11 May 2017

Today's Homily

Chapel for Thursday of Easter IV:

Reading: 1 Peter 2:11, 12
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I didn't remember ever noticing it, but it noticed me. Poison ivy. Or poison oak. I never knew which. But there it was, red blistery and oh, so itchy. And you know the temptation: SCRATCH it. There in the middle night when you wake up and it is just calling out to you: A little light scratch is all. Please. Just scratch a wee bit and I'll leave you alone. I promise. Uh, huh. And you know how well that worked. An hour later I'd still e scratching and until I was raw and bleeding. And it still wouldn't stop itching.

Behold, the passions (cravings, desires) of the flesh. You'll never get why their itch is insatiable until you get what they are. Every last one of them begins as a good thing, a pleasure, which God formed and gave to be enjoyed that through its enjoyment you might perceive Him, the Giver and rest in His love for you, love shown by the gift itself. Each of them calls beyond itself to the Giver. BUT, the very nature of our fall from the getgo, is that we attempt to extract the pleasure or good from the very gift in which it lives and where the Creator imbedded it and to have it as a thing unto itself on our own terms. Treated so, these pleasures that God filled this creation with become little monsters inside of us. Back to the poison ivy and you'll behold, how they work!  

Just scratch the itch a little. It feels so good. Ah… But it never, ever stops with the little scratch. It always comes back stronger. More, give me more. Drink. Porn. Sweets. Opiates. They're the obvious ones. But also that chasing after others' approval. How many likes did my post get? Never enough. Living from the attention that others give you, but it's never enough. Chasing after the next pat on the back and "good job, well done!" But then always needing to hear it again and more. 

You see, it doesn't matter how much you throw at this little monster with its lusts, it opens its mouth ever wider to demand even more. And pretty soon, you realize you're inside of Little Shop of Horrors. Feed Me Seymour. Feed me all night long. Always more. That's the way the passions of the flesh work; the more you yield to them the more they demand of you.  

And they wage war against your soul, your psyche, your life in God which is your true self now. If you give them reign, they eat up the gift of a good conscience, you peace, the joy and the love in which God would have you rest and live and enjoy His good gifts as His beloved children.

So how do you handle them? Every last one of us knows this battle, even though the itch expresses itself in a diversity of cravings in our lives. St. Peter's exhortation is remarkable. He just says: "Abstain." We might render it "walk away from it." Ah, like the poison ivy. The only way to win against the itch, is to abstain from scratching it. Then peace and sleep and whew in the morning it may itch again, but you know what to do this time. You don't fight it. You just don't feed it. Slowly it begins to die. To fade.

You can only do that with the passions of the flesh when you remember whose you are and so who you are. "Beloved," Peter said. "Sojourners," Peter said. "Aliens," Peter said. Put them together and they add up to this: people loved by the Father who have a home with Him. And this life isn't the final stop. You're journeying through it toward the final stop. And as you journey, you do so, bathed in His unshakable love. 

And THAT is, the calamine lotion, the balm. There's only one thing really helps the itches, and that's to recognize that their very insatiability calls out to you no pleasure in this life was meant to be finally satisfying in itself. Think how St. Augustine put it: "You have made us for yourselves, and our souls are restless until they rest in you." Baptism gives you that rest. By resting in the Father's love that doesn't change and never fades and that shone forth most gloriously in the darkness of Calvary's tree, where He was determined to love you and have you forever that He gave His Son into all our death, all our itching of the various passions, only there can you find the relief. Jesus in Baptism literally gives you His life, His psyche, to be your very own, and His is a life of total receptivity. Where everything is gift, and gift from the hand of the Father who loves Him, who loves you. 

Peter says, you live like that with abstention from itch scratching, plastered over with the peace of the love of God in Christ, and people will begin to notice. In a world of people frustrated beyond belief by their inability to still the various itches of their lives, you will shine. They will take notice you and at first may even curse you, trash talk you, but when God comes to visit them with some particular sorrow that shows the dead end of all their attempts to still the itches that are driving them crazy, how every attempt to feed the beast only makes it more hungry, they will glorify God because of what they've seen in you. The way of Jesus. A way past the dead end. A way not of your making, but His giving. Not a people without itches, as you well know; a people who have been bathed in the water and smeared with the oil that gave you a love that soothes them every one. 
When you begin to allow every pleasure to remain where God put it, the pleasure leads you always to something more. To Someone more. You then discover that joy itself waits to surprise you. Psalm 16: "In Your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand, pleasures forevermore." 

Peter, like John, writes these things that your joy may be full! That you may abstain from the vain attempt to extract pleasures as items for your use and manipulation and return in Christ to the life that is real life. The life of receiving gifts. This IS the life into which You were baptized and which He calls you to embrace anew today. For alleluia! Christ, is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia! 

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