Mindfully Becoming Who We Are in Christ One Day at a Time: Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost & the Sixth Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church

2 Corinthians 9:6-11; Luke 8:26-39

           “Remember who you are.”  That was common advice from parents to children in previous generations when they would go out on their own away from the family.  Implicit in that advice is the recognition that it is dangerous to lose a clear sense of one’s identity and character.  More common today is the perspective that young people must “find themselves” by exploring different identities until they find the one that best suits them.  Despite generational differences, we must  continue to struggle with the challenges of becoming the person God intends us to be with integrity.

The Gadarene demonic experienced such threats quite powerfully, for he was filled with so many demons that he said his name was Legion.  He did not live as a person in community with others, but was alone and naked, dwelling among the tombs without companionship of any kind. His personality had disintegrated due to the corrupting forces of evil, and he could envision deliverance from his miserable situation as nothing but further pain.  As the man said to Christ, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beseech you, do not torment me.”  He was not in his right mind, and it is not entirely clear whether that was the man or the demons talking.  Nonetheless, the Lord cast the demons into the herd of pigs and restored the man’s sanity and health.   When the people of the area saw the formerly demon-possessed man wearing clothing and acting like a normal person, they were so terrified that they asked Christ to leave their region.  What He had done for the man was deeply unsettling to them.  In response to the man’s understandable desire to leave his town and follow Him, the Savior replied, “Return to your home, and declare all that God has done for you.”

We must not allow ourselves to become so distracted by the many demons and the drowning pigs to the point that we fail to see how this story applies to each of us.  Regardless of our particular temptations, passions, and burdens, we must all learn to see ourselves in this man.  His personality had disintegrated under the weight of the evil forces that had overwhelmed him.  This child of God who bore the divine image and likeness had become a vivid icon of humanity’s estrangement from Paradise.  He did not even have the clarity to know that he was naked and he lived in the place of the dead.  If we want to see where the way of the first Adam leads, we need to look no further than at this truly wretched person who was estranged and isolated from everyone, including his true self.

While the details of our struggles are less dramatic, the same matters are at stake for us as they were for him.  Namely, how will we respond to the forces that threaten to distort the distinctive beauty of our souls beyond all recognition?  Like the Gadarene demoniac, our spiritual vision easily becomes so weak that we respond to the prospect of healing from our passions with fear, preferring not to be tormented by the necessary struggle to reorient the desires of our hearts toward God.  It may be tempting to point an accusing finger at others with struggles different or perhaps more obvious than our own, as though repentance were an undertaking only for other people, perhaps those with certain sets of temptations as opposed to others.

If we do that, we will succeed only in making ourselves even more spiritually blind.    Remember what the Savior said, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  (Matt. 7: 3-5)

Every single one of us must remain on guard against our familiar temptations that threaten to make us unrecognizable as living icons of Christ.  No matter what they may be, we are all in the same boat in this regard.  It is no sin to be tempted in any way, but when we welcome any tempting thought into our hearts, we open ourselves to its malignant growth in our lives.  People overcome by pride, anger, lust, envy, or any other sin embrace their own personal disintegration, for whenever we orient the desires of our hearts away from God in order to fulfill them on our own terms, we refuse to fulfill our vocation as those called to become evermore like God in holiness.  That is the only way to become our true selves in Him, but so often we prefer to be out of our minds with passion of whatever kind, doing our best to live as those stripped naked of the divine glory and pursuing a path that leads only to the despair and isolation of the grave.

St. Paul wrote that “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  That is true not only in terms of offering our material resources to God, but also true about investing ourselves spiritually.  We will never gain the strength to direct the desires of our hearts for fulfillment in God if we do not keep a close watch on our thoughts and refuse to welcome those that lead us away from sharing more fully in the life of Christ.  Tempting thoughts and inclinations of various kinds will be with us until we die.  We cannot change that, but we can change how we respond to them, remembering that “God is able to make all grace abound to you; that you, having always all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”

By mindfully recognizing our temptations for what they are and turning to Christ in humility for the strength to resist them, we will become more like the man after he was delivered from the demons, fully clothed and in his right mind as he sat at the feet of the Savior.  We have put on Christ like a garment in baptism.  He has restored to us the robe of light that our first parents rejected when they stripped themselves naked of the divine glory.  Our calling is to invest ourselves as fully as possible in the restoration and fulfillment that the God-Man shares with each of us as His uniquely distinctive sons and daughters.  Doing so is the complete opposite of fueling the disintegration of our personalities by mindlessly giving into temptations that mar the beauty of our souls, regardless of how appealing or familiar they may seem.  The more that we surrender to them, the less strength we will gain in becoming our true selves before God.

Recovering alcoholics and drug addicts work hard to maintain their sobriety one day at a time for the rest of their lives.  When they fall off the wagon, they must get back on it and struggle for sobriety the next day.  Most of us confess some version of the same sins whenever we take Confession.  As we wrestle with our particular passions, we must not be filled with shame or discouragement about them.  Instead, we simply need to recognize them for what they are as we mindfully gain the spiritual strength to direct the desires of our hearts for fulfillment in God.  None of us will do that perfectly, which is why we must all open ourselves to Christ’s healing through the holy mystery of Confession on a regular basis.  Instead of wallowing in self-pity or condemning anyone else, we must trust in the Lord’s mercy as we put our past failings out of our minds and focus on living one day at a time as those whose nakedness has been covered and whom the Savior has restored in His likeness.  We must remember who we are and find our true selves in Him, if we want to avoid the inevitable disintegration of personality and character that comes from slavery to our passions.  Then we too will be able to obey with joy the Lord’s command to the formerly demon-possessed man: “Return to your home, and declare all that God has done for you.”

 

 

 

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for another blessing and good instruction, Fr Philip.
    God be with you and bless you all.

    Mark and Rhoda

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