Sunday, March 04, 2012

Life Is a Process of ‘Letting Go’

(Second Sunday of Lent (B): This homily was given on March 4, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Genesis 22: 1-18.)

 [For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Lent 2012]

An elderly woman from the parish went to see her orthopedic surgeon a couple of weeks ago on a Friday morning.  She had been under his care—and homebound—for a few months after falling in her home and hurting her shoulder.  Well, happily, the doctor gave her a clean bill of health during that office visit, and she was looking forward to getting back to Sunday Mass and her normal routine.

But, unfortunately, shortly after she returned home that Friday, she tripped on a rug and fell again, this time breaking her pelvis and elbow!  The surgeon’s assistant later told me that when he received the call that this woman was in the emergency room at Westerly Hospital, he didn’t believe it.  He said to the nurse, “Oh no, that must be a mistake.  We just discharged her from our care a few hours ago.”

But, of course, it was not a mistake.


For that elderly woman—and for each and every one of us—life is a process: a process of ‘letting go.’  Sooner or later, for example, we all have to ‘let go’ of many things.  We have to ‘let go’ of our physical health because of a fall—or because of Parkinson’s Disease or cancer or heart problems or something else. 

And it’s not easy.

Just ask that elderly woman!

We all have to ‘let go’ of loved ones when they die—which can be extremely hard if we’ve loved them deeply or had them in our lives for a really long time.  We’ve had a few deaths in our parish recently of people who were in their 90s.  The children of those parishioners were blessed to have their parents in their lives for 60 or 70 years.   

But that makes it all the more difficult for them to let go.

When people retire, they have to ‘let go’ of their work.  As we move on in life, we have to ‘let go’ of some of the recreational activities that brought us enjoyment in our earlier years.  We have to ‘let go’ of the control we’ve had over our daily activities.

Ultimately, we have to let go of what’s most precious to us on this earth.

Just like Abraham did.

In today’s first reading, we heard the famous story of how God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.

But we need to be clear about it: the test here was not, “Are you willing, Abraham, to kill your son for me?”—after all, we know that God never intended for Abraham to take his son’s life.

The test was about Abraham’s willingness to ‘let go’.  The Lord said to him, in effect, “Abraham, are you willing to let go of your son, Isaac?  He’s the child of the promise.  You waited 100 years to have him.  You love him deeply; you treasure him and the special bond you have with him more than anything else that you have in this life.  So, are you willing to let it all go?  Are you willing to let go of what’s most precious to you in this life and trust totally in me?”

We call Abraham “our father in faith” because he said yes—even though it had to have been the most difficult ‘yes’ he had ever said in his life.

In one way or another, we all face this very same test, don’t we?

Usually it involves someone we love.

But, unfortunately, not everyone responds like Abraham did.

As I was preparing for this homily, I thought of a scene from C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce—which, by the way, is not about marriage!

It’s a fictional book about an imaginary bus ride from hell to heaven.  All the people on the bus have the opportunity to go to heaven, but only if they ‘let go’ at some point on the journey.  First and foremost, of course, they have to be willing to let go of their sins thru repentance.  But they also have to be willing to let go of their attachments—their unhealthy, selfish attachments—to people and things; and at the same time they have to be willing to grow in their desire for God.

One person who has trouble doing this is a woman named Pam—whose son Michael died when she was still living on earth.  Her brother, Reginald, who’s already arrived in the kingdom, speaks to her at one point, and challenges her to love God first, and to let go of the selfish, possessive, manipulative love she had for her son when he was alive.  Reginald says to her, “[God] wanted you to love Michael as he understands love.  [And] you cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God.”  But Pam will hear none of it.  She blames God for her son’s death, and refuses to let go of that anger and the disordered love she had for her child.

A sad ending.  Thankfully other stories in The Great Divorce end much more happily!

There’s an old saying that most of us have heard before—and there’s a great deal of truth in it: Let go, and let God!

Pam did neither of those things.  Abraham did both—and because he did both he was rewarded beyond what he could possibly have imagined!

The Lord said to Abraham, “I swear by myself, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.”

That prophecy was fulfilled, as we all know, on the natural level, in that Abraham became the father of the nation of Israel.

I suppose he could have imagined that natural dimension of the blessing.

But, as we also know, by making this promise God was telling Abraham that he would become the spiritual father of all the redeemed!  That’s yet another reason why we call Abraham “our father in faith”!  Spiritually speaking, we all trace our “lineage” back to him.

Now there’s no way that Abraham could possibly have understood that spiritual dimension of the promise when he first heard it.

But it was there!

If we follow Abraham’s example, by letting go AND by letting God take control and do his work in our lives, then we will, like Abraham, experience many blessings—sometimes even greater than what we can possibly imagine!

When I think of my great role model for dealing with Parkinson’s Disease, Blessed John Paul II, I think of what that illness forced him to let go of: his health, his skiing, his mobility, etc.  And yet, because he also “let God”: because he let God work in him and through him when he was battling that despicable disease, he did some of his most effective work in those later years of his life.

That fact certainly gives me a great deal of encouragement.

Some of you, like that fictional woman Pam, have lost children.  But, in the process of dealing with their deaths, you’ve actually grown closer to God and stronger in your faith.  You were forced to let go of someone who was very precious to you (you had no choice in the matter), but you did have the ability to choose how you’d respond to the tragedy.  And, thankfully, you made the choice to ‘let God’!  You made the choice to let God help you and console you and strengthen you and heal you and give you hope.  For that you have been greatly blessed; and, if you persevere in that trusting faith, you will be blessed beyond your wildest imaginings in eternity, where God will reunite you with many of your deceased relatives and friends.

Life is a process of letting go—and as such it provides us with many opportunities to ‘let God.’  May the Lord help us to take advantage of those opportunities in imitation of Abraham, and Blessed John Paul II—and all the other great saints of the past.