In yesterday’s Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, the Lord described a kind of self-destructive cycle that assails us and then proposed a solution. In this post there is an attempt to focus in a bit more on the solution proposed by the Lord.
But to review the problem, the self destructive cycle recall this text from yesterday’s Gospel:
Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. (Luke 21:34-35)
To describe the cycle of the problem in more modern terms:
- Excess and over indulgence (carousing) dissipates our strength and
- Causes many inner divisions where we are pulled in 80 different directions (anxieties of daily life). The Greek word translated here as “anxiety” is μερίμναις (merimnais) meaning more literally “a part, separated from the whole;” “that which divides and fractures a person into parts.”And so we are torn, divided within.
- This in turn causes many to “medicate” their stress and anxiety with alcohol (drunkenness) or its equivalent (i.e. sex, drugs, addiction to TV or other diversions. Anything to divert our mind from its many conflicts and inner troubles). But this of course is the “hair of the dog that bit us.” And thus the cycle deepens wherein we return to the very world that troubles us and divides us and to dive even more deeply into its excesses. And so our indulgence deepens. Just “one more drink” will seal the deal. Or so we think. And thus the cycle deepens.
- This leads ultimately to heavy heart (drowsiness), a heart that is heavy, burdened, troubled, divided and too dull and weary to love the One for whom it was created.
So then here is the diagnosis of the problem. But what is the solution, what is the healing? The Lord says,
Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:35-36)
And thus the Lord counsels that we be vigilant, that we be watchful. In other words that we first come to understand the problem, the devastating cycle that sets up in us, and, knowing its moves, be vigilant to stops its advance. We are to name the demon of excess and rebuke its power and all the consequences that flow from it.
He then tells us to pray. In other words, we are to focus on our true center, Jesus Christ. And, having focused our gaze on Jesus, we are to let him order our whole life.
The fact is, most of us want too many things. These things are not bad in themselves, but they are too much and they weigh us down. The secret to life, to happiness and order is to want one thing, and that then to allow that one thing to order everything else.
Consider the Rose window at the upper right of this post. It is a photo of the Rose Window in my parish. Note that Jesus is at the center, seated in Glory. Around that true center of our life we may consider the may many ‘petals’ that surround the true center. These are things like family, marriage, career, home, things, possessions. And to the degree that all these ‘petals’ are orderly it is only that Jesus is at the center.
And this is an image for our life, or what it should be. It is an image of what Jesus is talking about when he tells us to be watchful for the troubles of excess and to pray, that is, order our lives around him. Jesus told the anxious Martha that only one thing is necessary, to )like Mary) sit at the feet of Jesus, listen to him and let him order our lives.
It’s all right there, pictured in the Rose Window. Look! Do we understand?
One of the great lies of the world is that we “can have it all!” We live in the age of great and seemingly endless possibilities and the fact is we want too many conflicting things. We want to be popular, but we want to stand for something. We want our kids to be raised well, but we want double incomes. We want good health, but we want to eat rich foods and avoid exercise. We want God, but we want the world too.
The fact is we cannot have everything and we must make choices. In choosing certain things we preclude other things.
But the real key in life is to learn to do just one thing, to want just one thing. This theme of unity, of doing and wanting one thing is a consistent theme of Scripture. Lets look at some passages and see what they have to tell us.
- This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, be thus minded…(Phil 3:13)
- “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41)
- One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. ( Ps 27:4)
- A double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8 )
- Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the reign of God (Lk 9:62)
- No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matt 6:24)
- Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing (1 Kings 18:21)
- O adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God (James 4:4)
- And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)
Well, you get the point. We have a decision to make. We are to choose God and let Jesus be the center of our life. And thus he is to be the priority over the world. But the problem is that most of us want both. And if most are honest there will be an admission that the world is actually desired more than God.
But true serenity can only be found by seeking God, alone and above every desire. Our hearts were made for God. He has written his name on our heart and He alone can fulfill us. Yet, we waver, we want everything. And, frankly these endless desires torture us. They are in conflict with each other and ultimately they are never satisfied anyway.
The grace for which to pray is to be single-hearted, to want only one thing, to want only God. The beatitude for which to pray is: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God (Matt 5:8)
But most people miss the inner meaning of this beatitude, which is the meaning of the Rose window above. The Greek word in this passage, καθαροὶ (katharoi) is usually and properly translated as clean or pure in the usual sense. But a more extended meaning refers to something that is pure, in the sense of being unmixed with anything foreign, unalloyed. Hence there is the concept here of being single-hearted, having a pure and single motive, the desire to see God. This is a very great blessing and God can give it to us. Psalm 86:11 says, Give me an undivided heart O Lord, that I may fear your name. The Latin Vulgate renders this verse as simplex fac cor meum (Make simple my heart). This is a great gift for which to pray: a simple, undivided heart. A heart that desires only God and what would lead me to him.
And by this one desire every other decision and desire is subsumed. This is what Paul means when he says, this one thing I do. He does not mean that he does not go here and there, or eat, or sleep. He simply means that everything he does is focused on, and supports the one thing: his goal to be with God forever.
A man journeying from Washington to New York would be on a fool’s errand if he took a road heading south. His destination is north. He may pull aside to get gas, or rest his eyes, but these things are only done to help him toward his goal.
A marathon runner does not stop to talk with friends, or step into a local bookstore to browse. He does one thing, he runs, he pursues the goal. Perhaps he will accept water offered. He might stop for brief moment to tie his shoe, but he only does these things because they help him to his goal.
But too many Christians who say heaven is their goal are heading south and stepping out of the race on fool’s errands.
The gift to be sought from the Lord is to be single-hearted, to have an undivided heart, the gift to do just one thing. Otherwise we are compromised, double-minded and just plain tired.
An old song says, Jesus, you’re the Center of my Joy. All that’s good and perfect comes from you. You’re the heart of my contentment, hope for all I do. Jesus, you’re the center of my life.
Not a bad Advent message. In this, the busiest of times, just before Christmas, move to the center, look to Jesus and, looking to him, let him order our fractured and anxious lives.
This movie clip is from City Slickers and has an essential rule to remember. Please note there is one bad word in the clip but it “helps” make the point –