NB. The deacon is preaching the Sunday Mass at OLR, so here's a Vintage Fr. Philip Homily. . .
4th Sunday of Lent 2006
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Irving, TX
I’ve been feeling rather proud of myself this last week! I got up early everyday and said my rosary. Spent thirty minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament on my knees. Prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Forty Days Prayer for Lent. I did all this before breakfast, without food, in our unheated chapel at the priory. I don’t mean to boast, but you know, I feel really, really holy, like I’ve really managed to get God to love me a little more, maybe I got a little closer to convincing Him to let me into Heaven. One morning, one of the other brothers just popped into the chapel for a second. Just bopped through like a rabbit and grabbed one of those missalette things and ran off. Guess he’s not interested in saving his soul. Well, I tell you, not to boast, of course, I’m determined to earn some Heaven Points today. I’m saying the rosary two more times, praying the Stations, and doing a few prostrations before the Blessed Sacrament! That should top off my grace account for the day.
Man, you know, working for redemption ain’t easy! But at least I’m working, right? At least I know that God loves me when I’m working for His love. I’m not like those other friars in my priory—I can fast more often, kneel longer, pray louder (and in Latin!), I adore the Blessed Sacrament instead of the TV, spend time with the Blessed Mother instead of the computer, and I know I’m holier because my habit is cleaner, and I iron it too! Jesus loves me best and most because I deserve it. You know, I’ve earned it.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you’re absolutely sure that you’re holier than the guy kneeling next to you at Mass? That you are most certainly better loved by God, closer to redemption and better insured against Hell? Look right now at the people around you. Can you tell who God doesn’t love as much as He loves you? Who isn’t as close to Heaven as your hard work has gotten you? They’re just spiritually lazy, right? Don’t you have a solemn duty to let them know that they’re being spiritually lazy, that they need to work a little harder for their grace points? Don’t you, as one more loved by God, have a duty to monitor their spiritual progress and correct their faults so that they will earn as many points as possible? Don’t you have a responsibility to save them, to save them from themselves for Christ?
No. You don’t. And do you know why? Of course you do! Grace ain’t earned. God’s love cannot be worked for. Our salvation was accomplished 2,000 years ago on the Cross and out of the Tomb, and no amount of kneeling, fasting, praying, boasting of holiness, monitoring our brothers and sisters, correcting others’ faults, or walking the Stations during Lent will get us one more ounce of redemptive grace, not one step closer to the Father’s mercy. Listen to Paul again: “[…] by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.” His love for us is not our handiwork. We are the Father’s handiwork. We do not conjure His love. We can stand in awe. We can offer thanks. We can bend the knee in adoration. We can even fall flat on our faces in righteous humility. But we cannot earn, buy, beg, steal, or in any shape, form, or fashion bank God’s love.
You’re probably thinking: “OK, Father, why are you on about this again!? Didn’t you just prattle on about this recently?” I’m on about this again because I think we all need to be reminded, especially in Lent, that God loves us and that our redemption, the healing of the Original Wound, is done and nothing we can do now will make redemption more available or freer or easier to get. Lent brings us to a powerful recognition of our mortality, a kind of panic about the years left to us and the weight of the years behind us. Lent dangles before our eyes our lives of sin: our disobediences, our many failures to love. It is uniquely a season for us to pull out of our souls all the festering junk that poisons us and set it ablaze in the desert. That vulnerability, that nakedness can leave us open to alien notions about grace, ideas foreign to our tradition. Our bishops know this well, so we have today, in the middle of Lent, John’s gospel on Christ’s love for us. How fitting!
Any time we spend with God alone leaves us naked in His glory and every blemish, every smudge, every little imperfection in us shines like a beacon. God does not love us despite our blemishes and little imperfections—as if we will live with Him forever stained with sin. No! It is because He loves us first and always that He opens a way to cleanliness for us and then He leaves us to wash. We do not earn the invitation to bathe. But we must bathe to enter His house.
Whoever believes in him will be saved. Whoever refuses to believe in him is already condemned.
I said to you earlier that no amount of fasting, prayer, or kneeling, none of these, will get you one more ounce of God’s love. This is true. It is true because you have every once of God’s love right now. He sent His only Son to die for us. He loves us as Love Himself, caritas per se. There is no love for Him to hold back. No love held back for Him to reward those who work harder. Deus caritas est. God is Love. And God is a person, Jesus Christ.
Our Holy Father, Benedict, in his first encyclical, teaches us, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Perhaps too boldly, I want to elaborate on our Holy Father’s teaching: being a Christian is not the result of righteous work or well-earned grace, but the result of “bumping into” the love that is God, the person of Jesus Christ, the Christ who freely accepted his death on a cross for us, and in so doing, makes it possible for us to live with him everyday of our lives and with him always in glory.
Pray. Fast. Kneel. Fraternally correct. Prostrate. Confess. Do penance. It is Lent! Be repentant, absolutely! But know that your spiritual athleticism will not save you. If you pray, fast, kneel, and do penance to earn God’s love, you will not grow in holiness. If you pray, fast, kneel and do penance because God loves you, in the full knowledge that your redemption is accomplished, then your work will be a blessing and holiness will prosper. The temptation of this wonderful penitential season is to fall into the Devil’s trap of believing that the Father expects us to earn His approval, His love. This is evil. The truth is that we are loved now, always. And we are loved sacrificially.
By grace we have been saved, raised up with him. By the light of this truth may our works be clearly seen as done in Him, with Him, and through Him.
Brothers and sisters, it’s time to bathe!
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