Central Idea: How can you tell whether on or not something is sinful? Are you obsessed with secrecy?
I am wide awake and immediately out of bed. I think back to the night before when I made a new list of what I wanted to get done and how I wanted to be. My husband is not far behind me on his way into the bathroom to get ready for work. Maybe I can sneak onto the scale before he notices me. I am already in my private world. I am overjoyed when the scale says that I stayed the same weight as I was the night before, and I can feel that slightly hungry feeling. Maybe IT will stop today, maybe today everything will change. What were the projects I wanted to do?
We eat the same breakfast, except that I take no butter on my toast, no cream in my coffee and never take seconds (until he gets out the door). Today I am going to be really good, which means eating certain predetermined portions of food and not taking one more bite than I think I am allowed. I am careful to see that I don’t take more than he does. I can feel the tension building. I wish he’d hurry up and leave so I can get going!
As soon as he shuts the door, I try to involve myself with one of the myriad of responsibilities on my list. But I hate them all! I just want to crawl into a hole. I don’t want to do anything. I’d rather eat. I am alone, I am nervous, I am no good, I always do everything wrong anyway. I am not in control; I can’t make it through the day. I know it.
It has been the same for so long.
Several years ago, a young woman at whose wedding I was officiating, shared with me her harrowing tale of dealing with an eating disorder. When I mentioned that I was interested in learning more about anorexia and bulimia and how to deal with these conditions, she promptly dropped a virtual library of books in my lap. Among this gut-wrenching (no pun intended) literature was the story with which I began this homily. Eating disorders are painful, exhausting illnesses, which are also, make no mistake about it, amazingly destructive and dangerous.
What I have discovered about conditions like these, what I have discovered about a lot of abusive and self-destructive behaviors, is that they flourish, they blossom, they thrive, in secrecy. And that secrecy requires extensive, creative, and exhaustive planning. Protecting the secret becomes as important as the process of binging or purging. Bulimic people spend days and hours planning strategies to acquire, consume, and purge their food. While seemingly living out plain ordinary lives, they are perpetually planning and plotting. It has to be exhausting and draining.
What is similarly amazing is that the people closest to them, the people in most immediate contact with them, may have no clue that someone with whom they interact each and every day has a problem, that they are keeping a deep dark secret. Thus all of this damages relationships, because so much energy is put into lying, manipulation and secrecy.
“For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.”
Before I go any further, let me be perfectly clear, I do not want to brand an anorexic or a bulimic as a sinner or as wicked. Not at all. These conditions are medical with deep psychological and physiological causes and triggers. But the pattern of self-destruction, the process of concealment and camouflage are similar in all sorts of unhealthy behavior whether it be eating disorders, abusive behavior or addictions of any sort. When I am counseling someone, one of the indicators I use that there is a problem is to appraise the depth of secrecy and concealment that someone has employs to keep the truth from coming out. Secrecy and concealment breeds destruction.
If secrecy is the way of harm and destruction, the way to healing is likewise simple: allowing others in. For the person with eating disorders, as it is to the abuser, as it is for the drug addict, as it is for the alcoholic, when these conditions are dragged into the light, (sometimes kicking and screaming) they can be evaluated, named, and ultimately, treated. If these things thrive and grow like cancers in secret, they wither and shrivel when exposed to the radiance of the truth.
This is the genius of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Reconciliation and confession breaks through the brutal prison of secrecy, it exposes the destruction, the illness to the light of Christ. And it does so in a way that keeps a level of confidentiality and discretion that is both life-giving and healthy. People have mentioned to me in the confessional how freeing it was to allow someone else into that world of secrecy and thereby find the means to get out, to discover the way of light.
It is also the genius of friendship. Friends are the ones who can break through the veneer of silence and offer to someone the support and encouragement they need to walk in the light. Over the years, I have discovered that it is in friendship that we find freedom, that we find health, that we find hope. If you are struggling with anything in your life, ask yourself if you could speak to a friend about what is going on. If you have a difficult time responding to that question, you may have stumbled on the root problem.
Obviously, the friendship we discover in our faith, the forgiveness of God, the love of Christ, the grace of the Holy Spirit is a crucial factor in all of this. As a recovering bulimic said: The main thing that has helped is my faith and trust in God. A lack of security is a problem with eating disorder sufferers and knowing God cares for me gives me comfort and peace. We all need someone to trust, whom we know loves us unconditionally, not for how we look or what we do, just for us as we are.
Just for us as we are, in the light…..the stark, scary, simple, stunning light.
Read more homily reflections from Fr. Kevin (Click here to view the archive)
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