Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thanksgiving Exhortation

While reading the remarkable Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, the Spirit has struck me.

Today is Thanksgiving.

Give thanks for what you have, but do so with a troubled conscience.

That's right, a troubled conscience.

Fellow sinner, you know how God has blessed you.  You know that you deserve nothing He has given you.  You know how kind He is to you, how patient.  You know the overflowing goodness of your family, your friends, your health, your work - in spite of the fact that all of those things also annoy you and fall shy of perfection.  You know all the same that they are seeds of heaven, bits of glitter fallen from the sky, and that they shine forth a far greater joy to come.

At the same time you know this - you are fooling yourself, and trying to fool Him.

You have a "precious", a darling sin that you covet and protect, a hateful selfish thing that you sacrifice to, a little homemade god that you worship.  It gives you passing pleasure, but it makes you and everyone around you miserable.

Your "precious" is not just a sin, it is the seed that is at the root of a cluster or a constellation of sins.  It might be a fear of abandonment and it makes you jealous or demanding or withdrawn or exacting.  It might be a hunger for power and it makes you seek out porn or "love affairs" in which you manipulate and control others.  It might be a great hunger for love, but it makes you show off or slander or betray your friends so that other friends like you more.

The list of sins is endless.  They are legion.

But you know what your sins are.  You know them intimately.  You know them even more so today, a day that puts them in relief against the backdrop of gratitude.  And you know the source of your many sins, the bad seed that makes them all grow, the thing you cultivate in the dark when no one's looking.

Here's the deal - you'll be able to rationalize your "precious" forever; you'll always be able to excuse your sins.  Quit telling yourself that good is coming out of the evil that you do.  Of course some good comes out of sin (by the grace of God) and of course there's good in it, or you wouldn't seek it out, deadly though this thing may be.

But you know the truth.  You know it's a cancer.

My wife had a brush with cancer, as my regular readers know.  We found out last week that the tumor in her uterus was small and non-invasive and contained, that her hysterectomy has "cured" the cancer, having removed it entirely from her system.  This is tremendous news, and I am very grateful - for the cure and for the many prayers and consolations my readers gave me along the way.

But the analogy holds.  Sin is a cancer.  It is a tiny seed, a tumor, that spreads and kills.  The only way to treat it is to mortify it, to stop making excuses for it and to kill it, without compunction or misplaced compassion.  If your eye offends you, pluck it out.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  If you have a tumor that has begun to grow, get rid of it.

Pope Francis says ...

Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. 

People get mad that he dares to criticize our social or economic system, but the true insight here is not about politics but about the nature of life itself.  Both good and evil share this ontological trait - they cannot be contained; they have effects, consequences; they spread.

We are told that the Kingdom of God is like a tiny bit of leaven mixed with a lot of dough.  We are also told to beware the leaven of the Pharisees.  This is because the tiny seed, if good, can bring forth unimagined good fruit; while the tiny seed of evil can spread like a cancer and bring forth horrific suffering and death.  From the little things - and from our silent interior intentions - grow the greatest consequences.

So cut it out.

Cut out the evil seed.  Repent.  You know what you're doing.  You know exactly what it is as you read this.  Five minutes from now, you'll tell yourself (again) that it's no big deal, that it brings you joy, that your intentions are good.

But it's a sin, and it has no place in the life of a Christian.

On this Thanksgiving, bring forth the fruits of goodness to the table.  The evil that you harbor and cultivate in shame has no place there.  God's bounty sustains us; our sins do not.

For we are more than sin.

The devil does not want us to know this, but we can trust in God, who gives us everything anyway.  We are nasty, selfish, hateful people who are not to be trusted.  But He redeems us, and in the end we can grow to be like Him - even the worst of us, even you and me.

So show your thanks on this Thanksgiving.

Repent.  The Kingdom of God is among you.  Give up your precious, your secret sin, and let Him make you even more precious than you are.

Let Him make you a saint.

For that's the best way of saying Thanks.

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