I was deeply moved some years ago as I watched an episode of the reality TV show Hoarders: buried alive. The show is about people struggling to overcome their compulsive hoarding of things. My first response was, “They need to pray hard to be free from this addiction.” But is prayer the only thing that they need? Prayer is necessary but a lot more is needed.
I recall the story of man who prayed to God persistently for the very same thing. His prayer went something like this, “Lord God, please help me to win the lottery. I really want to win the lottery.” He persisted in this prayer until God gave him this answer, “Why don’t you go out and buy a lottery ticket first?” How silly! He had never bought a single lottery ticket yet he expected God to help him win the lottery.
We too may be like that man, begging God constantly, “Lord, please save me. I really want to be saved from this addiction.” But what have we done to be saved in response to God’s saving grace?
Today’s readings make it clear that God alone saves us out of His love for us and there is absolutely nothing that we can do to save ourselves from sin and its devastating effects. St. Paul makes it clear in these words of today’s Second Reading, “By grace you have been saved.”
The Gospel shows God’s eternal and ultimate saving plan of love for His people and the refusal of many to accept His love for them, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that those who believe in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Jesus, the Son of God, also loved us so much that He chose to be “lifted up” on the Cross so that “everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” How did many respond to this loving act of the Triune God to save us from eternal death? We are told that “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works are evil.” Many hardened their heart and refused the saving love being offered to them in Jesus Christ.
For us to be saved from sin and its devastating effects, we must respond to God’s love for us. But what does this response to divine love look like?
To respond to divine love, we must first personally receive this divine love as a gift from God. There is nothing that we can do or become to merit or deserve this love of God. In the words of St. Paul, “By grace you have been saved through faith. This is not your doing; it is the gift of God.” When we see God’s love as a gift to us and not based on our spiritual, emotional, or physical conditions in life, we know that this love will endure and be active in our lives even in our sinfulness, “God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love He had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.” We cannot experience the life-giving and saving power of God’s love when we fail to see it as a pure gift to us.
To respond to divine love, we must also believe in this love as the fundamental reality of our lives. The Second Reading shows God loving plan to save His exiled people who in their infidelity have “added infidelity to infidelity, practiced all the abominations of the nations and polluted the Lord’s temple.” They suffered the loss of everything, “Their enemies burnt the house of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, set all its palaces afire, and destroyed all its precious objects.” Out of His love for them, God makes use of the Persian king Cyrus to free His beloved rebellious people from Babylon and help them return home to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.
We too must likewise never doubt God’s love for us in the sufferings and trials of our lives. We experience the saving power of God when we face suffering with the conviction that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Rom 8:39) In His love for us, God can even make use of our struggles to draw us closer to Him and experience His saving love for us.
Lastly, we respond to God’s love by concrete action in obedience to His will for us.In the words of St. Paul, “We are His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” Receiving divine love as a gift and believing in this love even in the face of suffering and pain fills our hearts with a hope that moves us to act with love for God. In the words of St. Paul, “The love of Christ impels us, because we are convinced that one has died for all.”(2Cor 5:14) This love of God alone moves us to take concrete steps in our unrelenting fight against sin and its consequences.
How does this three-pronged response to God’s love play out when we face sin and our sinful addictions? Receiving God’s love as a gift, we know that we are loved just as we are and that His love for us endures even in our moral failures. Believing in God’s love for us, we know that His love for us possesses saving power even in the midst of our struggles and failures. Our struggles does not imply that His saving action is suspended in our lives. In addition, we refuse to succumb to self-condemnation because we are grounded in the truth that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.” Nothing fuels addictions more than this self-condemnation.
Responding to God’s love in action, we do not stop making use of all the necessary means to conquer the sinful addictions. We never stop praying, receiving the sacraments regularly (especially Eucharist and Confession), knowing ourselves better through self-examination, facing the difficult truths about ourselves, going for counseling, avoiding the occasions and conditions that trigger our addictive behaviors, meditating on the word of God, etc. We do all these not just because we want to be healed of our addictions but because we know that we have been loved and this is our way of responding to that love in action. We will never give up the fight if our focus is on responding to God’s love rather than on overcoming addictions.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in a world of numerous addictions. We seem to be losing our freedom so easily, becoming enslaved by things that God has given us to be used in His loving service. We have addictions to pornography, drugs, alcohol, gambling, masturbation, sex, internet, and whatever else may come in the future. Prayer alone is never enough to overcome and break free from these addictions. We must do something else: receive divine love as a gift, believe in it as the fundamental reality of our lives and respond to it with concrete action.
This Sunday of Lent the Church calls us to rejoice. How can we rejoice when we are experiencing the bondage of our sinful addictions? We can rejoice because we are experiencing the saving love of Jesus even as we face the struggles with sin our lives. We rejoice because we have this unmerited gift of His love, we firmly believe in it, and we are not taking it for granted but responding with loving action.
Let us beg Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother too, who received divine love so completely that the God-Man was formed in her womb, to help us do the same. Let us beg her to help us believe as she believed in God’s love for her even in the painful moments of the death of Jesus on the Cross. Let us beg her to help us respond to divine love as she responded to this divine love in complete gift of herself, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”
Jesus, our Savior, pursues us with His saving love in this Eucharist because He wants to save us and bring us into the joy of salvation. Let us believe in this His love, receive it as the most precious gift of our lives and respond to it in concrete action. This is how we can enter into the joy of salvation even as we declare war on our addictions.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!