Sermon: Aquila and Priscilla

The podcast is available here.


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This past Sunday we read in our Gospel the words of Jesus: “The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’”

In talking about this, we discovered that the Lord was appointing first generation assistants, apprentices or disciples, who would continue the work of the Gospel following his resurrection and ascension.  Today, we celebrate, Aquila and Priscilla, husband and wife, who were second generation disciples.

Around 40 a.d., Claudius was the Emperor and at that time, disturbances broke out between the Christian-Jews and the nonChristian-Jews over the Messiahship of Jesus.  The Roman historian Suetonius, lumping the two groups together, wrote, the Jews “were rioting on account of someone named Chrestus.”  Emperor Claudius, caring nothing about the argument, settled it by expelling all the Jews from Rome, two of whom were Aquila and Priscilla.  Following the expulsion, they made their way to Corinth (about 750 miles away) where they continued their trade of tent making.  

Perhaps because they heard him preach or because they shared the same trade of tent making, Priscilla and Aquila came into contact with Paul and became close companions in the work of the Gospel.  Eighteen months later, the three would travel to Ephesus to continue the work of God, and shortly afterwards, Paul would go onto Antioch, but the couple remained in Ephesus.  In writing to the Church in Corinth, Paul says in his closing, “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord.”  In mentioning them by name, Paul demonstrates how great esteem he held them, but also tells us that Priscilla and Aquila had started a church in their home.  This would have been the norm, as the church did not begin meeting in church buildings until the third century.

The Acts of the Apostles tell us also of Aquila and Priscilla’s encounter with the Alexandrian Jew, Apollo.  “He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.”  So, after hearing him preach, Aquila and Priscilla “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”  Aquila and Priscilla were second generation Christians and through teaching Apollo, they participated in raising up and training the third generation.

President Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”  Replace the word ‘Freedom’ with ‘Christianity’ and you’ll have another truth.

Aquila and Priscilla went back to Rome where they were eventually martyred for the faith, but they did not allow their faith to die with them.  They are an example to us of what it means to be an apostolic church, a church that hands on the teachings and practices to the next generation, so that the faith of our fathers and mothers remains the faith of all the generations that follow.

On Sunday, I said that you are the seventy, those that Jesus sent out.  Just as easily, I can say that you are Aquilas and Priscillas.  Like them, pass on your faith so that the light of the Gospel may continue to shine in this dark world. 

The Imitation of Christ Project: Bk. 3, Ch. 21


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ABOVE ALL GOODS AND ALL GIFTS WE MUST REST IN GOD 

THE DISCIPLE

ABOVE all things and in all things, O my soul, rest always in God, for He is the everlasting rest of the saints.

Grant, most sweet and loving Jesus, that I may seek my repose in You above every creature; above all health and beauty; above every honor and glory; every power and dignity; above all knowledge and cleverness, all riches and arts, all joy and gladness; above all fame and praise, all sweetness and consolation; above every hope and promise, every merit and desire; above all the gifts and favors that You can give or pour down upon me; above all the joy and exultation that the mind can receive and feel; and finally, above the angels and archangels and all the heavenly host; above all things visible and invisible; and may I seek my repose in You above everything that is not You, my God.

For You, O Lord my God, are above all things the best. You alone are most high, You alone most powerful. You alone are most sufficient and most satisfying, You alone most sweet and consoling. You alone are most beautiful and loving, You alone most noble and glorious above all things. In You is every perfection that has been or ever will be. Therefore, whatever You give me besides Yourself, whatever You reveal to me concerning Yourself, and whatever You promise, is too small and insufficient when I do not see and fully enjoy You alone. For my heart cannot rest or be fully content until, rising above all gifts and every created thing, it rests in You.

