Sunday, February 12, 2017

Don't Make Your Soul the Junk Drawer for Vice: Gospel Minimalism

Recently I've been praying about what I should do for Lent this year.  The more I've prayed about it, the more I feel the need to simplify my life, to "Unlclutter" my life. Yes, in terms of all the accumulated  junk, clothes, and stuff that seems constantly to spread everywhere.  But also to free myself from the clutter that occupies my time, my energies, and my thoughts. I'm not sure what it exactly means, but I have this sense that in order for me to hear God's Word more clearly, I need to be freed up from so much physical and spiritual clutter.  

So, last week we had a snow day and I decided I would use the time to clean out some of the physical clutter in my drawers, shelves, and closet. When I mentioned that I was doing that, someone suggested that I watch a Netflix documentary called, "The Minimalists."  It's about this movement of people who are trying to live more simply.  So, given the choice between cleaning my room or sitting down and watching a 90 minute Netflix show, I obviously chose the show. But it was really interesting.  Know what really struck me about it?  The people were saying stuff like, "You know we live in a culture that is constantly trying to convince us that the more we buy, the more own, the more we possess, the happier we will be. So we just keep buying more stuff.  And the truth is, this stuff does not make us happier."

This really struck me because they were saying these things as though this was a new idea.  I don't mean that as a criticism of them. I just mean that it really fascinated me.  Now, if I gave a homily today about how we live in a consumer society and how possessions won't make us happy, everybody would be like, "Oh, here we go again. The Catholic Church is so negative." And it's true in a way. When we talk about stuff like that, it almost sounds like we're saying, "Get rid of stuff that makes you happy, be miserable for your life, and then maybe you can be happy in heaven."  Right? It does sound like this sometimes.  But the people on this documentary genuinely sounded as though they were proposing something that was about helping people experience more happiness now. And they mentioned how when people here them speak, they often start asking questions like, "Can I keep this? Can I keep that?  How much of this can I have?" And these guys were saying that the place you have to begin is not with what external things am I going to throw away or keep, but rather an internal recognition that happiness is not about what I own.

Today, in the Gospel, Jesus sounds pretty hard hitting.  "You have heard it said, no murder, but I tell you no anger. You have heard it said, no adultery, but I tell you no lust."  So often, when we think about the Gospel, the spiritual life, our moral life, we immediately start asking, "Well, what about this?  What if I don't hate my brother, but I have an immense disdain for him? Is that okay?  How long can I stare at that pretty girl before it's technically lust? How close to the line am I allowed to get?"  We do this because we begin with a bad presupposition. We don't really believe that God's will-- that God's law--is actually FOR our happiness. Instead, we think God has laid these heavy burdens on us to prevent us from being happy now.

Can't I just settle for a little less anger, a little less lust, a little less pride?  Wouldn't this be enough?  Can't I just store a little bit away so that I can have some happiness now and again? God doesn't really expect me to be perfect, right?  We ask these things because we think that becoming perfect disciples means we lose happiness.  Think about today. How many people today are thinking about whether they can miss Mass because of the weather. (I'm not talking about people with legitimate safety concerns. I mean people playing the game. Right? There are people today who feel like this snow "got them off the hook" from going to Mass. What presumption is at the foundation of this? "Mass is a drudgery that makes me unhappy, but I have to do it. But today, I'm free because it's snowing!!"  

Deep down, we sometimes do not believe what we repeatedly sang in the Psalm today, "Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord."  God's Will is for our happiness. In His Will is our happiness. This is why Jesus isn't merely concerned with the outward or external living out of the commands. He is concerned with our hearts as well.  Christian life is not just about externally following the God's Will. Jesus says that all of those things are, of course, necessary. You cannot commit adultery. You cannot murder. You cannot bear false witness.  But, Jesus wants to purify our hearts. He wants to remove anything and everything that is not of God. Don't try tucking away a little lust in your heart as though keeping that lust will make you happy. Don't squirrel away some resentments or some pride or some envy and put them away for safe-keeping.  When we do this, when we think in this way, we are acting as though God's law is against my happiness rather than for my happiness.

Today's Gospel is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount which we began reading a couple of weeks ago. That sermon begins with Jesus saying, "Blessed." Jesus comes to bring us beatitude, happiness. There is this temptation to hear Jesus' words today and to try and water them down; to look for exceptions, loopholes, and excuses. But what we really need is an increase of Faith in Jesus Christ. When we look for loopholes, what we are really saying is that we distrust that Jesus can bring us happiness.  We are placing our hope for happiness in these vices rather than in the Lord.

As we approach Lent and as we live the week ahead of us, let us ask Jesus to increase in us a deeper faith in him. Let's ask him for the courage to go through the closets, drawers, and shelves of our souls and to rid of ourselves of our resentments, lusts, vanities, and envies.  Holding on to these things (even small amounts of them) destroys our happiness. Following and trusting Jesus ALWAYS makes us happy.  When we believe that and act on it . . . Blessed are we.

No comments:

Post a Comment