Summary: Don't just empty your life of vices; fill it up with prayer, fasting, almsgiving and good work.
3rd Sunday in Lent 2016
“As the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters, so are our eyes on the Lord our God, until He has mercy on us.” The words of the psalmist could and should integrate our meditation on God’s word today, because all the ills of the world can be attributed to humans ignoring the hand and the Law of our God, while all our good comes from His hands. I have a personal story that goes with the psalm. For about five years, I had the privilege of serving as one of the masters of ceremonies for our local bishops, five of them, in fact. The MC for the bishop’s ceremonies is the priest or deacon who is supposed to help things go smoothly. As clumsy as I can be, I still wonder why I was chosen. But with every new service, a whole new cadre of servers and priests and deacons accompanied, needing training and coordination. One thing I learned very early: to keep my eye constantly on the Archbishop. If he needed anything, or needed me to do anything, his hand would make the signal, and it was always low and subtle.
The desires of God, on the other hand, are high and clear. No misinterpreting “thou shalt not murder.” No nuances surrounding “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” Just imagine what our world would be like if all, or even most, humans would follow God’s Law. After all, what He commands us is legislated out of mercy and compassion. He tells us what to do and what not to do for one simple reason–He loves us. He wants our good. The Law of the Lord is perfect, as the psalmist tells us. His ordinances are sweeter than syrup or honey from the comb.
Saul of Tarsus spent the early years of his life studying Torah, and trying to live the 600 plus ordinances that were built around the Ten Commandments. He spent months or years trying to disprove the claim that this Jeshua, this peasant carpenter from the hick town Nazareth, this criminal executed by the Romans, was anything more than that. He persecuted and punished Christ’s followers all the way to prison and execution. How, he asked, could a law-breaker, a violator of the Sabbath, be the Jewish Messiah, the Savior of the world.
But on the road to Damascus he actually met the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. There was no mistake. Jesus even asked Saul, “why do you persecute Me?” Me, this Jesus referred to. Jesus was identifying the Christians Saul was persecuting with Himself. The realization of the horrible crimes he had committed in the name of his religion cut Saul to the core. His name changed to Paulus–or “Shorty”–this former persecutor became the great Apostle to the Gentiles. And in the process, his legal training came to the fore when he codified the new Christian law, giving flesh to the general commandment to love one another as Christ loved us. In general, this law was the Ten Commandments on human growth hormone. Spiritual growth. Yes, stop fornicating and stealing and gossiping and engaging in silly conversation. But do such good in such intensity that you have no time or energy for any mischief. Instead of dirty jokes or racial slurs, use your speech for thanksgiving and praise. Purge all pornography from your computer and magazine rack. And, yes, I mean even Sports Illustrated so-called swimsuit issue. Spend less time on shopping sites, and more on giving to the Church and our charities. Instead of fighting your parents over every request, ask them what needs to be done, and then do it.
Jesus was quite specific about the struggle between good and evil in our heart. He was the great exorcist. He drove out evil spirits probably every day. But He also knew from that experience that all nature abhors a vacuum. If you don’t fill your cleaned-up spiritual house with beautiful things like prayer, devotions, almsgiving and fasting, the demons He drove out will come back in strength and burn your spiritual house down. If the porn is thrown out without substituting journals like New Oxford Review and Catholic Answers, the old bad habits will reassert themselves. We are made for union with God, and if we don’t work at attaining that union, by yielding to the Holy Spirit and nurturing our faith, hope and love, we will get distracted by lesser goods and fall into sin. And our last state will be worse than the first. Yes, Christ will pluck our feet out of the snare, but then we must get our feet moving in the right direction: serving at Mass, teaching religion, writing good letters to editors, and sharing our faith with those who are in such desperate need of Good News.