19 February 2017

As a Temple of the Holy Spirit. . .how are you doing?

7th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

I want you to fill in the blank: “My salvation through Christ is like ________.” Like Christ the Lifeguard saving me from drowning in sin. Like Jesus the Physician curing me from the terminal illness called death. Like Christ the SWAT team member rescuing me the kidnapper, Satan. All of these images and the ones you could invent yourselves are fine as far as they go. No image of our salvation is ever going to be perfect. But there is one element of our salvation that even some of our oldest images leave out. When Christ the Lifeguard saves me from drowning, I do not become the Lifeguard. When Jesus the Physician cures my death, I don't become the Physician. Same goes for the Christ the SWAT team member. When he rescues me from Satan, I do not become a SWAT team member. However, in the Church's oldest understanding of how we are saved by Christ, we become Christ when we are saved. Or rather, we are put on the path to becoming Christ. Paul hints at this when he writes, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” So, I'll ask you: how are you doing – out there in the world – as the temple of the Spirit of God?

And not only as the temple of the Spirit of God but also as a child of God who is becoming Christ for others! How's that going for you? If you want to object and say that we've upped the ante on entering the spiritual game. . .well, you're right. Maybe we've become a bit lazy about how we evaluate our growth in holiness? Maybe your measure is something like: “Well, I didn't kill anyone today. I'm doing great!” Or maybe your measure goes like this: “I made it to Mass before the gospel three Sundays in a row. I'm doing great!” Don't get me wrong here. Not killing someone and getting to the Sunday Mass before the gospel are good things. But they do not measure your growth in holiness. The measure we must use is a bit more. . .complicated than that. Jesus teaches us the proper measure by exposing the foundation of the Law, saying, “You have heard it said. . .but I say to you. . .” He says that the foundation of the Law is the law of love, sacrificial love – giving what you have, giving who you are to another in need. Holiness is not about not sinning. Holiness is not about finding the loopholes in the rules and playing lawyerly tricks with them. Holiness is about living in the world as the temple of the Spirit of God, as one who is becoming Christ for others. 
Has anyone here seen the new movie, Silence? It's about a Jesuit missionary to Japan in the 16th century. Long story short. . .the missionary is eventually convinced by a gov't official to denounce his faith and become a Buddhist. How is this accomplished? Not by torture or deprivation. Basically, the official comforts the Jesuit priest into apostasy; that is, the priest is given a nice house, plenty of clean clothes, a beautiful wife, and a prestigious position in the gov't. The official also tortures the priest's followers in front of him, telling him that only he can stop their pain. How? By denouncing Christ and converting to the Buddha. In other words, the official does everything 21stc. secular culture does to the American Christian. We have plenty of food, clothes, shelter, gadgets, cars, medical care, heat in the winter, A/C in the summer, near limitless entertainment choices, and even the illusion of political freedom. We can continue having all these. . .if we attach ourselves to them and let them tell us who we are. If we let them attach themselves to us and tell us that they alone can save us, they alone can make us happy. 

Secular culture doesn't need to throw us to the lions or put us in jail to convince us to deny Christ. It's perfectly content to allow us to keep our shallow measures of Christian holiness so long as we leave Christ in his gilded box inside the church. But our Lord did not die on the cross so that we might have somewhere to go at 6.00pm on a Sunday. He did not die for us so that we might be part of a weird little religious club that meets in secret. Christ died on the cross so that we might be saved from sin and death. So that we might be made heirs to his Father's kingdom. So that we might be baptized in water and fire and rise again to take the Good News into the world and let the world know that the Father has forgiven every sin and wants every man, woman, and child ever born to be His adopted sons and daughters. Christ died on the cross so that you and I might become Christ in this age and build the kingdom for his return. The measure of our holiness can never be how much we have or how well we are known. It can never be how little we have or how obscure we are. We measure our holiness by how far we are from the standards of the world in our love for one another and for the least among us. In other words, our measure of holiness is Christ himself, the one who loved so perfectly, so fully that he died on a cross for the salvation of the world, a world that hated and feared him. 
So, how are you doing – out there in the world – as the temple of the Spirit of God, as one who is becoming Christ for others?

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  1. I'll be frank Father I'm doing terribly; the reason is simply that I don't Trust Jesus.
    The God that is preached at me from the pulpit is a contradiction. On the one hand he is a divine mathematician who gets angry with those who don't toe his 'plan' to the letter (by this I don't mean those who sin, but those who desire a state in life that does not correlate to God's intention) and is willing to use whips of fire to lash them back into where he wants them. The other is the meek and mild Jesus who understands us, forgives our mistakes, respects our free will, and as one Priest told me 'writes straight with crooked lines'.
    I don't trust Jesus because he led me down the garden path, leading me to believe that he wanted me to be a priest or religious, I then spent the best part of my twenties chasing this particular wild goose (and in case you don't think I tried hard enough I was rejected by two dioceses, including my own, 4 different congregations and both the FSSP and ICKSP), then when I finally change tack and take my career seriously (as I want a family), he doesn't answer any of my prayers leaving me stuck at subsidence level whilst he grants temporal graces galore to my friends and acquaintances (and yes I am trying hard).
    I want to be temporally successful, not to brag about it, but because whilst money cannot buy happiness, it does in one sense liberate someone and brings opportunities that otherwise wouldn't be there. My dream is of my very own Peacefield or Montecello, I want to buy some land in the country on which I can build my own home (big enough for three generations), keep sufficient livestock to feed us, and to grow fruit and vegetables in a large greenhouse. I'm sure that you can understand that to achieve this would be liberating myself and my family from our fast-food, fast entertainment (of which I take little head of anyway), throwaway society, essentially becoming a Catholic version of the Amish (although I think that technology can help bring this vision about rather than be a hindrance) living very much according to Revrum Novarum.
    Unfortunately I come from the bottom of the societal heap, and I need a leg up from God to do this, and he hasn't helped me thus far, in addition I get scorn from many Traditional Priests (who have mistaken the 3rd verse of all things bright and beautiful for holy writ) for wanting to better myself in this way. Their attitude seems to be that temporal success is bad, unless it's had by an aristocratic Catholic family, in which case it's ordained by God (another contradiction in preaching).

  2. There is nothing inherently wrong with material success. It can be a blessing from God. . .as a result of hard work. It can also be a curse. . .inherited wealth can often reinforce unearned privilege and exacerbate pride. I can't tell you why God hasn't answered your prayers or why He's not blessed you. All I can say -- in general -- is that God gives us every blessing we will ever receive from all eternity. What matters is whether or not we receive these blessings and use them for His greater glory. Sometimes our expectations get in the way of receiving His blessings. It took me 17yrs to give up everything I had and everything I thought I was (at 35y.o.!) to enter religious life. I couldn't receive my vocation until I surrendered to His will and let Him bless me. For my entire adult life (until I was 35) I fought tooth and nail to answer His call, and I lived in misery. I don't know if any of this applies to you. . .but take from it what you can. God bless, Fr. Philip Neri, OP