Father Robert Elias, OCD: Lent & the Divine Physician

Photo credit: the Speakroom

Luke 5:27-32: Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post.
He said to him, “Follow me.”
And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.
The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

NOTE: Click on the triangle to listen to Father Robert’s conference.

What is our Lord saying to us about our observance of Lent in the scriptures? The scriptures of the Liturgy of the Mass give us guidance for spiritual growth; our call to penance, to conversion is a call to health.

Jesus says those who are healthy do not need a physician. The practice of Lent, in adopting for ourselves exercises of deeper prayer, of fasting, and works of mercy is for the sake of our own healing, the healing of humanity, with its disordered desires – to bring true health to the soul.

Whenever St. John of the Cross talks about purification in his spiritual teachings, for example in The Dark Night, he always talks about this purification, this refiner’s fire bringing about a new health in the soul, healing the soul. And the Divine Physician is our Blessed Lord in His divine love, who says, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”

Those who are self-righteous never think that there is any sickness in them. The closer we draw to the light of God’s love in a genuine devotion of conversion of heart, the more we see what is unhealthy in us, what is in need of healing, the more we see the sickness that we are sinners.

We are an interesting mix. All of us as human beings are a mix of light and of darkness; we are a living contradiction. In the one sense, we are sinners but on the other hand, we also possess the seed of eternal life and of divine life through grace in Christ. We have both of these realities – a broken human condition and a potential to share in the divine nature.

Lent is a time for healing, for the aligning of our wills to what God wants of us. For this reason, the psalm says, ‘Teach me your ways, oh Lord” – not my way, and not the world’s way. Teach me your way of the best manner of life, the best way to live. Show me what it means to live the best life I can live. Show me how to become my best self and your way in bringing about your dream for my life. Teach me. I need to be taught. I need to learn from You.

It is the humble of heart, and not the self-righteous who can make this prayer to allow oneself to be coachable by the Lord of what it means to walk in His truth. If we are humble, we realize in one level, that in a sense, we all have to go back to the beginning, the genesis. We are all beginners, and we all have to go back to the fundamentals, the basics of what it means to be a believer and disciple of Jesus Christ.

We have to go back to the simple gospel of The Beatitudes. Teach me, Lord, how to live this. Teach me Lord how to understand this. Show me daily. Be my personal life coach from the moment I wake up until the moment I take my last breath, show me and teach me through everything.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that the Lord wants to teach us His way of mercy, par excellence. So many times in both the New Testament and the Hebrew scriptures, we hear Jesus say, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ It’s not that sacrifices aren’t important, or that there’s no need anymore for asceticism, but the purpose of sacrifice is for the sake of learning mercy. This is the way, the will of the Lord, the manner in which we grow in wisdom – that we learn what it means to be merciful.

The scribes and the Pharisees were far from being merciful as the Lord is merciful. Their pride and self-glorification blinded them from God’s wisdom of mercy. It blinded them from the will of God. They were hyper-religious, but their religiosity was something of their own performance and their own ego. Christ calls us to be converted from that tendency.

To be true disciples of Christ is to be true friends of the Lord and this means the way of mercy. When we begin to walk this way of mercy through humility, Jesus promises that we can become like a watered garden; we can become a spring with the holy spirit. Jesus promised that fulfillment. ‘Whoever believes in me, from their hearts shall flow waters of living waters, bursting forth into eternal life.’ You won’t be able to contain it and hopefully it will just come out in praise and jubilation, glorifying God.

We can’t always live at such a peak experience at every moment of our day, but there should come some moments when the presence of the Holy Spirit takes on a high pitch and becomes piping hot – to be zealous for the Lord and on fire for God.

We embrace the purification, that we may be transformed into fire, the living flame of love, where we may delight in the Lord as he leads us into his heights.

Lent is a desert journey; like the climbing of a mountain, we’re called to ascend to the heights of a new communion with Jesus Christ, the most high who became the most low in His humility. The most high, transcendent God emptied himself and became the most low. The only thing God competes with us for is the lowest position. He is always competing for the last seat – not because he wants to sit at the back of the church – but because he’s the most humble slave.

SOURCE: Lent 2019 Homily, Mount Saint Joseph Monastery, San Jose, Califormia

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