Summary: We should understand how we can be distracted from our true Goal, God.
Sixth Day in the Christmas Octave (December 30)
Thirteen Days of Christmas
If you have been following this series of homily-sermons, which I have called “Thirteen Days of Christmas,” you probably realize something. Although this is the sixth day in the Christmas Octave, it is the tenth reflection in the series. That’s because we began on Christmas Eve, had three Masses on Christmas (only of two days in the year priests are encouraged to celebrate Mass three times) and doubled up on Sunday, which is usually both a feast and the day of the Holy Family. Today is the first day that is just an octave day, and so we focus on the Scriptures, but also reflect on the fact that the calendar year is fading fast.
On the feast of St. John, we began reading from the first letter of John, which was a circular letter to the churches in what is now Greece and Turkey. His words are appropriate for us who are reviewing the past year and looking forward to the new one. John tells us not to love the world, that is, passing things. God made all things good. That’s a principal message of Genesis chapter 1. But because they are good, the goods of this world are attractive. That’s a principal message of Madison Avenue. Advertising makes good things look like ends in themselves. They do that so we will part with our money and obtain those good things. The goods of the world are attractive, but they are also distracting. They can divert us from what is our true end, our true goal, the only thing that can fill up the God-sized hole in our hearts. That is, of course, union with the divine, union with the Trinity in Christ. Only God can fill up the gaping hole in our hearts. Only by letting Christ’s Holy Spirit change our heart into the heart of Christ, change our minds and wills into His, can we be one with Christ and attain that end.
John catalogues those things that try to take the place of God in our hearts and minds: first, the concupiscence of the flesh. That is anything that gives pleasure to our bodies and tries to fill up the yearning of our heart for God. The Bible also classifies it as “eat, drink, be merry,” that is, overeat, get drunk, and engage in unnatural sex. Unnatural means anything outside the intimacy of the marriage covenant, and, within the marriage covenant, anything abusive of the marital act. These things give us pleasure, but the pleasure is transitory. Worse, if we allow our overindulgence and perversity free reign, we descend into worse and worse addictions until we are utterly ruined. First our spiritual life dies, then our minds are corrupted, and our bodies get sick. Let’s make certain in our electronic age to note that addictions to games or pornography are part of this sickness. God wants to heal us of this, so we have the sacrament of reconciliation and frequent communion to put us back in contact with the One who can fill our every need.
Second is the concupiscence of the eyes. We can try to fill up the hole in our hearts with visions of the beautiful. God has created beauty, because He is perfect beauty. His most beautiful creations are the human nature of Jesus and the totality of His Blessed Virgin Mother. Thus we have images of Jesus, Mary and the saints to contemplate. He has created beauties in nature, like the awesome landscapes we see out west, and the flowers. The human body is beautiful, and is celebrated by the great sculptors and painters of the world. But all these things, attractive in themselves, are not ultimate beauty. When they distract from our vision of God, they drag us away from Him, and in the end can destroy us. Just think of the people who spend their fortunes and time in retirement flying all over to see great art, instead of working to help the poor and relieve suffering in the world. Yes, appreciate beauty, but in all things there must be moderation, and it can never be allowed to drag us away from our Ultimate Goal.
Third is the pride of life. We all have enjoyed recognition from the first moment we sat up, or rolled over onto our tummies, or took our first step. The best educators know that you can enable students to do their best by praising their performance. Then they will take the risk of doing new things and making progress. National Merit recognition, Pulitzer and Nobel prizes and Academy awards are all designed to encourage the young to strive for more and better learning (although such prizes sometimes become political and do the opposite of what they are intended to do). The pride of life also becomes a lust for power over others. When either desire for recognition or desire for power gets in the way of our relationship with God or respect for human dignity, we begin to die, spiritually, emotionally and even physically. We take drugs to get that adrenaline rush that recognition or power gives. Instead of growing in stature, we are diminished. Just think of the politicians and Hollywood stars who have crashed and burned.