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Sunday, November 14, 2010
Homily: The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament.
People often refer to the “God of the Old Testament” and say that we don’t believe in that God anymore. The truth is though that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. In both he admonishes the sinner and lifts up the lowly. "God's Word comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable." The truth is that God knows there are times when we need to be roused from sin and times when we need to be assured in grace.
Here’s an example of being aroused from sin in the Old Testament, today’s first reading:
Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble,
and the day that is coming will set them on fire,
leaving them neither root nor branch,
says the LORD of hosts.
And assured in His Grace (also in the Old Testament, the very same passage):
But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays.
Here’s an example of being aroused from sin in the New Testament, Today’s Gospel:
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
Is contrasted with his gentleness and protection of the very next line:
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.
You see, there is no difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testaments. So how do we reconcile these two aspects of God?
To explain this I’m going to draw on the insight of St. Ignatius and the life of St. Augustine, both prodigal sinners who became the greatest saints of our church. Both knew the voice of God as terrible in their sins, and gentle and encouraging in their virtue.
In his Rules for Discernment, St. Ignatius gives us ways of knowing when God is speaking, what his voice is like, depending on the kind of life we are leading.
First Rule. The first Rule: In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.
Second Rule. The second: In the persons who are going on intensely cleansing their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord, it is the method contrary to that in the first Rule, for then it is the way of the evil spirit to bite, sadden and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, that one may not go on; and it is proper to the good to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.
Depending on the life that we are living God’s voice can seem very different. If we a living a good and virtuous life God’s voice will be very loving, gentle, and encouraging. The enemy, however, wants to keep us from God’s love so he is going to try to confuse us, discourage us, set up obstacles and sadden us. But if we are living a life of sin and moving away from God the voices will be opposite. The enemy, who realizes we are moving from mortal sin to mortal sin is going to try to comfort us, encourage us to keep doing what we are doing, suggest to us not to worry about it, and encourage us that we are OK. God loves us too much, to allow us to believe that we are OK, He will not let us just slip comfortably down this path. So God will do anything he can to get us off the path of sin even if he has to use guilt, shame, sadness or any anything to save us from the evil we are being seduced by.
In his Confessions, St. Augustine writes about the time before his conversion very much from the perspective of the First Rule as the “person who goes from mortal sin to mortal sin.”
Before his conversion St. Augustine was clearly living in the first rule where the enemy was encouraging him:
“You, God, I did not love. Against you I committed fornication, and in my fornication I heard all around me the words: “Well done! Well done!” For the love of this world is fornication against Thee and when one hears these words: “Well done! Well done!” They have the effect of making one ashamed not to be that sort of person.
Think of the guy about to be married going out to celebrate his bachelor party with his buddies. He doesn’t really go to mass, hasn’t been to confession since grade school. He’s been having premarital sex, drinking, even some occasional drugs. He’s sneaking around and not being honest with anyone. He goes out on the night of his bachelor party to do things we all know he shouldn’t be doing… getting drunk, maybe a strip joint, probably doing things he would never want his future wife to know about. What’s the voice of God going to be like in this instance of going from mortal sin to mortal sin? Well we know what the voice of the enemy will be like… “Well done!” as it was for saint Augustine. Every sinful act will be delighted in. with every shot that is slammed his friends will laugh and encourage. God will speak with the opposite voice. The voice of God, will probably be that guilty feeling he has as he hears his fiancé say… “don’t do anything stupid.” It will come with a sting and will bite on their conscience. It will cause tension in him as the enemy tries to calm him. God will not just let this evening play out without trying to get the guy to come to his senses and realize the horrible things he is about to do.
And here we have the voice of God:
I was in torment, reproaching myself more bitterly than ever as I twisted and turned in my chain… and you, O Lord, never ceased to watch over my secret heart. In your stern mercy you lashed me with the twin scourge of fear and shame in case I should give way once more and the worn and slender remnant of my chain should not be broken but gain new strength and bind me all the faster.
Here we see Augustine trapped in his sin and God never ceasing, “stern mercy you lashed me with the twin scourge of fear and shame.” God was using fear and shame to motivate Augustine not to give into his lust.
Have you ever experienced that guilt or shame when you’re doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing? Guess what… that is the voice of God. He loves you too much to just let you do something so damaging.
Now for the conversion, Augustine is no longer going from sin to sin, but striving to live a good and holy life. This is probably all of you who are active in your faith, not only coming to mass every Sunday, but receiving the sacrament of confession, and striving to grow in holiness through prayer and involvement in service of God. In this case the voice of God and the enemy will be reversed. The good spirit will encourage and the enemy will bite, sadden, and place obstacles to discourage a person from progressing towards God.
St. Ignatius uses two descriptions of the person in the second rule: “intensely purifying their sins” and are “rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord.” Does this apply to you?
Listen to the voice of the enemy:
“I was held back by mere trifles, the most paltry inanities, all my old attachments. They plucked at my garment of flesh and whispered, “Are you going to dismiss us? From this moment we shall never be with you again, forever and ever. From this moment you will never be allowed to do this thing or that, for evermore…” These voices… no longer barred my way, blatantly contradictory, but their mutterings seemed to reach me from behind, as though they were stealthily plucking at my back, trying to make me turn my head when I wanted to go forward. That in my state of indecision, they kept me from tearing myself away, from shaking myself free of them and leaping across the barrier to the other side, where you are calling me.”
Do you get a sense of evil here? The enemy whispering, plucking, discouraging, stealthily plucking, trying to make Augustine turn his head away… all of these ways the enemy tries to discourage you from moving forward to a life of freedom. Is there anything in your life that God is gently helping you to let go of and the enemy is causing you all kinds of anxiety?
Now listen to the voice of God:
“But by now… I had turned my eyes elsewhere, and while I stood trembling at the barrier, on the other side I could see the chaste beauty of Continence in all her serene, unsullied joy, as she modestly beckoned me to cross over and to hesitate no more. She stretched out loving hands to welcome and embrace me, holding up a host of good examples to my sight. With her were countless boys and girls, great numbers of the young and people of all ages… and in their midst was Continence herself, not barren but a fruitful mother of children, of joys born of you, O Lord, her Spouse. She smiled at me to give me courage as though she were saying, “Can you not do what these men and women do? Do you think they find the strength to do it in themselves and not in the Lord their God?... Why do you try to stand in your own strength and fail? Cast yourself upon God and have no fear. He will not shrink away and let you fall. Cast yourself upon him without fear, for he will welcome you and cure you of your ills.”
Can you hear the encouragement of God, the gentleness, the hope? This is how God speaks to someone striving to grow in holiness.
Do you see why it’s so important to know which voice to listen to? What would have happened if St. Augustine listened to the wrong voices during this time in his life? What happens when you or I listen to the wrong voice? It can mean all the difference in the world.
Depending on the state of life that we are in God can speak in very different ways. The God of the “Old Testament” and the God of the “New Testament” are in fact the same. In different times and states of our spiritual life we need both.
Which Rule applies to you right now? Are you going from mortal sin to mortal sin or are you intensely cleansing their sins and rising from good to better. The voice of God will be very different in each case. The truth is that God knows there are times when we need to be roused from sin and times when we need to be assured in grace. Both are the voice of love and knowing which is the voice of God will make all the difference.