Monday, July 12, 2010

The Devil doesn’t fear austerity but holy obedience

Only he can understand what a farm is, what a country is, who shall have sacrificed part of himself to his farm or country, fought to save it, struggled to make it beautiful. Only then will the love of farm or country fill his heart. (Antoine De Saint-Exupery)

(Is 1:10-17)
Hear the word of the LORD, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the LORD.
I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure.

When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and Sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow.

Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow. – Is. 1

If you find your life, you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it. – Mt. 10

Isaiah makes it so abundantly clear, as Amos did several weeks ago, that great external expressions of devotion don’t impress God. It isn’t what faith is about. What matters in our relationship with God is that we act justly, that we actively seek to make things right. He gives two concrete examples that are almost icons of this kind of faith: “Hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.” Similarly, Jesus explains that being a follower of his is not about finding a place of easy, comfortable tranquility – an isolated home among family and friends who love us. He warns us that to embrace the Lord and his way will inevitably place us in some conflict with people around us – even loved ones. The central message is that if we try to save ourselves – if self-protection and self-care dominate our lives – we will lose ourselves, we will become caught up in ourselves and become caricatures of ourselves. But, the mystery when we call “good news” is that the way to find ourselves, that is, to come to become fully ourselves, is to lose our life – to let go, to surrender, to place our trust in God.

We’ve heard this many times. I don’t imagine there are many of us – except for a few very free people – who can say, “That’s what I want and that is how I live.” In fact, it is one of our self-protective, survival instincts deeply imbedded within us to avoid dying, to avoid surrendering control, to avoid even taking risks. It takes grace and practice to become free from these instincts, to let go of the fear of losing ourselves, in order to get more relaxed at “letting go and letting God” show us how to live in a way that thinks of the needs of others first, that seeks the common good and justice itself, no matter the personal cost. It is only with great grace and much practice that we can learn to spontaneously live heroic lives of self-sacrifice and generosity, freely and joyfully – lives with Jesus and like Jesus.

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