One of my absolute favorite days of the year is January 1st. For one thing, New Year's often has fireworks (insert uncontrollable glee!) But besides that, isn't it exhilarating to think about having a fresh start? You know that feeling you get when you are able to say, from now on, I'm going to live my life better! There's something fantastic about a chance to have that power.
This New Year's my resolution was a pretty common one. I told myself, I'm going to work out more! I'm going to x, y, and z each day, and run at least a mile each week! I even thought that after the first month, I would start running 2 miles a week, and in the March I'd be running 3 miles a week. It was pretty exciting to dream about it those first 6 days...I was gazing into the crystal ball of my imagination and seeing myself in December, running twelve miles a week like it was nothing. Fit, toned, an optimization of my own human potential.
I say 6 days because on that 7th day I realized, Oh wait...if I have to run at least a mile a week... I HAVE TO RUN TODAY?!?
Amazingly, I lasted almost through January. Kevin and I were away with friends on a ski trip, it was the end of the week, and I knew I wasn't going to go outside and run a mile in the mountains. I just didn't have the willpower.
When we come home from a retreat, like Miraculous, for example, we often feel that same exhilaration. We have a renewed drive to be an optimized version of ourselves, and we believe with enough willpower, this goal is completely achievable. It's an awesome feeling really, almost like a tiny taste of invincibility-- we can tackle anything, we can overcome anything, we can accomplish anything. Humans have been chasing that emotion through every era; it's something innate that we long for. Invincibility. To never be hurt by anything, to never be anything less than completely content, to never fail.
Inevitably, though, we do fail. Why is that?
Let me tell you a little story you might recognize. There was once a place called the Garden of Eden. A man, Adam, lived there with a woman, Eve. You know the whole thing by heart, I'm sure. A serpent, an apple, and a misconceived notion that they, humans, knew better than what God had instructed them. A belief in themselves over the power of God, even a belief that they could become like God through their own superior choices and actions. Only, they weren't invincible like they assumed, were they?
The fall of Adam and Eve show us our own mortality, our own human nature to sin. And the result? Division from our Father, a Lord who would have us living in a garden of abundant nourishment and joy.
Even now, millenniums later, and with overwhelming documented history to suggest the contrary, we make the same misconstrued assumptions. Somehow, even when we are surrounded by the blessings and empowerment of the Lord's graces in our lives, we often come to the absurd conclusion that we are invincible-- that we have the power now to make our own choices and succeed entirely on our own merit and willpower.
Often, we don't even realize we're doing it. For those of us who have just come home from spring retreat, or who have been on any spiritually moving retreat, you know the euphoria, or even just calm contentedness that follows. And we should feel joyful and overwhelmed! We are walking in a mini Eden, showered with the Lord's graces and feeling the warmth of His smile in our lives... But just in that moment, when we think we are at our strongest, the Devil goes to work. The serpent slithers into our lives and we are convinced we are invincible.
How do we fall for it? You might ask the same about Adam and Eve-- they had it all, right? We've been promised it all too, which the Lord brought to our attention on retreat. On Friday night Mike reminded us, What we give the Lord he has promised to return 100-fold, not just someday in heaven, but right now in this life. On Sunday we recalled that the Lord has conquered death, and we know He is capable of miracles in our lives!
So if we know that, then really, how does the devil do it?
We let our guards down. This resolution to live our lives in a new and radical way seems so possible, we forget it is impossible without the Lord. We aren't capable of it on our own, but our motivation is so strong, it's as if we believe that through personal effort alone, anything is possible.
Those first 6 days of the new year, I had such high hopes. I believed that I could (and would) run and work out... but was I any different than I was the week before? I was just as lazy, just as busy, just as tired. The same obstacles were there. I didn't form a plan to overcome them, I just believed in my own willpower.
Coming out of retreat, it is my hope that each of you went a little further than I did on January 1st. What is your plan to overcome the obstacles that stand between you and the life you know the Lord is calling you to lead. Strength doesn't come from thin air, and you alone cannot produce the strength you need to resist the devil's trickery and lies. What lies is he trying to sell you? That you don't need to pray? You don't need to come to mass? You don't need the Lord to be the perfect version of you?
You probably won't see him slither up to you and start speaking parcel tongue; evil takes different forms these days. The things you see and hear each day are an easy target for him-- the perfect medium to spin reality and present it to you in a way that distances you from the truth and in turn distances you from the Lord. Commercialized, impossible versions of people, emotions, experiences, are his favorite trick. With Eve, it was an apple, but we have our own modern influences to tell us that we are all we need-- we can have the power to make our own he perfect lives. And like Eve with her apple, we want a taste of it.
You may have seen commercials for Under Armour's new band that is strapped around the chest and said to measure your "willpower". If each of us had one of those contraptions to measure our own spiritual willpower, we may have pretty high marks coming home from retreat. Similarly, your cellphone has a full battery right after you charge it. But that charge won't last forever. Even if you lock your cell phone in a drawer and don't open a single app, the battery drains over time. (And that would be pretty useless anyway, right?)
Remember to recharge that willpower by giving yourself a chance to refresh what you learned and experienced that charged you up in the first place. Prayer. Christ-like friendship. Meditating on the Lord's will for you. Praising God. I can't go back to January 1st to renew my "new year's resolution fresh start" willpower, but you have the opportunity to renew your spiritual willpower in the Eucharist at mass each week.
Remember, you are not invincible. And by the way, lent is the perfect time for that realization. "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." But the Lord is invincible, with power even over death, and if you root your efforts in His truth and allow Him to renew you regularly, you will have the willpower to follow through on your promises to Him.
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