Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sacred Spaces

Tabernacle and Sanctuary of the
Amercian College Chapel in Leuven, Belgium

(Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter; This homily was given on Wednesday, 19 May, 2010 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See Acts 20:28-38 and John 17:11-19)

Nature abhors a vacuum. If there is a space, a gap, an empty place in the world, nature abhors it and wants to fill it in and smooth it out. Just so, there is a spiritual principle at work in our readings for today, and it goes something like this:

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, evil—and especially the Evil One who Christ names directly in our Gospel—loves a vacuum. Evil seeks out and searches for the empty places and desires to take up residence there.

Remember the parable Jesus tells in the Gospel of Luke?

When an unclean spirit goes out of someone, it roams through arid regions searching for rest but, finding none, it says, “I shall return to my home from which I came.” But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there, and the last condition of that person is worse than the first.
—Luke 11:24-27

Evil loves a vacuum and searches out the gaps and spaces. In our Gospel this morning Jesus is continuing that intimate priestly prayer to His Father and he indicates, before the disciples, that He is about to leave that place. He is returning to the Father in Heaven and notes how He has cared for and protected each of those entrusted to Him while He was here on earth:

When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you.
—John 17:12-13

Jesus is leaving but He will not take them out of the world with Him; as the Father has sent Him into the world, even so, now He sends them (John 17:18). But in that prayer His continued care for them is clear:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One.
—John 17:15

The Evil One desires to come into the sacred space and Jesus Christ, in the hearing of His disciples, prays to the Father to insure that will not happen. He expects those same disciples to cooperate in every possible way to make sure the sacred space is filled with the power of faith, holiness and love.

St. Paul, in our first reading this morning, does the same. Paul is bidding farewell to the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus, and as he stands by the ship in the port city of Miletus he shares with them what the Holy Spirit has revealed to him: that they will never see his face again. Their time together in the work of the Gospel has come to a close. In that bitter sweet moment Paul says to them:

Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the Church of God that he acquired with his own Blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock.
—Acts 20:28-29

St. Paul has the wisdom to understand that in his absence evil will desire to occupy the space that he has left behind. Therefore he exhorts them to be vigilant! He reminds them of the way he preached the Gospel to them; of how he worked among them night and day for three years; of the way he acted and spoke and how he lived his life (Acts 20:31-35).

Do the same, Paul is saying. Live a holy life in Christ Jesus; occupy well the space that God has given to you, and thus you will spare the flock and provide care and protection for the ones that God has placed among you. Evil wants nothing to do with the space that is filled with faith, holiness, charity and truth. Paul knew that…Do we?

This morning we can ask ourselves:

How are we occupying the sacred space that God has entrusted to each one of us? Are we seeking to live a holy life in Christ Jesus, to be His true disciples and care well for those entrusted to us?

Because it is not enough to remain quiet and still, avoiding evil as much as possible without ever seeking out the virtues and doing the good Christ calls us to in this world. We must avoid complacency, self sufficiency, and the mediocrity that is anathema to the spiritual life. But we must also seek out the virtues, perhaps even courageously so, in order to insure that evil has no place in our lives.

You have heard the expression, “The only thing that needs to happen for evil to conquer is for good men to do nothing.” How true that is. Please God, we are doing more than nothing in the spiritual life. But are we also seeking out holiness and virtue on a daily basis?

In 2010, to live chastity can be considered a heroic virtue; with so much to distract and tempt us, we must be all the more active and eager to cooperate with the overwhelming grace of God and live a holy life in Jesus Christ. In the culture we live in, that is so very critical, living a life of charity can be considered a heroic virtue. We are oftentimes too critical, even of each other; to live a life of forgiveness, mercy, charity in such circumstances requires even heroic virtue. Are we seeking that out and desiring—even when it is painful—the holiness of life and charity in truth without which we remain Christians in name only?

Because it is true that nature abhors a vacuum, and evil seeks out the gaps and spaces, but it is also true that we, by virtue of our Baptism, have the power of God that can fill those places with love, true freedom, virtue and the faith that has the power to change the world we live in. May we truly occupy the sacred spaces that God has entrusted to us, for our own sanctification and for the transformation of the world we live in.