, I should like you to be free of anxieties.” He would like for them to be released from the slavery of their doubts, the chains of their mistrust, and the need for total control. He would like for them to be able to live in the world and not flail around panicked about what comes next. What’s After This? Where’s the plan? The map? The schedule? Paul would like for his Corinthian brothers and sisters to be rested in the Lord’s promise of mercy, settled into an enduring trust of their Father, and focused on all the things Christ left them to accomplish. Instead, they – like us – spend an inordinate amount of our limited time fretting, scheming, worrying, fidgeting about things and people we cannot possibly influence or control. Let's call this phenomenon, Heliocopter Spirituality – the tendency to hover anxiously over our own lives, stressing about outcomes rather than leaving it all for God to figure out.

What are the Corinthians stressing over? They're distracted by the rigors of family life, worried needlessly by the demands of husbands and wives and children, taken away from the difficult work, the hard labor of preparing for the coming again of the Christ. Paul, and all those Jesus leaves behind, wait for their beloved Master to return to them and take them all away. They are anxious about many things, but most anxious about the apparent delay in his return. Paul’s admonishment to them: don’t become too attached to the workings of this world – the things of this world demand their own kind attention, their own kind of sacrifice. Rather, stay free for Christ, and do what he has asked you to do.

What are you anxious about? What unclean spirits harass you? Do you know the name of the fearfulness that chews away at the strength of your gifts, your trust, your patience? Do you know the name of the spirit that moves you to hide from God, moves you to ignore God, moves you to defy God? You can all say, “Sure, Father, it’s the Devil!” Yes, it is. But more specifically, can you identify, precisely point out the spirit that steals your peace in Christ?

Jesus goes to Capernaum to teach in the synagogue. People are astonished at his teaching, stunned at the authenticity and authority of his message. He speaks the Word; he teaches and preaches a Word of power and might, claiming for himself the authority of his Father and, in doing so, claiming for the Father the lives, the souls of those who hear and heed his Word. Despite the power of his message, it's not the men and women who hear him that feel their world shaking. Notice who grows anxious, notice whose peace is rattled to the core: the unclean spirits!

The men and women who hear Jesus preach are gifted, graced with the boundless love of God. The unclean spirit is fearful. The men and women are astonished, opened, enlightened, touched by glory at the Word proclaimed. The unclean spirit is dreadful, nervous, shaken, and most definitely stirred! The people there leap forward to grab hold of the Word and they hold on to the Word as if it were a hurt child, or a long-lost loved one. They embrace the hope, the expectation of eternal life, the renewal of their lives with the Father, the reconciliation that the God-man, Jesus, makes real. The unclean spirit can only despair and complain. It can only wail louder and gripe, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” Our Lord was sent. He is sent. And he will be sent again.

Moses spoke to his people and said, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen […] I will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.” Our Lord will send a prophet, a voice to speak His Word to us and we will listen. We heard Elijah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah. We heard Amos and Isaiah. And much more recently, we heard John the Baptizer. We heard the Name he spoke to us, the announcement of the Good News of our Savior’s arrival in the flesh. And then we heard the Christ Himself teach us salvation, preach to us the Way of Life through him. We believed. We heard and we believed.

And yet we are still capable of anxiety. Why? I think we forget Who we are dealing with. I think we trudge along, so habituated to hearing the Bad News, that everything the Good God has done for us is lost in the panicky headlines, the hysterical screaming of one crisis after another. We forget what we have said “Amen” to here. We forget what we have asked for here. We come here to remember. And yet, still we forget.

Here’s a reminder, just a reminder to put a little fear into the spirit of forgetfulness that may be haunting us. This evening, if you participate fully in this Eucharist, you will say “Amen”—“it is so”—to the presence of Christ among us. He IS here. You will thank him for his Word proclaimed and thank him again for his Gospel. You will say amen to his ancient teaching and amen again for taking care of your needs. You will say amen to His blessed Name and amen to his coming Kingdom; amen to His will done in all creation and amen to your need for His daily food; amen to his mercy and yours and amen to his protection from evil. You will say “amen” to offering bread and wine, his body and soul on that altar of sacrifice, to be blessed, transformed and given back to Him. You will say amen to His peace and share it. Amen to the Lamb of God and his sacrifice for us. Amen to his supper. And amen and amen for the Holy One of God who teaches with a new authority, preaches with a new authenticity the Word of Life.

What are you anxious about? What spirits worry you? Remember what you have said amen to here this evening. Remember what you have sacrificed and who you are in Christ. Our Lord wants us free of anxieties. Our Lord wants us free so that we can spread the fame of the Good News to everyone, everywhere. Free of attachments, free of distractions, free of sin and death. . .so that our witness to his Good News is our reason for rising, our reason for living.

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  1. Anonymous5:45 PM

    What I needed to hear (again...) this week. Thanks, Fr.

  2. c matt2:15 PM

    Interesting how scripture records Christ at "teaching with authority." When He reads from scripture, it is not as the "scribes." For those who heard Him, it must have been as though the Author of the book was reading it to you, not some literary critic.

    1. Exactly! The power of the Author speaking His own words must have been immensely persuasive.