A Homily on Holiness

SATURDAY OF THE THIRD WEEK OF EASTER

WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL OF OUR OWN HOLINESS

“…No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father…..”

Recently someone asked me why he wasn’t making progress in the spiritual life.  I told him “We are not in control of our own holiness.”  Which I think is the message of the quote from our gospel “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

In my early priesthood—first ten years—I wrongly thought my priesthood was all about what I was doing for Christ.  It was just after Vatican II and I was hell bent on leather trying to implement as many things from the Council that I could.   The word “hell bent” is a combination of two phrases.  The first is “hell bent” meaning a fierce determination for some reckless cause.  The second is “hell for leather” meaning riding horseback at breakneck speed.   I couldn’t make “it” happen fast enough.  In my shallowness I thought spirituality was a simple matter of rearranging the furniture in the sanctuary.  Not rearranging my life.

After ten years of this, I woke up one day and felt empty.  I prayed everyday Psalm 95 which began “Come before the Lord singing for joy” but that’s not the way I felt.

I had enjoyed my own accomplishments for too long.  And I felt empty.  They ceased to fulfill my deeper desires.  And my pride was catching up with me.   I started praying determined to keep on praying until the Lord showed me the way to happiness with myself, fulfillment in the priesthood and fulfillment of the desires he had placed within me.   Like Jacob who fought with God all day until he gave him his blessing, I was determined to pray as long and as hard as it took to receive the Lord’s blessing.

And from then on I began to notice (at least in retrospect) how God was providing me with stepping stones to a greater intimacy with him.  I changed from thinking about all that I was doing for God to thinking about all that he was doing for me.  I finally “got” Jesus.  I “got” that He died for MY sins so that I could live with him in heaven.   What I was doing for him took on meaning only in the light of what he was doing for me:  giving me his divine life through the grace he won on the cross for me.  I began to feel the intimacy, the bond that he had created with me on the cross.

“No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”  “We are not in charge of our own holiness.”  The Lord is in charge.  “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”  He’s the coach.  He calls the plays.

Wanting holiness is of course a good thing.  Desiring to be a saint is also a good thing.  Someone penned the words:  “The only sadness in life is not to become a saint.”   But Jesus said “I –not you–am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  In Psalm 37, I read recently: “Wait for the Lord to lead and then follow.”  My job is to look for the road signs by which the Lord is leading me on the path to holiness. It’s not my job to pick the moment when I will make the next step.  It’s not my job to plan the route.  It’s not my job to calculate my progress.  These are the Lord’s job.  So I can relax and enjoy the scenery.

Meanwhile I pray with St. Augustine:  “Lord, reveal me to myself.”  Let me see myself as you see me so that I may see what keeps me from you and with your help change it.  So that I may see the signs you are giving to me.

Relaxing and enjoying the scenery is not passive however.  It is only with active prayer that I am enabled to see the scenery as it is and what it reveals to me about God.  It is only with prayer that I can decipher the meaning of the signs the Lord places in front of me.   I can relax; I can be quiet, I can be silent but I cannot be passive.  I need all these things but they will not help unless I trust in the Lord.  Unless I trust in his wisdom and his plan for me.

Relaxing doesn’t mean that I am content to remain the same.  It’s not “cruise control.”  St. Teresa of Avila said that if prayer is not changing us, there’s something wrong with our prayer.   Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said the same thing about “active participation” in the liturgy.  If the liturgy is not transforming my life according to the death and resurrection of Christ, I am not actively participating.  No matter how loudly I sing, no matter how piously I look.  What’s the sense of going to mass if I want to be comforted but not changed?  Changed so that I come closer to the Lord?

I believe the Lord is leading all of us by his signs to true discipleship, which a Cistercian monk described in this way:  “These are indeed the two apparently opposite impulses / that define the essence of discipleship:  on the one hand, the consciousness of one’s utter unworthiness to abide in the presence of the holy God / and simultaneously / one’s desperate need precisely to abide in that presence, the only source of lasting life and joy.”

So as we are drawing to the end of our Exodus 90 program, we must ask ourselves if we want to return “to our former way of life” or “are we going to claim the new freedom we have experienced so that we may abide in his presence.”  However that works out for each of us, our choice must always lead us to our Master, of whom St. Peter said:  “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of everlasting life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Rev. Fr. H. James Hutchins

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