Fr. Randy Sly on the Difference Between Clean and Committed
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Often our minds and hearts are equally cluttered with junk. Some of it can even be harmful or evil, as in the case of our gospel reading. Jesus has just encountered a demon which he cast out. He was then accused of doing it through the power of Beelzebul, which is another name for Satan. It would seem from Jesus' insights, that the enemy of our souls doesn't really mind it when we get ourselves spiritually cleaned up. He may even not get too nervous when we go to confession. However, he hates it when we commit ourselves to remaining clean. He detests a soul who decides enough is enough and dedicates himself or herself to holiness.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - The top drawer of my dresser is a mess. This is where I put everything that doesn't have an obvious home. Every once in a while I have to take time to clean out the drawer, a job that usually involves both awe and astonishment.
The awe comes when I find something I had been trying to find for many months. Buried under miscellaneous receipts, orphaned shoe laces, greeting cards and who knows what else, I find that one important item. It's those other things that cause astonishment. Why do I keep all that junk? When will I really need one shoelace or the receipt for a cheeseburger purchased months ago?
Often our minds and hearts are equally cluttered with junk. Some of it can even be harmful or evil, as in the case of our gospel reading. Jesus has just encountered a demon which he cast out. He was then accused of doing it through the power of Beelzebul, which is another name for Satan.
It was in this exchange with his detractors that Jesus adds an interesting insight regarding the exorcising of evil spirits.
"When an unclean spirit goes out of someone,
it roams through arid regions searching for rest
but, finding none, it says,
'I shall return to my home from which I came.'
But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order.
Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits
more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there,
and the last condition of that man is worse than the first." (Lk. 11:24-26
Back to my dresser drawer... Normally, I get things back in order and throw out the junk I've eliminated, then start again. It doesn't take long to have the same problem occur. I've cleaned it out but never intended to commit to another way of controlling the drawer. In fact, it usually is worse the next time!
It would seem from Jesus' insights, that the enemy of our souls doesn't really mind it when we get ourselves spiritually cleaned up. He may even not get too nervous when we go to confession.
Some of us, he knows, go to confession because we're sorry we got caught or we're sorry that something is wrong. However, we still want to keep practicing that particular sin because we like it so much. The problem is, besetting sins like that can come back with much more power. They really have won the battle of the will.
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However, he hates it when we commit ourselves to remaining clean. He detests a soul who decides enough is enough and dedicates himself or herself to holiness.
The author of the Hebrews offers great encouragement regarding commitment by saying, Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. (Heb. 12:1-4)
We still have to start by getting cleaned up. Confession is a critical part of a life of holiness. As St. Augustine said, "The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works."
There is nothing better for a healthy soul than a thorough examination of conscience following by the Sacrament of Penance. It cleanses us from all sin and bestows grace to keep us from sinning. In a guide published by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, Confession is described as a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ in his love and mercy. It is here that we meet the loving Jesus who offers sinners forgiveness for offenses committed against God and neighbor. At the same time, Confession permits sinners to reconcile with the Church, which also is wounded by our sins.
"Confession heals, confession justifies, confession grants pardon of sin," St. Isidore of Seville wrote. "All hope consists in confession. In confession there is a chance for mercy. Believe it firmly. Do not doubt, do not hesitate, never despair of the mercy of God. Hope and have confidence in confession."
I love how St. Elizabeth Ann Seton described a time of confession. "I felt as if my chains fell, as those of St. Peter at the touch of the Divine messenger. My God, what new scenes for my soul!"
As a priest, I consider it an honor to offer this great sacrament and witness the miracle of reconciliation which the Church offers on behalf of Christ. No matter the sin, a sincere and honest confession restores the life of grace and relationship with God.
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Run the race
Confession cleans the house, but now that cleanliness must be maintained. The writer of Hebrews calls this running the race, a phrase also used by Saint Paul in his letter to the Philippians, when talking about a life of holiness.
...one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14-15)
Running the race is one way Paul describes living the Christian life. We are putting our whole self into this one pursuit. It is not simply one small component of our life but the core around which our whole life is centered. We base decisions around that core and the activities of the day should be so designed to strengthen the heart.
Prayer, reading of Holy Scripture and other spiritual reading are only a few constituents of this life of faith. We also exercise the virtues that God is working in us through the power and grace of His Holy Spirit. We are expressing corporal and spiritual works of mercy toward those around us.
Together, these things all contribute to the strengthening of our life in Christ, a life that can be filled with faith rather than failure. And they don't have to be big things, just faithful things. St. Rose Philippine Duchesne once wrote, "We cultivate a very small field for Christ, but we love it, knowing that God does not require great achievements but a heart that holds back nothing for self."
Jesus makes it clear in today's gospel, that our clean hearts can again find evil retaking ground. Not only that, but it comes back far worse than when it left. Part of our vigilance after confession involves resisting the temptations that will - and they will - return.
We must resist. As St. Gregory the Great said, "To do penance is to bewail the evil we have done, and to do no evil to bewail." He also said that, "Virtue is nothing without the trial of temptation, for there is no conflict without an enemy, no victory without strife."
Resisting is a part of the life of holiness and can used by God for our benefit. Years ago a friend of mine was telling me that he had asked God to help with the virtue of patience. He wanted to become a patient individual.
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"Wouldn't you know it," he said. "Just after I prayed that prayer I realized I was late for an appointment. Not only that but I was stopped by every traffic light between my office and where my appointment was located. I learned quickly that I had a long way to go!"
St. Philip Neri once commented on this. "Do not grieve over the temptations you suffer," he said. "When the Lord intends to bestow a particular virtue on us, He often permits us first to be tempted by the opposite vice. Therefore, look upon every temptation as an invitation to grow in a particular virtue and a promise by God that you will be successful, if only you stand fast."
Well, I've been holding off using a pun but I am going to indulge myself by saying that God wants our Christian life to be a "top drawer" life. That being said, let's remember that cleaning out the drawer is only a start. We also must maintain the order and cleanliness of the drawer and resist the temptation to use it again for junk.
Our first reading reminds us why we need to find cleansing for our life and then maintain our cleansing. Each of us will experience, at some point, the Day of the Lord. At the culmination of time, this will be a final day of reckoning at the Second Coming of the Lord. Yet, before that, it can come to any of us who, through death's door, enter life eternal and encounter Him now.
In that scripture, the Prophet Joel proclaims, "Blow the trumpet in Zion" and clean out your drawer!
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate. He is a popular speaker for parishes, apostolates and organizations.
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