Our culture tells us that to be free is to do “whatever you want.” We are not to be retrained by the first three commandments and we are not to be retrained especially by the sixth commandment. For the Christian, however, freedom means something deeper, something that should fill us with wonder. For the Christian to be free, means to be fastened to truth. Only those who live in truth are free, only those in communion with the author of truth Himself, are free! To be attached to God is to be free. Along with Sts. Jerome and Philip this building (St. Joseph Church) is the truest and freest place in Battle Creek. Some find this odd. To be free is to be attached to God. Now we know this because experience and Divine revelation have unveiled this truth. Being alone and autonomously free is not good. It is not good to be alone as we read in Genesis. We need God and we need neighbor. We need both God and neighbor. To be alone is Hell.
I have a story about a man who tried to do it alone, alone in supposed freedom. He was not fastened to God or neighbor. His name was Moses. This is not the Moses of Exodus who led the Israelites to freedom, but a Moses who lived in 4th century Egypt. He was a big man known for his strength and ferocity.
Moses began his life as a servant. He was not a good servant. In fact he was an awful servant; he was a thief who constantly stole from his boss. And when he became a suspect in a murder case the boss told him to leave. He’d had enough. He didn’t want a murderer living under his roof. Once let go from his job Moses turned to a more devoted life of crime. Moses was a large and imposing figure and wherever he went he brought violence and terror.
There is the story of Moses planning the robbery of a very wealthy man. This rich man had a fortress and many guards that protected his money. But Moses had a fool-proof plan, or so he thought, of breaking into the man’s house to steal a fortune. The plan didn’t work, a dog began to bark alerting the guards to Moses’ presence. And so he ran. This failure put him into a rage. He vowed to come back and try again, not only would he steal from the wealthy man, but he would also murder him. He was in a great rage. He was enslaved to his rage.
And so a few weeks later he came back. Again, before even implementing his plan, the dog again alerted the guards to Moses’ presence. That dang dog! So he ran and the guards chased him. To hide, Moses entered a Monastery. And there he stayed waiting for things to cool down. The monks welcomed him and took care of him. Hospitality was their charism. They had no idea he was a wanted man.
The life of the monks impressed Moses. The dedication of their lives as well as their peace and contentment influenced Moses deeply. He wanted that peace. He wanted that contentment. Eventually he asked for baptism and later he asked to join the community. Like we heard in our Gospel, Our Lord stretched out his hand, touched Moses and said, “Be made clean.” And he was made clean.
The leper of today’s Gospel can be seen as a symbol of a soul cut off. The leper was not attached to family, friends, or community. He was not attached to God; he was kept from worshipping in the Temple. He was totally cut off. Cut off in a lonely freedom away from God and neighbor. Moses was a leper in the spiritual sense, no connection to God or neighbor. But with outstretched hand our Lord changed all of that.
Moses had been a zealous thief. His dedication to stealing made him a very good thief. And so he brought this same zealousness to religious life. He wanted to be the best monk possible. But it was hard, he kept slipping, he kept sinning, he kept making mistakes. He was tempted to discouragement. He wasn’t perfect enough. He wasn’t growing in holiness as quickly as he would have wanted.
Sensing his frustration an older monk one morning took Moses to the roof of the monastery and together they watched the sunrise. As they watched the first rays of dawn come over the horizon the old monk said to Moses, “Only slowly do the rays of sun drive away the night and usher in a new day, and thus only slowly does one become perfect.” “Don’t give up; don’t give into the temptation of discouragement.”
He never did give into discouragement. Even when he failed, he didn’t give into discouragement. Each time he turned away from truth and freedom to the leprosy of sin he remembered the Gospel, saying to Jesus, in the confessional, “If you wish Lord you can make me clean.” And our Lord always stretched out His hand, touched him and made him clean.
St. Moses died at the age of 75 on July 1st in the year 405. He was martyred by men who were looting the monastery. He died with no trace of spiritual leprosy, never giving into discouragement.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley