07 January 2009

Our True Country is Paradise

And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country (Matthew 2:12).

We should seek the wisdom of the Church Fathers as part of a regular spiritual reading agenda. They have a way of explaining Scripture so that it is useful for all generations and times. They get to the heart of Scripture passages so that it is not just a bible story, but something that is very real right where we are in the here and now. For the above Scripture verse, for example, Saint Gregory has passed this along through the centuries: "In returning to their own land by another way, the Magi intimate something to us of great importance. Our true country is Paradise, to which, having now come to the knowledge of Jesus, we are forbidden to return by the path we left it. For we left our land by the path of pride, of disobedience, by following after wealth, by eating forbidden food. And so we must return another way: by the way of tears, by the way of obedience, by contempt of the world, by restraining the desires of the flesh" (Homily X in Evang.).

We live in a culture today that has flooded our homes with immorality through the television, the computer and magazines to name only a few. Parents today even have to screen the cartoons their kids watch. It's commonplace to turn on the televsion and see a show with scenes of two unmarried people sharing a bed, or scenes of violence, adultery -- you name it, it's there. But these examples have lost their shock value and reached an alarming degree of acceptance. Our culture now has a high level of desensitization to such things. The human will has been severely weakened.

As Catholic Christians, a way to get off this ill-advised path and to strenghten the will comes through conformity to the will of God, id est, self-abandonment. Don't feel like praying? Pray anyway! Feel like skipping Mass this Sunday? Don't! Well, it's raining, maybe I'll pass on going to Confession. No! Go! These are only a few examples of the temptations we face and how we can conform to God's will doing what we know He would want us to do. And such acts are acts of love, how we show our love for Him.

Every time we pray, every time we make a holy hour, every time we read Scripture, every time we go to Confession, every time we receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament should be occurrences that change us. If we are determined to do God's will, then these are also weapons needed to fight the battle, and the armor to resist the enemy's attacks.

We know that Jesus is Lord, thus, as Saint Gregory tells us, we are forbidden to journey on the unsafe roads. Our Lord tells us that the road to Life is narrow and the wide road leads to destruction (cf. Matthew 7:13-14). The road to Paradise is narrow but straight; and turning off on to the side streets is either a Dead End or like a wintry road, Slippery.

Saint Gregory tells us that these side streets contain pride and disobedience. We see such examples in the Church today by not believing or accepting all Church teachings and by not going to Confession. Oddly enough, not going to Confession leads to another of Saint Gregory's examples: forbidden food. The Eucharist is forbidden Food if one has avoided Confession and has mortal sin on the soul. Saint Jean-Marie Vianney certainly didn't mince words when he wrote: "How many have the temerity to approach the holy table with sins hidden and disguised in confession. How many have not that sorrow which the good God wants from them, and preserve a secret willingness to fall back into sin, and do not put forth all their exertions to amend. How many do not avoid the occasions of sin when they can, or preserve enmity in their hearts even at the holy table. If you have ever been in these dispositions in approaching Holy Communion, you have committed a sacrilege. It attacks the Person of Jesus Christ Himself instead of scorning only His Commandments, like other mortal sins." And anyone with a conscience would not be pleased to hear from this great saint that by receiving Communion unworthily he "crucifies Jesus Christ in his heart."

This is a tough spiritual battle that is being fought and conforming to God's will is the way to stay close to Him so that eventually those destructive side streets will have road blocks.