Where do you find the greatest peace, reading the two great commandments (as we hear in the Gospel for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time) or watching the evening news? The evening news encapsulates the sins of the world on any particular day, prompting a reaction of “Thank God, His goodness and mercy are far greater than today’s sins.”
Watching the evening news isn’t a sin in itself, but it can lead to sin if we allow darkness to attach itself to our spirit. That’s when we need to spend time in prayer, cleansing our heart from the evil we have absorbed.
We can live in the midst of the world’s great barrage of sin, but we don’t have to partake of it. When God sent the Israelites into the Promised Land, He told them: “When you come into the land which the Lord, your God is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the abominations of the nations there.”
When we come into the land of the evening news, we come into a land dominated by man’s crass desires intensified by the Evil One. The evil involves the sins of anger, hatred, racism, bitterness, un-forgiveness, murder and contentiousness, but underneath all of this is godlessness. Unmonitored access to these sins only infects our inner being with these dark values.
On the other hand, pick up the Bible and reflect on your favorite passages, such as Psalm 23, the Last Supper accounts, or perhaps the Beatitudes. After spending 30 minutes, compare your inner feelings with those you experience when you watch the same amount of evening news.
In the two great commandments in the Gospel readings Sunday, Jesus clearly spells out the road to peace and tranquility. When we follow these two great commandments, we feel one with God. When we fail, we feel distant from our God, even though He hasn’t moved.
In my experience, three clusters of sin trip us up and lead us astray from the two great commandments: First, un-forgiveness and the related sins of anger, resentment, bitterness, hatred, revenge and murder. Second is lust, with its bedfellows of pornography, masturbation, fornication and adultery. The third centers around the occult, such as Ouija boards, horoscopes, tarot cards, fortune telling, and related ways in which we seek from the Evil One information that’s hidden from us.
Many people don’t know that it isn’t enough simply to repent of our sins, but very frequently we need also to renounce the evil spirit that has attached itself to us because of repeated use. For example, St. Paul tells us not to let the sun go down upon our anger so as to give Satan a foothold.
In addition to asking forgiveness, we also need to renew our baptismal vows by the use of the following or similar formula: “In the name of Jesus Christ, I cancel all agreements with the spirit(s) of (un-forgiveness, hatred, lust, Ouija boards), and I command these evil spirits to leave me immediately and go to the feet of Jesus and obey Him.”
This is an authoritative way to combat both sin and the evil spirits that may have attached themselves to us because of sin.
However, we need to do far more than simply confess our sins and renounce the Evil One. We need to immerse our inner spirit in the word of God. The more we reflect on the word of God, the more we develop good virtues that will crowd out our bad habits.
Here is a simple way to start. You are just as capable of reading the Bible under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as is anybody else. Therefore, take your Bible to a quiet place for 15 minutes. Ask Jesus to help you. Simply read three or four verses quietly over and over three times, and then simply become quiet inside. Ask Jesus to help you apply it to your life. Remain calm. If distractions come your way, welcome them and lay them aside and get back to the text before you and to Jesus, who is there to help you understand it.
Do this daily for one week, and then ask yourself: “How does this exercise make me feel inside? Am I beginning to isolate patterns of behavior that tend to rob me of my peace? Or, on the other hand, am I beginning to see good habits that arise within that help me feel closer to God and my neighbor?
St. Benedict used this simple formula to create and transform a Christian community.
Our country is ripe for this transformation. And we can live as a person of peace in the midst of a society that is filled with so much division and hatred.
The two great commandments offer a vision of what God wishes to do in our country. If you allow this to take hold in your heart, it won’t stop there. Goodness is diffusive. People are hungering for peace. They are looking for answers.
Start with a community of four, you and the Most Holy Trinity. Believe me, the Holy Trinity will show up and start something new and powerful through you.