Who, O most beloved Spouse, Jesus Christ, most pure Lover, Lord of all creation, who shall give me the wings of true liberty that I may fly to rest in You? When shall freedom be fully given me to see how sweet You are, O Lord, my God? When shall I recollect myself entirely in You, so that because of Your love I may feel, not myself, but You alone above all sense and measure, in a manner known to none? But now I often lament and grieve over my unhappiness, for many evils befall me in this vale of miseries, often disturbing me, making me sad and overshadowing me, often hindering and distracting me, alluring and entangling me so that I neither have free access to You nor enjoy the sweet embraces which are ever ready for blessed souls. Let my sighs and the manifold desolation here on earth move You.

O Jesus, Splendor of eternal glory, Consolation of the pilgrim soul, with You my lips utter no sound and to You my silence speaks. How long will my Lord delay His coming? Let Him come to His poor servant and make him happy. Let Him put forth His hand and take this miserable creature from his anguish. Come, O come, for without You there will be no happy day or hour, because You are my happiness and without You my table is empty. I am wretched, as it were imprisoned and weighted down with fetters, until You fill me with the light of Your presence, restore me to liberty, and show me a friendly countenance. Let others seek instead of You whatever they will, but nothing pleases me or will please me but You, my God, my Hope, my everlasting Salvation. I will not be silent, I will not cease praying until Your grace returns to me and You speak inwardly to me, saying: “Behold, I am here. Lo, I have come to you because you have called Me. Your tears and the desire of your soul, your humility and contrition of heart have inclined Me and brought Me to you.”

Lord, I have called You, and have desired You, and have been ready to spurn all things for Your sake. For You first spurred me on to seek You. May You be blessed, therefore, O Lord, for having shown this goodness to Your servant according to the multitude of Your mercies.

What more is there for Your servant to say to You unless, with his iniquity and vileness always in mind, he humbles himself before You? Nothing among all the wonders of heaven and earth is like to You. Your works are exceedingly good, Your judgments true, and Your providence rules the whole universe. May You be praised and glorified, therefore, O Wisdom of the Father. Let my lips and my soul and all created things unite to praise and bless You.

The Imitation of Christ Project: Bk. 3, Ch. 20


CONFESSING OUR WEAKNESS IN THE MISERIES OF LIFE 

THE DISCIPLE

I WILL bring witness against myself to my injustice, and to You, O Lord, I will confess my weakness.

Often it is a small thing that makes me downcast and sad. I propose to act bravely, but when even a small temptation comes I find myself in great straits. Sometimes it is the merest trifle which gives rise to grievous temptations. When I think myself somewhat safe and when I am not expecting it, I frequently find myself almost overcome by a slight wind. Look, therefore, Lord, at my lowliness and frailty which You know so well. Have mercy on me and snatch me out of the mire that I may not be caught in it and may not remain forever utterly despondent.

That I am so prone to fall and so weak in resisting my passions oppresses me frequently and confounds me in Your sight. While I do not fully consent to them, still their assault is very troublesome and grievous to me, and it wearies me exceedingly thus to live in daily strife. Yet from the fact that abominable fancies rush in upon me much more easily than they leave, my weakness becomes clear to me.

Oh that You, most mighty God of Israel, zealous Lover of faithful souls, would consider the labor and sorrow of Your servant, and assist him in all his undertakings! Strengthen me with heavenly courage lest the outer man, the miserable flesh, against which I shall be obliged to fight so long as I draw a breath in this wretched life and which is not yet subjected to the spirit, prevail and dominate me.

Alas! What sort of life is this, from which troubles and miseries are never absent, where all things are full of snares and enemies? For when one trouble or temptation leaves, another comes. Indeed, even while the first conflict is still raging, many others begin unexpectedly. How is it possible to love a life that has such great bitterness, that is subject to so many calamities and miseries? Indeed, how can it even be called life when it begets so many deaths and plagues? And yet, it is loved, and many seek their delight in it.

Many persons often blame the world for being false and vain, yet do not readily give it up because the desires of the flesh have such great power. Some things draw them to love the world, others make them despise it. The lust of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life lead to love, while the pains and miseries, which are the just consequences of those things, beget hatred and weariness of the world.

Vicious pleasure overcomes the soul that is given to the world. She thinks that there are delights beneath these thorns, because she has never seen or tasted the sweetness of God or the internal delight of virtue. They, on the other hand, who entirely despise the world and seek to live for God under the rule of holy discipline, are not ignorant of the divine sweetness promised to those who truly renounce the world. They see clearly how gravely the world errs, and in how many ways it deceives.

Sermon: Proper 9 RCL C – “Passion for Souls”

The podcast is available here.


Photo by Kyle Cottrell on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I told you about Alexa, the virtual assistant from Amazon.  She’s a bit like Siri on an Apple device.  Ask a question, she’ll give an answer.  Order something from Amazon and she’ll even let you know when it has arrived, but did you know that you can actually order from Amazon through Alexa?  Just say, “Alexa, order such and such,” and she will have such and such shipped to you. 

Well, Phil Brookman, the pastor at Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City was talking to his 1,000 member congregation about this very feature and how you could order what ever they wanted.  As an example, he said, “Alexa, order toilet paper.”  And that’s where it gets even more fun.

Turns out that Memorial Road Church of Christ live streams their service through the Internet and on that day, one of their members was home with a sick child so she tuned into the broadcast.  She reports, immediately after Pastor Brookman said, “Alexa, order toilet paper,” she heard her own Alexa unit respond: “OK. I’ve added it to your cart.”  Pastor Brookman inadvertently ordered 60 rolls of toilet paper for his church member.  But wait, there’s more: having heard about the incident between services, Pastor Brookman tweaked his illustration.  Instead of saying, “Alexa, order toilet paper,” he said, “Alexa, donate $500 to the Memorial Road Church of Christ.”  (Source)

To that, I can only add, for those of you listening to the podcast of this sermon: “Alexa, donate $500 to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 518 W. Randolph Ave, Enid, Ok 73701.”  I’ll keep you posted on how that works out.

Assistants: they come along in different forms.  There are Alexa and Siri who do pretty good for what they are designed to do.  They make life a bit easier.  When we ask for assistance, the reasons probably vary: we don’t know how to do something, we want help to do even more, or there is so much to do, that we can’t get it all done ourselves.  In the days of the Exodus from Egypt, Moses found himself in that last category.  There was too much to do, the people were being unreasonable, and he was pulling his hair out.  The Lord seeing this, provided him with assistants.

You’ll recall that as the Israelites were wandering in the desert, they began to grumble because they were hungry, so God gave them manna—bread from Heaven; however, they were not satisfied, so they started grumbling again because there was no meat for their pots.  Upon hearing this and fed up with the grumbling, Moses looked up to God and said, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?  Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child.’”  A few verses on:  “I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.  If you will treat me like this, kill me at once.”  Just kill me. I can’t deal with these whiny people anymore.  But instead of killing him, the Lord gives him help.  The Lord says, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you.”  Because the burden was too great for Moses, the Lord gave him seventy assistants to lighten the load, and a part of the Spirit that was on Moses, was passed onto these seventy to help in performing the work and caring for the people. 

Moses was given seventy assistants because the burden of carrying all of God’s people was too much for him.  As we read in our Gospel, Jesus also called seventy to assist him.  Was this because, like Moses, it was too much for him?  Would he have been unable to accomplish the mission without them?  The answer is, of course, No.  Jesus alone accomplished the work he set out to do, and not just for a single tribe like the Israelites, but for all of humanity: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”  Jesus alone carried the burden of us all on the Cross.  Yet, for the work of God to continue, others had to be enlisted, so the seventy were enlisted to go before Jesus and perform the work.  The seventy are not assistants as Moses needed them.  The seventy are apprentices, learning how to continue the work.  And what was the work?

From our Gospel, Jesus said: “Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’”  And then, “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”  The work: proclaim peace—share with them that there is now peace between God and humankind.  The old sin brought on by Adam and Eve’s disobedience is being forgiven.  Demonstrate this peace to them by the healing of the sick and possessed.  Tell them that the Kingdom of God is near.  That just like God called to Adam and Eve as they hid in the garden, he now calls to us again.  He calls us into a life of holiness and righteousness with Him, made possible through His One and Only Son.

The seventy took nothing extra with them.  They were at the mercy of those they encountered.  Where Jesus is the Lamb of God, these seventy are Jesus’ enlisted chosen, his lambs of which he is the Shepherd, and as he did battle in the wilderness during the forty days following his baptism, he sends the seventy out into the wilderness, amongst the wolves, not to be devoured, but to proclaim this message of peace, forgiveness, and restoration.  As Jesus was successful, these seventy were also victorious.  “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

If it was as easy as saying, “Alexa, preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth,” then this work would be done.  But the Lord prefers a more personal touch.  He wants for us to go out and proclaim his message.  He wants us to have this passion for souls.  A desire to see others, not only enter into a relationship with Him, but to participate in this work of reconciliation between God and his children. 

In our Saints’ Book Club, this is one of the common threads that I’ve seen amongst all the Saints we’ve read about, this passion for souls.  A driving unrelenting desire, even beyond death, to bring others into the fold, whether through works or prayer.  The one we are currently reading, Thérèse of Lisieux says, “After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses.  I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth.  I will raise up a mighty host of little saints.  My mission is to make God loved… I want to spend my Heaven in doing good on Earth.”  

My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “We are children of God. Bearers of the only flame that can light up the paths of the earth for souls, of the only brightness which can never be darkened, dimmed or overshadowed. The Lord uses us as torches, to make that light shine out… It depends on us that many should not remain in darkness, but walk instead along paths that lead to eternal life.” (The Forge #1)  You are children of God.  You have been given a mission to bring light into darkness, to make God loved.  You are the seventy.

Immediately following our Gospel reading today, Jesus prayed, giving thanks to the Father for making these things known to his disciples, then he said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!  For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”  You have seen and heard what prophets and kings spent lifetimes searching for.  Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  But, don’t just ask the Lord to make others the laborers, have such a passion for souls that you ask him to make you one as well.

Let us pray: Father, hear our prayers for the salvation of the world. Grant Mercy to all souls that turned away from You. Open their hearts and minds with Your light.  Gather Your children from the east and the west, from the north and the south.  Have mercy O God on those who do not know You. Bring them out of darkness into Your light. You are our saving God Who leads us in our salvation. Protect us from evil.  We put the world in Your hands; fill us with Your love. Grant us peace through Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Sermon: Life, Liberty, Happiness

The podcast is available here.


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“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” — Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.  As of tomorrow, that document and the United States will be 243 years old.

The fact that we are given the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is one of the Declaration’s greatest statements—slowly, we are realizing that it applies to everyone—but if I were to find fault with those rights, it would have to be that in many cases, we take those rights to the extreme and in the process, those rights become the source of our selfishness.  Instead of it being our collective rights, it becomes my individual rights to pursue my life, my liberty, my happiness and to heck with everyone else’s.  I don’t care if you get what you want, as long as I get what I want.  Instead of seeking the greater good, we seek our own personal good.

St. Augustine, in his Confession, talks about the fact that he did not like to study.  He’d much rather play.  In the process of discussing this, he also points to the error in the education system (in his time, but I would also say in ours).  He writes, “They [his parents and teachers] considered not in what way I should employ what they forced me to learn, unless to satisfy the inordinate desires of a rich beggary and a shameful glory.”  He did not like to study and he did not like the reason behind education, because it was all about him and how he could get ahead.  Education was about self, not about learning for the betterment of others and society.

We have the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but like Augustine’s educational system, we can see these rights applying solely to self, us as individuals, with no responsibility for the life, liberty, or happiness of others, and in fact, in some cases, the other can be used as a means or tool to our own happiness.

It is hard to know who said it, but it is true: “People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos, is because things are being loved and people are being used.”

The words of Jesus that we read in our Gospel lesson are from the Sermon on the Mount.  That sermon is not about self.  It is about neighbor, stranger, enemy, righteous and the unrighteous.  It is about how we, as a Christian people, are to live in the world—loving God and loving our neighbor.  So, as that Christian people, remember that your pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness cannot be at the expense of the other, and in truth, should be for the betterment and glory of the other, knowing that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of [Jesus], you did for [Him].”

The Imitation of Christ Project: Bk. 3, Ch. 19

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TRUE PATIENCE IN SUFFERING 

THE VOICE OF CHRIST

WHAT are you saying, My child? Think of My suffering and that of the saints, and cease complaining. You have not yet resisted to the shedding of blood. What you suffer is very little compared with the great things they suffered who were so strongly tempted, so severely troubled, so tried and tormented in many ways. Well may you remember, therefore, the very painful woes of others, that you may bear your own little ones the more easily. And if they do not seem so small to you, examine if perhaps your impatience is not the cause of their apparent greatness; and whether they are great or small, try to bear them all patiently. The better you dispose yourself to suffer, the more wisely you act and the greater is the reward promised you. Thus you will suffer more easily if your mind and habits are diligently trained to it.

Do not say: “I cannot bear this from such a man, nor should I suffer things of this kind, for he has done me a great wrong. He has accused me of many things of which I never thought. However, from someone else I will gladly suffer as much as I think I should.”

Such a thought is foolish, for it does not consider the virtue of patience or the One Who will reward it, but rather weighs the person and the offense committed. The man who will suffer only as much as seems good to him, who will accept suffering only from those from whom he is pleased to accept it, is not truly patient. For the truly patient man does not consider from whom the suffering comes, whether from a superior, an equal, or an inferior, whether from a good and holy person or from a perverse and unworthy one; but no matter how great an adversity befalls him, no matter how often it comes or from whom it comes, he accepts it gratefully from the hand of God, and counts it a great gain. For with God nothing that is suffered for His sake, no matter how small, can pass without reward. Be prepared for the fight, then, if you wish to gain the victory. Without struggle you cannot obtain the crown of patience, and if you refuse to suffer you are refusing the crown. But if you desire to be crowned, fight bravely and bear up patiently. Without labor there is no rest, and without fighting, no victory.

THE DISCIPLE

O Lord, let that which seems naturally impossible to me become possible through Your grace. You know that I can suffer very little, and that I am quickly discouraged when any small adversity arises. Let the torment of tribulation suffered for Your name be pleasant and desirable to me, since to suffer and be troubled for Your sake is very beneficial for my soul.

The Imitation of Christ Project: Bk. 3, Ch. 18


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TEMPORAL SUFFERINGS SHOULD BE BORNE PATIENTLY, AFTER THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST 

THE VOICE OF CHRIST

MY CHILD, I came down from heaven for your salvation and took upon Myself your miseries, not out of necessity but out of love, that you might learn to be patient and bear the sufferings of this life without repining. From the moment of My birth to My death on the cross, suffering did not leave Me. I suffered great want of temporal goods. Often I heard many complaints against Me. Disgrace and reviling I bore with patience. For My blessings I received ingratitude, for My miracles blasphemies, and for My teaching scorn.

THE DISCIPLE

O Lord, because You were patient in life, especially in fulfilling the design of the Father, it is fitting that I, a most miserable sinner, should live patiently according to Your will, and, as long as You shall wish, bear the burden of this corruptible body for the welfare of my soul. For though this present life seems burdensome, yet by Your grace it becomes meritorious, and it is made brighter and more endurable for the weak by Your example and the pathways of the saints. But it has also more consolation than formerly under the old law when the gates of heaven were closed, when the way thereto seemed darker than now, and when so few cared to seek the eternal kingdom. The just, the elect, could not enter heaven before Your sufferings and sacred death had paid the debt.

Oh, what great thanks I owe You, Who have shown me and all the faithful the good and right way to Your everlasting kingdom! Your life is our way and in Your holy patience we come nearer to You Who are our crown. Had You not gone before and taught us, who would have cared to follow? Alas, how many would have remained far behind, had they not before their eyes Your holy example! Behold, even we who have heard of Your many miracles and teachings are still lukewarm; what would happen if we did not have such light by which to follow You?

The Imitation of Christ Project: Bk. 3, Ch. 17


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ALL OUR CARE IS TO BE PLACED IN GOD 

THE VOICE OF CHRIST

MY CHILD, allow me to do what I will with you. I know what is best for you. You think as a man; you feel in many things as human affection persuades.

THE DISCIPLE

Lord, what You say is true. Your care for me is greater than all the care I can take of myself. For he who does not cast all his care upon You stands very unsafely. If only my will remain right and firm toward You, Lord, do with me whatever pleases You. For whatever You shall do with me can only be good.

If You wish me to be in darkness, I shall bless You. And if You wish me to be in light, again I shall bless You. If You stoop down to comfort me, I shall bless You, and if You wish me to be afflicted, I shall bless You forever.

THE VOICE OF CHRIST

My child, this is the disposition which you should have if you wish to walk with Me. You should be as ready to suffer as to enjoy. You should as willingly be destitute and poor as rich and satisfied.

THE DISCIPLE

O Lord, I shall suffer willingly for Your sake whatever You wish to send me. I am ready to accept from Your hand both good and evil alike, the sweet and the bitter together, sorrow with joy; and for all that happens to me I am grateful. Keep me from all sin and I will fear neither death nor hell. Do not cast me out forever nor blot me out of the Book of Life, and whatever tribulation befalls will not harm me.

Sermon: Proper 7 RCL C – “Free Indeed”

The podcast is available here.



As most are aware, freedom of speech was not a cherished commodity within the former Soviet Union and most all were afraid to speak out in public. One incident (true or not, makes the point): During his years as premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin. Once, as he censured Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. “You were one of Stalin’s colleagues. Why didn’t you stop him?” Without hesitation, Khrushchev roared, ”Who said that?” An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle for fear of being implicated. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, “Now you know why.”

However, this fear did not stop people from speaking out in private or even making jokes. Armenia, a former state of the USSR, had Radio Armenia, a fictitious radio station, which was the setting of many jokes about the Soviet Union. Their slogan: “Ask us whatever you want, we will answer you whatever we want.” Example:

Radio Armenia was asked: “Is it true that the poet Mayakovsky committed suicide?”
Radio Armenia answered: “Yes, it is true, and even the record of his very last words is preserved: ‘Don’t shoot, comrades.’”

Another (this was during the time of Reagan):
Q: Is it true that there is freedom of speech in the Soviet Union, just like in the USA?
A: In principle, yes. In the USA, you can stand in front of the White House in Washington, DC, and yell, “Down with Reagan!”, and you will not be punished. Equally, you can also stand in Red Square in Moscow and yell, “Down with Reagan!”, and you will not be punished.

There are times when we are truly free and there are times, as in the former Soviet Union, when we know that our freedom has certain limits to it.

The same is true within our relationship with God (minus the threat of violence that we saw in the Soviet Union). The Apostle Paul teaches us, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And St. Peter writes, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” We are free from the captivity of sin so that we might worship and serve our God without fear and do so in holiness and righteousness.

Yet, there are times when we can act as though we are still captives in chains, even after Christ has set us free.

Harry Houdini, the famed escape artist issued a challenge wherever he went. He could be locked in any jail cell in the country, he claimed, and set himself free quickly and easily. Always he kept his promise, but one time something went wrong.

Houdini entered the jail in his street clothes; the heavy, metal doors clanged shut behind him. He took from his belt a concealed piece of metal, strong and flexible. He set to work immediately, but something seemed to be unusual about this lock. For thirty minutes he worked and got nowhere. An hour passed, and still he had not opened the door. By now he was bathed in sweat and panting in exasperation, but he still could not pick the lock.

