Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The readings this week give us a glimpse of how God peels back layer after layer of unbelief in His people in order to set them free.
For example, during the Exodus, when they were pursued by the army of Egypt, the Israelites complained to Moses: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? … Far better for us to be slaves of the Egyptians than to die in the desert.” They didn’t believe God would protect them, so they preferred slavery to freedom. God had to expose and heal this layer of unbelief in order to make them free.
Then, after they had been saved from the army of Egypt, they complained about food: “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread.” Again, they didn’t believe God would care for them. Again, unbelief led them to prefer slavery to freedom. Again, God had to expose and heal a layer of unbelief in order to make them free.
As one commentator said, getting Israel out of Egypt was relatively easy, but getting Egypt out of Israel was longer and harder. The first was a process of moving from one location to another to remove an external slavery. The second was an interior process of conversion, healing layer after layer of unbelief that led them to an internal slavery.
It makes me wonder about the layers of unbelief and un-freedom in our own lives. In some ways we’re not all that different from ancient Israel! Let me give one example.
The Eucharist and the cross are at the heart of our faith. We can summarize them in the words of Jesus: “This is my body, given for you.” We are most free when this becomes the pattern of our lives.
By contrast, pornography is very much at the heart of our culture, and it’s presented and defended as a matter of freedom. Pornography, however, is emblematic of evil in this sense: it takes the truth about the body, the beauty of the body and the good of sexuality, and twists them into an exact photo negative of the Eucharist and the cross. It says: “This is your body, which is taken for my use.” What we could deduce theologically we can also verify culturally: the falsehood of pornography leads to a kind of slavery. But much of our culture prefers that slavery to freedom.
We can all think of other examples in our own lives and in our culture that are characterized by layers of unbelief, how those layers of unbelief rob us of freedom, how we, like Israel, sometimes prefer slavery, and how we need God to expose and heal our unbelief to set us free. Is such healing possible?
This week, on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene (July 22), we hear St. Paul tells us: “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.” Paul himself knew what this meant! His conversion did not erase his sinful past, but he became a new creation in Christ! Likewise, St. Mary Magdalene’s conversion did not erase her sinful past, but she became a new creation in Christ. That kind of healing is possible for us and our culture as well.
Only a life that is deeply consistent with the Eucharist and the cross is a life that’s truly free. Let’s cooperate with God as He exposes layer after layer of unbelief in our own lives and our culture, draws us more deeply into the pattern of the Eucharist and the cross, and sets us free.