MAY 9, 2005- HOMILY: ACTS 19:1-8; JOHN 16: 29-33
WE DO INDEED BELIEVE, THAT YOU CAME FROM GOD. JESUS ANSWERED THEM: ‘DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE?’With his question our Lord challenged his closest followers to examine their hearts with a more earnest scrutiny than they had ever taken the pains to do. He was keenly aware of the many-leveled nature of the human heart and well knew how readily we deceive ourselves regarding our true dispositions and motivations due to a failure to penetrate to the innermost sanctuary of our person. We are told in the psalms that God ‘searches the reins and the heart’, that is to say He knows our dispositions, the inmost tendencies hidden within by the multiple layers of our soul. Our designs, our hopes, our good intentions as they are formed by day to day choices and experiences readily serve as screens that partition off those areas of our character that are in tension, even in conflict with the conscious values we opt for and with which, to a certain extent, we identify. We know our self as if possessing the qualities we admire and as we put them into practice we form a conception, an image, of our self as if we are defined solely by these features.
Such is the law of our nature on the level of our emotional life; we exclude from the image we fashion of our person, by one manner or another, those feelings and actions that reveal another, darker side of our character. inevitable. To admit our selfishness, our fears, our self-doubt, in short, our suspicions that in fact we are not altogether deserving or lovable, requires a deliberate effort of confrontation with these defects that conflict with the image of our person as essentially well disposed and deserving of trust, respect and even a certain loving admiration. And so it happens that, by the tendencies implanted in our human nature, by virtue of the intensity of our need to be respected and appreciated by those whom we value and admire we live in an ignorance of self that is, in large part, a state of delusion. The Russian monks were so keenly aware of this fact they had a special word for it- prelest.
Jesus addresses himself in today’s Gospel to this self-deception as it misled his intimate followers and set them up for a fall as he expressly warns them. His words are directed to here today as we reflect on this scene. They come as a challenge to each of us: ‘DO I REALLY BELIEVE?’ We cannot honestly answer this question without a firm determination to discern the concrete dispositions of our character and to admit the truth of what we find as we explore the deeper recesses of our soul in the light of our Lord’s teaching and example. This will be possible only to the extent we humbly and trustingly rely on his merciful love for us. Only as we know we are accepted by him who knows our sins and selfish weaknesses can we find the courage and strength to confront what we find to be unlovable and unacceptable in our own heart.
Such a labor of seeking the concrete truth of our own person as we actually are-this is what the early monks called ‘the work of the heart’. As we undertake this demanding labor we come to grasp what real humility is and why it proves to be so essential in our search for union with God. Humility is that strength of character that enables us to see through this deception. Far from being a characteristic of the weak and diffident, humility is a spiritual force, a power that enables a person to meet Jesus’ challenging question: ‘DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE?’ In doing so we must first discern the ways in which we put our trust in matters that are all too human: in our own goodness, our health, the easy circumstances that allow us to pursue our ends in peace. We begin to face the fact that many of the things we trust in are not only frail but deceptive. How much do we along with our whole nation depend on a security based on an immoral policy of destruction of innocent persons by the thousands? It was comparable issues that confronted the apostles when, just before he went to his passion and death, Jesus asked them ‘DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE?’
As we offer this Eucharist and receive the Lord in communion may we find the strength given the apostles by the Holy Spirit, which alone allows us to confront these deceptive supports and to begin to place our whole trust in the Risen Lord Jesus who, having died for us has overcome sin and death and the falsity of this world, assures us of a place with him in the glory of God the Father, if only we truly believe and place our hope and trust in him alone.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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