Sunday, February 17, 2013

Free at Last

Time for that spiritual spring cleaning...

   First Sunday of Lent   C 

One thing is absolutely sure:
Nobody—not nobody—is going to outdo Pope Benedict XVI
when it comes to giving something up for Lent this year!

It was quite shocking news we received on Monday—
to learn that our Holy Father was resigning from office,
effective the end of this month:
shocking because it’s such an extraordinarily rare occurrence,
and shocking because there were no clear signs it was coming.
in these final days of his pontificate:
prayers in gratitude for his faithful ministry
as the successor of St. Peter,
and prayers for a lengthy retirement
marked by peace and good health.

It’s hard to know how history will judge Pope Benedict
for making this exceptional decision.
Of course, very few are waiting for history.

Among the many reactions and commentaries
I’ve heard in these last days,
I was particularly struck by one offered
by Jesuit Fr. James Martin.
In an interview, Fr. Martin said:
For me, [the Pope’s] resignation is a great sign of spiritual freedom.
Rare is the person today who will relinquish power voluntarily.
And it reminds us that no one is indispensible.
As my spiritual director likes to say:
“There’s good news and there’s better news.
The good news is there is a messiah.
The better news is it’s not you.”
So, he is not Christ.
[The Pope] knows that better than anybody else. (NPR, Morning Edition Saturday, 2/16/13)

Most of the time, we carry on as if freedom means
being able to do or have whatever you want.
But in these first days of Lent,
both Christ the Lord and his Vicar here on earth
remind us that God promises us freedom
of a very different—and of a much better—sort.

Have you ever seen the TV show, Hoarders?
I watched a couple of episodes
while flipping through the channels the other night.
It’s a reality show that looks at people
who cling to so much stuff
that it actually takes over and even buries their lives.
I saw one man who was an obsessive collector—
including more than 50,000 empty beer cans
from all around the world;
he’d gone bankrupt buying things
and could no longer walk through his house or garage.
And I saw a woman who was simply
unable to throw anything away—
whether an old dress, an empty box, or spoiled food;
the sheer quantity of roaches and mold in her home
turned the stomachs of the exterminators
and was driving her children away.
If freedom is doing or having whatever you want,
then more should be better, right?
These hoarders ought to be
the most liberated people on the planet!
But instead, these folks are clearly slaves:
slaves to their compulsions,
slaves to their piled-up possessions.
And since this is the only way they’ve known for so long—
even though it’s doing them such great harm—
they’re desperately afraid to give it up.
Fear keeps them from finding freedom.

This homily—as you know—
is the third in a series requested by Bishop LaValley
on the Sacrament of Penance.
And already we have seen its fruit.
I’ve heard confessions during this past week
which were in direct response
to preaching people heard last Sunday or on Ash Wednesday—
some even after being away from the Sacrament for decades.
As I did on the TV screen,
I saw and heard fear in the confessional, too,
when penitents first came in—
especially that particularly debilitating form of fear
known as shame.
But it was, I assure you, very short-lived.
People heard the call and came in to lay aside heavy burdens—
some which had weighed them down for a long, long time.
And that fear gave way to freedom.
After receiving absolution,
these folks practically floated back out the door!
Freedom, they discovered, is not about hanging on;
it’s about letting go.
Freedom is about turning complete control over to God.

As the Lord made abundantly clear
when—with signs and wonders—
he led his chosen people out of Egyptian slavery
and into the bounty of the Promised Land,
freedom—real freedom—is what God desires most
for each and every one of us, his children.

It’s hard to think of a more widely recognized
and generally respected figure in the world today
than the Pope.
What temptations he must face
from earthly prerogatives, power, and prestige!
We’re all-too-aware of how we ourselves
endure—and fall prey to—the devil’s wiles.

So just imagine how it was for Jesus 
out there in the desert.
There is not a single one of those enticements
which belongs to the devil to give,
while every one of them 
is due to Jesus by divine right
as the only begotten Son of God.
And yet, Christ rebuffs them all!
What freedom Jesus demonstrates
in the face of all the devil’s temptations!
It’s not the freedom 
to do and have whatever you want—
a false freedom which only serves to enslave us;
no—it’s the freedom to do whatever God asks
and to accept whatever God gives:
to stop trying (as the devil consonantly tries) 
to take God’s place,
and instead allow God 
to truly be the Lord of our lives.

The Sacrament of Penance is there
for a clean sweep of our sin-cluttered souls,
offering a fresh start
whenever we’ve fallen into the devil’s snare.
And it’s there to give us grace—
strengthening us to fend off temptation
when it comes around again.
And it’s there as often as we need it;
“frequent flyers” are highly encouraged!
You’ll find some helps in preparing for confession
inserted in this Sunday’s bulletin,
including How to God to Confession, 
Acts of Contrition, an Examination of Conscience, 
and a schedule of confessions.
(We wanted to anticipate every excuse!)
Don’t let fear keep you away
when God, in his love, wants nothing more
than to set you free!

“There’s good news and there’s better news.
The good news is there is a messiah.
The better news is it’s not you.”
The Pope seems to know that.
Let’s make sure we do, too.
It’s precisely in this faith
that real freedom is found.

No comments: