Thursday in the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: 2 Kings 24:8-17;  Mt 7:21-29   at Mississippi Abbey

I grew up going to Catholic schools and spent my last two years of high school in a Passionist seminary. I got bounced out of there for being hard-of-hearing and eventually attended college at the university in Iowa City. I got in with a different, more inclusive crowd in Iowa City in the ‘60’s and gradually stopped attending church and—more unfortunately—stopped using the Christian story to understand my life. Yet, I still longed for things that inspired. I often found the lyrics of popular music back in those days to be inspiring. They became my scriptures.One song from 1975 had a line in it that struck me, though I could never figure out why until I came back to the church in the mid-90’s. The line said, “Late at night the big old house gets lonely; I guess every form of refuge has its price.” 1 This gospel spells that out.

God is first and foremost a power. His creatures get any power they have from Him. As Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no power if it were not given you from above.” Due to the fall of Original Sin and its incipient pride, we resent that lack of power and the dependent position it puts us in. It makes us anxious & sad.  We seek refuge. And that refuge usually begins with a story about what will make us happy. That story connects us to a community of others seeking that same happiness, that same refuge.

The first letter of John says we seek our refuge in power, pleasure, or possessions. These promise immediate gratification and release from anxiety. Three contemporary philosophers teach us a story about each of these: Friedrich Nietzsche about the will to power; Karl Marx about the “right” to possessions, and Sigmund Freud about the “necessity” of pleasure. These stories form the background of American culture today. They originate from the Father of Lies.

Today Jesus tells us a new story about the forms of refuge and their price. The standard of measurement is doing “the will of my Father in heaven.” We use our will to pursue happiness.  The story gives directions. So how we use the will is not just a course of action. It is what we set our hearts on.

To set our hearts on things that are changeable, perishable is to build our refuge on sand. Such things, Jesus says, are vulnerable to rain and wind, i.e., to adversity.They cause more anxiety than they relieve. Eventually they quit working.

This is living in darkness.The price, then, is a broken heart (“late at night the big old house gets lonely”). It is an intense dissatisfaction that, in a world built on sand, can only be patched by turning to something new, but no less temporary. Broken hearts are not the will of the Father who is in heaven.

In talking about our refuge—about what we set our hearts on–Jesus is talking about the story we use to make sense of our lives. He is talking about our hope. “Taste and see that the Lord is good; he is happy who seeks refuge in Him.” (Ps 33:9) Our happiness is the will of the Father who is in heaven. We receive that happiness by taking our refuge in Him. But, here, too, every form of refuge has its price. That price is the renunciation of our own will, our own ideas about what will constitute our happiness, about how our life should go.  It is the acceptance of our indigence. We are creatures of a creator who commanded us to set our hearts on Him alone and to carry out a mission He has given us. If we are to “taste”, i.e. experience that the Lord is good, then we must we do so by giving ourselves entirely to that mission. As we experience our inadequacies at this we must look to Him for the power to carry out the mission.

That every form of refuge has a price means it has a value. The value can be short-term satisfaction or it can be authentic value. Authentic value has three qualities: it is pervasive, enduring, and deep. That means it guides our lives; we act on the word of Christ. When He says,“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord…” He means that flattering words that do not affect the way we live will not do.  He is saying that the one who pays the price and spends her pride, who chooses authentic value as a rule of life will receive a happiness that is pervasive, enduring, and deep. “Every form of refuge has its price.” On that to which everything is owed, everything must be spent.

[1] The Eagles, “Lyin’ Eyes.”