Finally, after laboring for two hours, Harry Houdini collapsed in frustration and failure against the door he could not unlock. But when he fell against the door, it swung open! His jailer had forgotten to lock the cell!

Christ has set us free, but at times, we can still believe that we are chained. The result is that we look a good bit like the poor fella in our Gospel reading: “As Jesus stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs… he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.”

He was possessed, tormented by the demons. We too can be possessed, tormented by our own demons, those things that just won’t seem to let go of us. Those memories, sins, hurts, that follow us no matter where we go or what we do. They refuse to allow joy to be more than superficial. Just as we feel ourselves rising out of it, the devil reminds us of our past and pulls us back down.

The possessed man wore no clothes. Remember, back in the beginning, when Adam and Eve walked in the Garden, they were naked. Of this, Scripture says, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” But after they ate of the fruit, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” And when God again walked in the Garden, they hid themselves from him. When God asked why they hid, Adam replied, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” They were afraid. They were ashamed to appear before God, because of their nakedness, because of their sin.

Perhaps you’ve never had reason to, but I have felt shame for my sin to such an extent, that I didn’t want to pray. I didn’t want to have to come before God naked, in my sin. I don’t even want to look up, for fear that he will see my face.

Like the possessed man, haunted by his demons and running around naked, we too can be haunted by those sins that possess us and the shame we experience can drive us from God; and in the end, like the possessed man, through our fear and shame, we can find ourselves walking amongst the tombs, that is, walking as though we were still dead in sin, never realizing that we have been set free. We are Houdini, trying to break out of a prison that is already unlocked. And when Jesus comes to us and asks, ”What is your name?” We respond as the possessed man, “Legion.” We respond with the name of our own self condemnation. I am Legion. I am Sin. I am Pride. I am Lust. I am Greed. I am dead.

Why? Do you know what words you are least likely to believe coming from me, a priest? Perhaps I’ve shared this with you before, but during the Sacrament of Confession, following the confession and absolution (the assurance of God’s mercy and grace toward you), I will say to you, “The Lord has put away all your sins.” I would wager that most do not believe those words. “The Lord has put away all your sins.” And in our hearts, “If you say so Father, but we both know that’s not true.” The demon clings to us, we bow our heads in shame, and we declare, “I am Legion.” Captives even though we have been set free.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus told those who believed in him that if anyone practices sin, they are a slave to sin—that is, they are captives to sin, but that if they believed in the Truth, in Him, they would be set free, to which he adds, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” “The Lord has put away all your sins.” You have not been set free by the priest, you have been set free by the Son: the very Son of God and your name is not Legion. Your name is Child of God.

Following the Great Fire of London, late in the 17th century, St. Paul’s Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was completed. On one occasion Wren was making a tour of the work in progress. He came upon a man at work and asked him: “What are you doing?” The man said: “I am cutting this stone to a certain size and shape.” He came to a second man and asked him what he was doing. The man said: “I am earning so much money at my work.” He came to a third man at work and asked him what he was doing. The man paused for a moment, straightened himself and answered: “I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build St. Paul’s Cathedral.”

The locks and chains that bound you have been cast off. You are free to serve your God without fear. When you are asked your name, do not give some half hearted answer or act as one still captive, but straighten yourself and in complete faith declare, I am Child of God.

Let us pray:
From the depths of our hearts
we thank You, Dear Lord,
for Your infinite kindness in coming to us.
How good You are to us!
With Your most holy Mother and all the angels,
we praise Your mercy and generosity toward us,
poor sinners.
We thank You for nourishing our souls
with Your Sacred Body and Precious Blood.
We will try to show our gratitude to You
in the Sacrament of Your love,
by obedience to Your holy commandments,
by fidelity to our duties,
by kindness to our neighbor
and by an earnest endeavor
To become more like You in our daily conduct.
Amen.