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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Bishop Barron - How to Lose Your Soul (And How to Save It)

Bishop Barron - How to Lose Your Soul (And How to Save It)

Bishop Barron - How to Lose Your Soul (And How to Save It)

Peace be with you. Friends when I was a doctoral student in Paris, I had the great opportunity to go to some of the principal museums at off times, when the tourists weren't there, when it wasn't busy. I'd go to the Louvre. I'd go to the Picasso museum, the Rodin museum. One of my favorites, though, was the Musée d'Orsay, which is one of the great impressionist collections in the world. Well, one of my favorite paintings in the Musée d'Orsay, I used to stand there and just stare at it. It's a huge of canvas, and it's called "Romans during the Decadence".

The artist is not a super well-known figure named Thomas Couture. But this painting would draw me in because it's this huge depiction of this wild Roman revelry. So every form of pleasure-seeking is going on. There's of course conversation, but there's sexual embrace, there's food and there's drink, and there's revelry and every type of excess. This huge orgy is going on. But at the dead center of the canvas, staring right out at the viewer, so all the other characters in the painting are looking at each other, but the only one looking right out at the viewer, is this young woman, and she's kind of reclining. She's looking out at the viewer with a combination of boredom, disgust, and despair.

Now, I love that painting for a lot of reasons, but one is I think it's a beautiful depiction of hell. Now, no one in the picture is in flames or writhing in agony, just the opposite. All the pleasures of the world are on full display, but this woman channels the fact that they're giving no real joy whatsoever. As I say, it's a better depiction of hell. If you're going through some terrible torment, you might think, "Well, once that torment's over, I'll be okay". What's worse is, "No, I'm experiencing every pleasure I've ever wanted, and I'm still unhappy". It's a picture, if you want, and now I'm going to make reference to our Gospel for today, it's a picture of someone who's gained the whole world, but has lost her soul.

As many of you know who have been following me over the years, my favorite movie is A Man for All Seasons, the great film about St. Thomas More based on Robert Bolt's play. The most famous one-liner from that movie, and if you know it, everyone knows this, occurs toward the end of the tale when Thomas Moore addresses his erstwhile friend, Richard Rich, Rich being a young man that More had befriended and Rich wanted to advance his career and thought More was a good way to do that. But then, by the end of the movie, oh so drunk was he on power and careerism that Richard Rich sold himself out, testified falsely against More at this trial, leading to More's execution.

As Richard Rich comes down from the witness stand and he's robed in all of the garb of high office, More asks whether he could pose a question to the witness. They give permission, and he says, "Rich, that's a chain of office you're wearing, the red dragon. What is that"? And the judge chimes in. So Richard has been named attorney general for Wales. And here's the devastating one-liner. More looks at him and says, "Rich, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Wales…" So Richard Rich at that moment is like the woman in Couture's painting. Someone who's gained the world. He got what he wanted. He got high office. He achieved his career ambition. But in the process, lost his soul. Curious thing, at the very end of the play, at the end of the movie, the narrator comes on.

This is now after More has been executed. And he gives a summary of the main characters, what happened to them, and they almost all came to a bad end. All these people who had persecuted More were beheaded or burned at the stake or imprisoned. He goes through all the characters, and he finally comes to Richard Rich. And here's how he says it: And Richard Rich became Chancellor of England, and died in his bed. Well, for the longest time, I was kind of puzzled by that. I thought, "Okay, everyone else was punished. They all came to a bad end. But Richard Rich, who was the ultimate villain in the play, things seem to have worked out for him, right? He became Chancellor of England. That means he got the highest office that a non-royal could get in the England of his time. Then he died in his bed. He died presumably as an old man. He wasn't put to death. It sounds like it worked out pretty well for him".

So how come the narrator says it that way? Became Chancellor of England and died in his bed? I think it's because we saw the moment in the play, in the movie, we saw the very moment when Richard Rich lost his soul. And More said it, quoting the Lord Jesus, "It profits a man nothing to gain the whole world and lose his soul". He gained the whole world. He became Chancellor of England. He lived this long life. But since we saw the moment when he lost his soul we know that he profited nothing from any of that, that he derived no pleasure from it. He was like the woman in the Couture painting. With all the goods of the world swirling around her, there she was in disgust and despair. Everybody, it's a hugely important principle. Put it on your computer as a screensaver. It profits a man nothing to gain the whole world and lose his soul.

What's the soul? I think in our great tradition, soul names that deepest and most abiding dimension of a person's existence, that which puts the person in contact with God. The soul is not so much one element among many. So I've got various elements, and soul is one of them. Rather, soul as the all-embracing or all-grounding reality. Soul includes, if you want, the whole of my life, the whole of my life in relation to God. Here's how Thomas Aquinas put it: "The soul is in the body, but not as contained by it, but rather containing it". That's marvelous. That's the point I'm trying to make here. Soul is not some little thing inside; rather, soul is that which contains the whole of me.

