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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The greatest thing you'll ever learn... just to love and to be loved in return.

Thank you, Toulouse. If you haven't seen Moulin Rouge, don't worry about it.

Today I heard a homily that I had to share.

The Gospel is one of those pointed encounters of Jesus with the Pharisees.
An excerpt (from Luke 11):
"You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk."

Not exactly what any of us want to hear, right? Yet, I had to admit that I felt very convicted that there are plenty of times Christ would say the same to me.

Fr. Bransfield began to talk about the two principle sins of pride and envy. He said they were the sins of Satan, and they are the ones most common in human failure. He also pointed to Christ on the Cross as the epitome of overcoming those two. The humility and love present in the sacrifice of Jesus are the exact antidotes to the pride and envy of the sin of the world.

Then he made another point that really struck me. He pointed out that of all of the seven deadly sins, it is envy that is never praised in songs or spoken of as something glamorous or popular. Why? Because there is no pleasure in envy. Envy is, as he put it, the self-torture and death before the good of another.

This made me think about Satan's envy of God and about our human envy of one another. I think we often make a simple but major mistake in our understanding of others, and I think this mistake leads to envy when it should not.

Consider God. In the liturgy we pray, "You have no need of our praises, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift," or "Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness." God is completely and wholly and totally sufficient, perfect and complete without any of creation. For all that we must and should praise and adore him, he does not need us. What does the idea of such total completeness stir in us? Often, envy. We are sorry that we must be imperfect. We are sorry that we need others. We are sorry that we cannot be an island of wonderfulness that can be generous or cold as we wish. It is the ideal of a great monarch, whose power stretches so that he may be kind and merciful to his people, or he may simply demand their allegiance because they have no choice.

This idea is not God. That is a human way of seeing power. It forgets the basic and most intrinsic aspect of God's perfection - He is Trinity. He is three divine Persons in one Holy God. He is complete and total self-gift and self-receiving. It is in the relationship of the Father giving to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Son and Father in and with the Holy Spirit that each Person is known. God did not need to create us, but he did because he is total gift. He is so generous that it would nearly be improper for him to not give us life. Yet, he does not need us. Of course this is somewhat contradictory, but welcome to dealing with the mysteries of the faith.

The point here is that there is much to be gleaned from the analogy of faith. If God, who is perfect, is perfect in and through his giving, in his relationships, than how could we wish or desire to be "good," "powerful," "perfect," or anything such as that while thinking that we could do away with being encumbered by what this life demands, which is always to be in relation to others. We want to throw off the shackles of cleaning up after another, of listening to another gripe, of doing what someone else wants or needs, of the ever-inconvenient "favor," and yet it is the rejection of the exact opportunity for being-made-perfect!

This is where I think envy creeps in, alongside pride, and whispers that so-and-so is so well off, and so satisfied in his or her wealth. Whether it is a pair of nice shoes, a job that provides well for a family, a talent for public speaking, or maybe just nice hair... we begin to see others as little citadels of power or happiness that will not be shared. We see them as greedy, or vain, or proud. We feel belittled, ignored, unworthy, poo-pooed, or mocked. We may not really want her shoes or his specific job, but we want their situation. We want the power to get "free" from the burdens life brings.

Envy on earth or of earthly things always points back to God. We, like little toddlers who demand a cookie from their parents, who pout and do that little foot-stomp-thing, shake a fist up at God and want to know why we don't have the power. We want to be mini-gods. We want to control things. We want it to be easy. And we falsely envy others whom we think have a share in that power.

But they do not. Nor shall we. The longer we waste ourselves on envy, the less time we have to learn the power and freedom found in love. God's power is not hoarded, but freely given. God's love is not meted out, but abundantly and generously poured.

The Gospel not too long ago was the story of the workers who came into the vineyard at all hours of the day, and God generously gave them a full days wage. He is not stingy! He could not be! He has ENOUGH. ALWAYS. There is no lack of abundance. There is no shortage, no rationing. There is only our confused and limited hearts that would prefer to die on the sword of envy rather than take up the battle of love.

We are cowardly, let us not deny it. We want to turn tail and run. Life gets hard and we would prefer not to see it.

We can't be cowardly, not when we know of Christ. We cannot allow Satan and his propaganda to suck us in and leave us beaten and dead. We know who is Right. We know who has the Truth. We know who is the Truth.

Near the end of mass it struck me that an excellent way to try to invite love into my heart and thoughts would be to try to pray the Our Father with real love. Christ gave us that prayer, and the Catechism calls it the quintessential prayer of the Church. Perhaps the humility of being the children that we are before God, coupled with the love of Him who offered himself as a sacrifice for us, will enable us to defeat envy more often than it defeats us.