17 January 2021

"Just add water" is not The Way

2nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

In my fantasy world all I have to do to get in shape – to get six-pack abs and arms of steel – is look in the mirror and wish it to be so! I can increase my IQ; speak foreign languages; and fix my gimpy knees. All I have to do is say, “It is so!” Boom. It's done. Right? Now, those of you who live in the real world know this is simply not true. Nothing worth having comes from wishing. Abs, special talents, non-gimpy knees don't just appear b/c we say so. Yet. . .how many of us believe that we can wish upon a star or a mirror or a rosary and magically become holy Christians? Back in my Baptist days I was assured that all I had to do to be saved was utter the magic phrase: “I accept Jesus into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior.” And. . .I'm done. Nothing more required. I am now a holy Christian. Two of John's disciples see Jesus walk by. John says of Jesus, “That's the Messiah.” The disciples want to know more so they ask Jesus where he's staying. Jesus doesn't say, “Accept me as your Lord and Savior, and you're good.” He says, “Come and see.” Follow me. Come stay with me. Live with me for a while. And you will see what you need to see.

That's how we acquire holiness. Follow Christ. Live with him. Listen, watch, and learn. The “just add water” method of holiness is attractive, no doubt. It's fast, easy, efficient, and guaranteed. But it's also complete nonsense. There is no shortcut to living in the world while also not being of the world. That takes practice. A lot of practice. It means trying and failing and trying again. It means misunderstanding and then coming to understand before. . .misunderstanding again. It means winning the war but losing the battle. And most important of all – it means trusting God when He says that He will never abandon us. Not you. Not me. None of us. We are certainly free to abandon Him. And we do so little-by-little every time we sin. . .but He never abandon us. What does this promise mean? It means that while we are flailing about struggling for holiness He gives us every gift we need to succeed. Every grace we can possibly imagine is simply handed to us for our growth in holiness. My gifts aren't your gifts. Your gifts aren't their gifts. Their gifts aren't my gifts. Each gift is given to perfect the receiver according to his/her needs. We serve as individual members of a Body. Without the Body, the Church, we are just free-floating souls looking for the impossible-to-find “just add water” means to salvation.

Paul writes to the fallen-away Corinthians, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” As members of the Body then we follow Christ. We live with him. We listen and watch, and we learn. What's more: since we are members of his Body, we share his Spirit. Paul writes, “. . .whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him.” So, not only do we live and move and have our being as members of his Body, the Church, we also live and move and have our being within his Holy Spirit. This makes it not only possible for us to grow in holiness, it also makes it probable that we will grow in holiness. . .IF we will it and follow through day by day, hour by hour. Is this method as easy and efficient and quick as the “just add water” solution some seem to prefer? No. But it has the distinct advantage of actually working as advertised. The quick and easy method will get you something spiritually akin to a MickeyD's Happy Meal. Cheap. Tasteless. Gimmicky. What the Lord himself asks the disciples to do is: “Come and see.” Spend the day, a week, a year, a lifetime, listening, watching, learning, and then go out to live in the world while remaining apart from the world's deceptions.

I hope you've heard me say that growing in holiness ain't easy. Becoming a member of the Body is as easy as getting baptized. From there, we work out our holiness with fear and trembling. But we do so as gifted parts of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. Not as free-floating atoms working all alone. But as a family, a society, a nation of priests and prophets charged with bearing witness to the Good News of Christ Jesus. How do you get six-pack abs? I'm told [ahem] that you have to do these things called “sit-up's” – I had to look that up – everyday. If you want to learn a foreign language – study, memorize everyday. If you want to sing beautifully or play a musical instrument, practice, practice, practice. If you want to grow in holiness – pray everyday; attend to the sacraments (esp confession and Mass); take up spiritual reading (I can recommend good books); and follow Christ by doing the Corporal/Spiritual Works of Mercy (look them up online). But most important: stay in the Body. Struggle. Fail. Fight. Win some. Lose some. Surrender to God's will and never cease giving Him thanks and praise. “Come and see” is forever. And God is with us the whole way. 

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