Thursday, February 19, 2015

D-Day Plus One: What Are You Prepared to Do About Sin?

There's a great scene in the movie, "The Untouchables" when Elliot Ness (played by Kevin Costner) is talking to an old time Irish Chicago cop (played by Sean Connery).  Costner has been trying to convince Connery to join him in the fight against Al Capone.  The two of them meet in a church and Sean Connery says, "So you said you want to know how to get Capone.  Do you really want to get him?  See what I'm saying?  What are you prepared to do?"  After Costner says that he's prepared to do everything within the law, Connery tells him that's not enough.  He says, "You must be prepared to go all the way because they won't give up the fight until one of you is dead."

During the past few days, I've been reading through a great spiritual classic and I've noticed a recurring theme.  As the author discusses various capital sins--pride, lust, envy, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and anger, he continuously states that these things do not need to be moderated.  They need to be mortified.  Sometimes in our spiritual lives, we think that we can go halfway, that we can negotiate with our vices.  We think becoming less prideful, less lustful, or less envious will be enough.  We try, in a sense, to make a friend out of our vices.  In the words of Sean Connery, when it comes to our vices, "You must be prepared to go all the way because they won't give up the fight until one of you is dead."

In the first reading today--the Thursday after Ash Wednesday--Moses says to the people, "I have set before you today life and death." He does not mention a third option.  There is no negotiating a settlement where the people can opt for 2/3's virtue and 1/3rd vice.  It is life or death.  A blessing or a curse.

There is something frightening about this.  It sounds so "all or nothing."  It sounds that way because that's exactly how it is.  Imagine if your future spouse said to you, "I want to marry you and it is my intention to be 85% faithful to you."  That's not what you'd want to hear.  In a similar way, when we approach our relationship with God, we want to strive towards giving him our entire heart.  Sure, we might fail.  But, we have to want to begin with a desire to be completely faithful.  We don't want to say to God, "I intend to be 85% faithful to you."

In today's Gospel, Jesus says, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever lose his life for my sake will save it.  What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?"  In other words, if we desire to save our sins--hang on to them, keep them, try to make friends with them, negotiate for their safe-keeping, we will lose our life.  But, if we put those things to death by taking up our cross and mortifying ourselves, then we will save our life.  We have to die to ourselves.

If we are attentive during this Lent, we might discover that those capital vices of pride, avarice, anger, lust, gluttony, sloth, and envy are at work in us more than we thought.  And, if we try to fight them, they will hit back hard.  We shouldn't get discouraged.  We do not fight alone.  As today's psalm reminds us, "Blessed are they who hope in the Lord."  Sometimes, when we fight these vices, we might actually feel like we are in a battle to the death.  That's because we are.  We are putting the old man to death and putting on the new man who is Christ Jesus.  But, we do not fight this battle on our own.  We fight it in and through Christ.  "Blessed are they who hope in the Lord."

So, there it is.  Today--not tomorrow, not next week, not next Lent, not some day when I'm ninety--no, today there is placed before us life and death, a blessing and a curse.  We cannot put on the new man without putting to death the old man.  There's no compromise.  Do you want to live the new life of Christ Jesus?  Then you have to go after the vices.  But, make no mistake about it, "You must be prepared to go all the way because they won't give up the fight until one of you is dead."

Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

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