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Monday, fourth week of Advent

December 20, 2004

Blessed Monday!

O Key of David
And Scepter of the house of Israel
What You open, no one shuts
What You shut, no one opens
Come, deliver from the chains of prison
Those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death

Note the relationship to the following Scripture passages:

Isaiah 22:22
And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder:
and he shall open, and none shall shut:
and he shall shut, and none shall open.

Isaiah 9:6
For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us,
and the government is upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, God the Mighty,
the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 42:7
“…to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness”

Revelation 3:7
The Holy One, the True,
Who holds the key of David,
Who opens and no one shall close,
Who closes and no one shall open

Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 24:1-6 “Let the Lord enter; He is King of Glory”
+ Luke 1:26-38

As long as our first reading is a duplicate of yesterday’s, I want to explore an application of it that expands the topic a bit. As I was reading about the Assyrians, and how Ahaz tried to pay them off with all the treasures of his kingdom and even the treasures of God’s temple (II Kings 16:8), I was reminded of our natural desires and emotions, or, as many Catholic writers refer to them, our “passions”. Even though Ahaz sent the Assyrians all he had (some of which, namely the treasures of the Temple, weren’t legitimately his to give), it wasn’t enough. They still oppressed him and his people (II Chronicles 28:20-21). That happens with our passions too, when we let them get the upper hand. I want something, so I get it. Yes, there is some pleasure in the getting, but pretty soon I want more…and more…and more. My desire is never really satisfied. The more I get, the stronger the hold my desires have on me; the more distressed I feel when I can’t have what I want. Butler’s Lives of the Saints put it this way:
It is much easier to conquer than to satisfy the passions, which, unless they are curbed by a vigorous restraint, while they are pliable, will be harder to be subdued

This isn’t to say that we should always reject the things we desire. God gave us passions for a purpose, and He wants us to use them. The problem comes when we let our passions use us. God is supposed to be the Ruler in our lives. If we want to be subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven, we have to serve Heaven’s King. We are His servants, and our passions are our servants, to be trained and brought in line with God’s plan for our lives. Further, we are not our own. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we have been bought with a price, with the Most Precious Blood of the Lamb of God (I Corinthians 6:19-20). If we hand ourselves over to the rule of our passions, we are giving them something that belongs to God, much like Ahaz handed over the treasures of the temple to the Assyrians. We are letting our passions take over God’s role in our lives. They will set up their own little kingdom and cut us off from the Kingdom of Heaven. They will make us prisoners of their chaotic darkness. We’re going to serve one or the other, and it’s up to us to make the choice and put it into practise. Ahaz made the wrong choice. He refused to obey God, so he ended up the slave of Assyria and of his own passions. Pope Pius XI explains:
For it is a sacred ordinance that whoever shall have first subjected himself to God will, by the aid of divine grace, be glad to subject to himself his own passions and concupiscence [destructive desire]; while he who is a rebel against God will, to his sorrow, experience within himself the violent rebellion of his worst passions. -Casti Connubii
In other words, if you obey God, you will be able to train your passions to obey you the way they obeyed Adam and Eve before the Fall. If you rebel against Him, your passions will rebel against you, even as they rebelled against our first parents. You may know that one more piece of cake will make you feel sick, or that if you buy that fancy new computer program you won’t be able to pay the electric bill, but you won’t have the will-power to stop yourself.

This matter of training your desires is especially appropriate during this season of goodies and gifts. They rouse our desires like a rabbit running past a hunting dog. If you don’t have a good leash on the dog & a good grip on the leash, you’re going to lose control of the dog! It’s an even more potent problem when mixed with the stress of trying to squeeze too many things into an already tight schedule and wanting everything to be perfect. I want, I want, I want and I’m getting frustrated and impatient because things aren’t going my way…so I indulge a little to make myself feel better. Except it doesn’t work. I just get more restless and irritable and want more. Given its head, the cycle will accelerate downhill until the last present is opened, the last meal is eaten, the last party is over. Then I collapse in the after-Christmas blues, wondering what went wrong.

There is a better way. It’s the choice Mary made when she put the key of her life into the hands of the Key of David. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Your word” (Luke 1:38). What He opened, she did not allow her passions to shut. What He shut, she did not allow her passions to open. She belonged to God, and served Him. She gratefully accepted what He gave her, pleasant or unpleasant, because she trusted Him to know what was best for her better than she knew herself. And He saved her from darkness, imprisonment, eternal death; saved her by not letting her be enslaved by them in the first place.

We need to follow her example. When our passions are clamoring for our keys, that’s when it’s most important to make sure those keys are safely in God’s hands. I find that when my wants are building up steam, the worst thing I can do is indulge, even a little; to let them fondle the keys. It’s like poking a hole in a dike. The best thing I can do is to ask God, the saints and my guardian angel for help and to make a small sacrifice, to remind my wants that God’s the boss, and He’s left me in charge. As soon as possible, I need to take time to ponder, to spiritually regroup.

We learn about pondering from Mary too. She did it a lot (Luke 1:29, 2:19, 2:51). She didn’t just live on the surface of life. She nurtured what spiritual writers call an “interior life”; she reflected on what God was doing and on what it all meant in the grand scheme of things. Again, an interior life is especially important during these busy days when we need to keep track of what’s really important. We need to stop, make sure we are seeking the Kingdom of Heaven above everything else (Matthew 6:33), and make sure our plans and actions serve God’s priorities. As much as I want to prepare something extra special for those I love, a simple meal with me relaxed and in good spirits would be better for everyone than an elaborate dinner under stress. My desire is good, but it needs guidance. If I stop to ponder, and allow God’s gift of prudence to direct my desire, I’ll see that the simple meal is the one that will build the Kingdom of God, the one that will fulfill my ultimate desire. I’ll save myself and those I love from a miserable, although lavish, evening.

May God guide us in training our desires to follow His sacred order, that we may live in His perfect peace.

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