Daily homilies by the Prior of Pluscarden at the Quarr Abbey Retreat, 5-12 October 2016
Final Retreat Homily, Tuesday Week 28, Year II, 11 October 2016, Gal 5:1-6; Luke 11:37-41
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Our daily reading of Galatians at Mass has brought us providentially today to the beginning of Chapter 5, and to a fine text for the final day of our retreat. After a week of prayer and reflection, we rejoice now to embrace anew the glorious freedom of the children of God won for us by Christ. In terms of the heated controversy being waged when Galatians was being written, this means in the first place freedom from the ceremonial law of Moses; from the ritual observances that separate Jews off from gentiles. But of course the scope of our freedom in Christ is much wider and deeper than that. In Christ we have, negatively, freedom from the decree of condemnation; freedom from the slavery of sin, and freedom the power of the devil. Positively, in Christ we have the freedom of the Holy Spirit; freedom to call God our Father; freedom to love divinely; freedom to forgive; freedom to be truly holy. This freedom is not only a gift, it is also a task entrusted to us. By the leading of the Holy Spirit we are to grow throughout our lives in interior freedom; to grow in ever more radical detachment from our vices; from things; from all that is not God. This is true spiritual liberty. In this liberty we are able to pray as the Holy Spirit moves us; we are able also to withstand any persons or other forces, exterior or interior, which might lead us astray from the right path, and from our union with God. Freedom of spirit means also that we are able with St. Paul to be content: whether with plenty or hardship; whether with prosperity, or with grief, pain and loss. In this freedom we possess and rejoice in the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. This alone is our joy, our hope, our desire; we know that nothing whatever can ever separate us from it.
Stand fast therefore, says St. Paul, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Presumably no one here has ever been tempted to undergo the external mark of circumcision, and strict adherence to the food laws of the Jews, under the mistaken impression that Christ’s work of salvation will be somehow incomplete without them. But plenty of other temptations assail us, each one inviting us, alluring us back into the yoke of slavery. There are our own predominant passions, vices and sins. There are the world, the flesh and the devil. There is the all-pervasive propaganda of contemporary secularism, which promotes, assumes, even legislates for attitudes and opinions that are completely at odds with the Gospel. All these retain great power to draw us away from the freedom for which Christ has set us free. So today once again we resolve to stand fast against them, with our eyes fixed on Christ, and our hearts given to him alone.
It’s rather a paradox that we monks express our spiritual freedom in Christ precisely by submitting to a Rule, by taking a vow of obedience, by binding ourselves publicly to a particular community and a particular place for the whole of our life. But of course all of this is the highest expression of our freedom; we freely choose it, for the single reason that it helps keep us firmly in the freedom of Christ’s service. Every element in our monastic life, with all its many restrictions, is designed to foster and preserve in us the only freedom that really matters. And realistically, we know, that while life lasts, we need all the help we can get: for unfortunately the possibility of back-sliding always exists. St. Augustine wonderfully remarks somewhere that since sin is defined as slavery, then perfect freedom is only to be found in heaven, for there we will no longer have any possibility to sin.
Today’s Gospel happily fits well with this theme from our first reading. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees as fools, because all their focus is on externals, to the point that they even forget the values such externals are supposed to represent. We listen to this rebuke without any sense of superiority over the Pharisees, taking care ourselves to clean up not just the externals in our life, but also what is inside. So we avoid not just gross breaches of morality like extortion and wickedness, but also any inner refusal of God, any turning away from our holy vocation, any weakening of our attachment to Jesus and his Church. We do not want merely to get away with the minimum necessary. We want to be Christian through and through. We want to have and maintain a living relationship with Jesus; to live always according to our faith and supernatural hope; to show we are at rights with God in Christ through lives of true holiness.
Jesus tells the Pharisees today to give alms from what you have. Surely we monks can understand this as our life of prayer and intercession, as our service to our community, our openness to serve also the Church and the wider community in which we live, according to the dictates of obedience and providence and possibility.
Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus accepting an invitation to dine at someone’s house. It’s a wonderful image for us to end with. Jesus has no need of purification rituals, because he is already all-holy: he indeed is the one who sets us free from all impurity and defilement. Yet he comes to us. He wants to come to us. He does so at every moment of our life, but most supremely in the Holy Eucharist.
According to the book of the Apocalypse (3:20), Jesus cries out to each one of us: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to dine with him, and he with me.