Now, here's the point. If the soul is rightly ordered, it can handle anything. Worldly success or worldly failure; popularity, unpopularity; honor, dishonor. Rightly ordered the soul can handle all of those situations. Disordered, it can handle nothing. Whether you have honor or dishonor, whether you have health or sickness, whether they love you or hate you, if the soul is disordered or if you've lost your soul, then none of those situations will benefit you. It profits a man nothing to gain the whole world if he's lost his soul. If he has his soul, he could lose the whole world and it wouldn't make one bit of difference. You see, it's a fulcrum on which the whole spiritual life turns. Getting this question right sets the tone for everything. Okay?

So what does it mean to get it right? What does it mean to have your soul? What does it mean to lose your soul? Well, if the soul is that which puts me into contact with God, who's God? God is love. Now, don't see that as some kind of Hallmark card little sentiment. What is love? Love is to will the good of the other. Not a passing sentiment or feeling, but a foundational act of the will. To love is to will the good of the other. That's what God is, straight through. That's the essence of God. It's not something he does, not an attribute he has. It's what God is. Therefore, for my soul to be properly oriented to God means it's lined up with this divine principle. It means it's preoccupied not with filling itself up, but rather giving itself away. You have the divine life in you? Yeah. That means you've become a channel of love. You've become an instrument of peace. You exist now for the good of the other.

Now, think of the woman at the center of Couture's painting. There's someone that's filled herself up with all the goods of the world, that whole great orgy swirling around her. She's got all of that, and she's left disgusted and desperate. Think of Richard Rich in the robes of high office. Richard Rich, yes, Chancellor of England. It's not a question of filling oneself up. It's a question of emptying oneself out. That's what it means to save your soul, to have your soul. Okay? Now, with that principle in mind, listen again as Jesus speaks in the Gospel. And again everybody, this is fundamental spiritual stuff. We're talking high-level spiritual physics. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me". You want to save your soul? There's the formula. Deny yourself.

The woman at the center of the painting, Richard Rich, they were all about affirming themselves, filling themselves up. "Oh, I'll be happy if I just get more and more and more of" whatever it is, power in Rich's sense, or honor, pleasure in the woman in the painting. "If I just fill myself up with these things, I'll be happy". No you won't. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross". Now, what does that mean? It's not a masochistic desire to be tortured. It means, the cross here as a symbol of Jesus' love, yes, to the point of death. Self-emptying? Uh-huh. All the way. Find the path in your life that leads you to more and more self-gift. You'll hang onto your soul that way.

Listen to this: "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it". I use that phrase "spiritual physics". When you're studying physics in the scientific sense, you become accustomed very quickly to high paradoxical language. Light is both wave and particle, for example, most famously. But physics is filled with all these high paradoxes. Same in the spiritual order. You want to save your life? Yeah, we all do, I suppose. We all want to save our life. We want to save our souls. Okay. Then lose them. Paradox? Yep. Difficult? You bet. You want to hang on to what's most fundamental in you, then let go of it, and let go of it in love. Stop trying to fill it up. Stop trying to defend it. Stop trying to keep others at bay to protect it. Give it away. And then you'll be conformed, listen, to the love that God is. There's all the difference.

That's what's beautiful about A Man for All Seasons. It really is telling the story of More and Rich at the same time. More going up, if you will, toward greater and greater self-renunciation. More begins that movie and that play in his manor house, surrounded by his friends with wealth and honor and position. He ends up in a little grimy cell in the Tower of London and then beheaded. But see, in the eyes of the world, that's a downward trajectory. In the eyes of God, that's the upward trajectory. Richard Rich, just the opposite. He begins, this little college graduate, scraping around for a job. And he makes his way in the course of that movie, up, up, up to higher and higher positions. In the eyes of God, he was moving downward.

"Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it... Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it". Friends, there's no spiritual principle more basic and more important than that one. When you try to hang onto your life, you end up... Go find that painting. You don't have to go to Paris. Look it up on Google or something. "Romans in the Time of Decadence," or "Romans in the Decadence". Look at that woman's face at the very dead center of that painting. That's what we all look like when we're trying to save our lives. If I can end with a counter-image, I have it in one of my breviaries, it's this beautiful prayer card, and it's this big portrait of Mother Teresa with this radiant smile.

Where's Mother Teresa living? She wasn't living in the midst of this Roman splendor with all the pleasures of the world around her. No, no. She was living in the worst slum in the world. I've been there. I know. I've seen it. Squalor all around her, poverty all around her. The worst on the planet. Hunger and degradation all around her. And yet there she is, with this radiant smile. Contrast her, find that picture. I bet if you go on Google you'll find a picture of the smiling Mother Teresa. And contrast it with the image of the woman from the painting I'm referencing. "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it... Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it". It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. No principle more important to live by. And God bless you.
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