Love Longs But Doesn’t Possess

Ps 130:5-6 – I wait for the LORD, my soul waits and I hope for his word. My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak.

The Psalmist expresses so well our relationship to God: one of yearning and waiting.  Truly, the person who loves God is a person who longs for Him.  But this longing and yearning isn’t limited to our relationship with God; rather, it extends to our very own loving relationships as well with those whom we love: spouse, children, family, and friends.

The condition of the lover to the beloved is one of limited knowing.  In other words, because the beloved is a person with so much more than what is physically available to our senses that her being is communicated more than by our own empirical assessment of who she is.  The lover who mistakenly believes that he knows the entirety of his beloved’s being is one who seeks to possess rather than to love, for genuine love longs for instead of trying to possess the other.  This is the reason that Scriptures are filled with instances of people longing for God.  And once this longing is fulfilled, the peace is so overwhelming that death seems but a trivial occurrence – Lk 2:29-32

Likewise, when we, in our own human relationships, seek to genuinely love, we must therefore learn to long and yearn for those whom we love.  We yearn for them to reveal to us who they are, and we then embrace those revelations.  Without self-revelations we can never know anymore about our beloved than those things that are superficial and physical, marked by our own determinations of what they mean, and this is terribly dangerous because our determinations of others can be perilously biased.

Thus, whereas love that takes on the form of possession will take after the “you are mine” motto because it seeks to take control and take charge, love that takes on the form of longing and yearning will take after the “I’m yours” motto since it expresses that it is open to receiving what the beloved is willing to reveal to it, and it thirsts for those revelations.  Therefore, we wait and we long for our beloved’s revelations.  And when those revelations come and we can love deeply and peacefully, the bumps and obstacles within those loving relationships are but trivial occurrences of a fallen world.

Let Us Pray

God has provided us a way to ask of Him for whatever we need: prayer.  Just as one who is in need of money or goods must beg for a living if he is unable to work himself, so too must we approach the Lord in prayer to ask for those things that we need that we cannot provide for ourselves.  The fall of our first parents has shut us out from our Father’s home, and it is by prayer that we knock to gain entrance.  This entrance is promised to us by Jesus if we pray aright.  Just as a good parent would provide those things that she deems fit and good for her child, so too will God, our parent par excellence, grant to us all those things that are most beneficial to us if we only approached Him and ask.  Do not be fooled into thinking that God would ask us to pray and refuse to listen to our prayer, or to give us something harmful.  He gives us what we need and at the correct time when we need it – we may be rash in our timing, but God is kairosian in His.

More importantly, God has made it so that prayer is available to all.  Prayer is for the Christian and the non-Christian, for the poor and the rich, for the adult and the child, for the priest and they lay person, for the general and the cadet, for the courageous and the cowardly, for the wise and for the foolish.  Prayer is for all, and all are welcomed to God’s throne filled with grace ready to be dispense to each according to his or her need.  Let us pray! Mt 7:7-12

A Prayer – Digby Mackworth Dolben

From falsehood and error,
From darkness and terror,
From all that is evil,
From the power of the devil,
From the fire and the doom,
From the judgment to come,
Sweet Jesus, deliver
Thy servants forever.

The Wisdom of Humble Faith

Jesus’ condemnation of the self-righteousness of the people of his time in today’s Gospel reminds us of the wisdom of faith content by whatever provisions the Lord has chosen to give.  Unlike the Ninevites, who repented from their sins simply by the words of Jonah without witnessing any miracles, the contemporaries of Jesus refused to repent even though he was among them working miracles day in and day out.  While one group profited from the words of God delivered through a prophet, the other group turned from the Word of God and rejected his grace that would humble their hearts.  The faith of Nineveh accepted whatever little revelation God was willing present to it and received such revelation with great humility.  The faith of Jerusalem doubted all the revelation that God was granting them and rejected Jesus’ revelation with its pride.  Allow Alexander Pope’s Universal Prayer to guide our own faith life today so that, with the humility the Ninevites, we may receive whatever little the Lord chooses to reveal to us with humility in faith.

Father of all! in every age,
    In every clime adored,
By saint, by savage, and by sage,
    Jehovah, Jove, or Lord!
Thou Great First Cause, least understood:
    Who all my sense confined
To know but this—that thou art good,
    And that myself am blind:
Yet gave me, in this dark estate,
    To see the good from ill;
And binding Nature fast in fate,
    Left free the human will.
What conscience dictates to be done,
    Or warns me not to do,
This, teach me more than Hell to shun,
    That, more than Heaven pursue.
What blessings thy free bounty gives,
    Let me not cast away;
For God is paid when man receives,
    To enjoy is to obey.
Yet not to earth’s contracted span,
    Thy goodness let me bound,
Or think thee Lord alone of man,
    When thousand worlds are round:
Let not this weak, unknowing hand
    Presume thy bolts to throw,
And deal damnation round the land,
    On each I judge thy foe.
If I am right, thy grace impart,
    Still in the right to stay;
If I am wrong, oh teach my heart
    To find a better way.
Save me alike from foolish pride,
    Or impious discontent,
At aught thy wisdom has denied,
    Or aught thy goodness lent.
Teach me to feel another’s woe,
    To hide the fault I see;
That mercy I to others show,
    That mercy show to me.
Mean though I am, not wholly so
    Since quickened by thy breath;
Oh lead me wheresoe’er I go,
    Through this day’s life or death.
This day, be bread and peace my lot:
    All else beneath the sun,
Thou know’st if best bestowed or not,
    And let thy will be done.
To thee, whose temple is all space,
    Whose altar, earth, sea, skies!
One chorus let all being raise!
    All Nature’s incense rise!

The Need for Service

The strangest part about the readings of the beginning of the liturgical year is reminder and warning about the end of the Church here on Earth.  And yet, this is not too strange since that small beginning of the entrance of little baby Jesus is best recognized by the magnitude of its ending at the final fulfillment, that which we call the Second Coming.  Throughout all of this, we must learn to realize that the Second Coming is not a separate even; rather, it is a fulfillment of that single event still in progress from the moment those words reached Mary’s humble ears.

For this reason, the season of Advent is not merely a return to historical longing and fulfillment by Jesus, but it is our own entrance into the mystery of God Incarnate, God becoming flesh, entered into history, and made it His own, as we profess daily in The Angelus, “…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  This dwelling among us means that God has made Himself subject to suffering and death.  In other words, God knows the human condition, and He knows it most intimately.

And so St. Paul writes, “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed”. (Rm 13:11)  Indeed, we shall know neither the hour nor the day that we will be called to stand in front of that Son of God, as the Gospel tells us.  We must not put down our guard and sleep our earthly lives away.  We must live lives faithful and worthy of Christ.  For on that last day, we cannot say to him “Lord, you have no clue what it is like to live a short life, to suffer, to mourn, to love, to lose, and to die.”  And yet again, on that last day we cannot say to the Lord that the eternal One, the Lord Who exists outside of time and space, cannot possibly be sympathetic or empathetic of our own human condition since God is not only sympathetic to our own humanity, but our God literally lived it.

No, my friends, we will have no excuses once we greet our God on that last day.  It will be the Son of God who judges, and he lived a human life from the womb of His mother to the stone tomb.  In his living that human life, the Gospels tell us, he encountered numerous people from different positions in society, as we all do. Then on the end of days, from his countenance shall be seen every single human face since all are his brothers and sisters.  And we shall have to raise our heads to those faces, the innocent faces of children, the worn-out faces of the poor, the tear-filled faces of parents who weep for their children lost at war, the embittered faces of our enemies.  We shall have to raise our heads to that countenance, and a voice shall come from it that will say, “What you did, or did not do, for the least of my brothers.”  That voice will not die or fade away.  It will fill our eternity.  If we are able to raise our heads with the confidence of the forgiven sinner towards that countenance of the Son of man, it is only because we have taken heed of St. Paul’s calling to us: the hour now for you to awake from sleep.

Recognizing this truth will demand that our families, schools, and communities take care to form us into people whose lives are worthy of Christ.  The life worthy of Christ is one that serves others and not the self.  And this formation recognizes that these virtues founded upon love of neighbor cannot be built overnight, nor are they formed by short periods of engagement and detachment.  Indeed, the love of and for our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable in our communities and world, is a life-long habit of virtue that we will need to constantly work on in order to have growth.

Actions and Words

Jesus’ parable of the two sons teaches us an extremely important lesson in what it means to follow Christ.  The verbal rebellion followed by complete obedience by the first son is contrasted with the verbal obedience and failure to act by the second son.  Jesus’ adversaries recognized that it is the first son who truly loves his father, since he has carried out the task that was asked of him.  So, Jesus seemed to question them by this story, are the teachers of the Law who claimed such noble love for God and yet fail to do His will that truly love God? Or, are the prostitutes and the tax collectors, those who received John, Jesus’ predecessor, who delivered the message and commands of God and allowed the message and commandments to transform them who are the true lovers of God?

It is curious that some of us think that Christianity solely means taking on the identity of ‘Christian’.  I think we all know what Christ thinks of such ‘lip-service’ mentality.  To nominally claim Christianity does not mean that we are Christians.  To to be Christian involves following the radical calling of Jesus, often demanding that we abandon worldly attachments and relationships in order to follow him.  This means that we will need to be personally transformed, brought to conformation with the virtue of Christ, which will lead us to serve one another.  We will leave comfort behind in order to follow Christ, but this is the only way for us to be Christians.

Thus, it is not only the sacrament of Baptism that identifies us with Christ, but rather all of the other six sacraments also work to help us live our Christianity.  Why? It is because following Christ forms a new relationship between us, the disciples, and God, which allows us to understand that following Christ will mean having to carry a cross.  This is what it means to be conformed to Christ; insofar as Christ understood this both of himself and of his mission, we therefore must also understand this.  In this sense, each sacrament merits a particular kind of grace in order for us to be able to take on the task that God has reserved for us.

Once we grasp who Christ truly is and what he wants of us, we will have to answer his question, “Which of the two did his father’s will?”  Will we, imperfect Christians as we are, be like the first son; we may not like what God has called us to do but we do it anyway?  Or will we be like the second son; we wear a Christian identity, we readily advertise this identity to others, but we refuse to forgive when forgiveness is asked and we only see human dignity in those whom we favor?  Let us pray that God gives us the strength and courage to be like that first son.

Happy Thursday, friends.

 

What Do You Seek?

Chapter 1 of St. John’s Gospel (vv. 35-42) records an encounter between the Baptist’s disciples and Jesus. As Jesus walked by, John the Baptist proclaims to his two disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God!” and the two disciples immediately followed Jesus.  As Jesus notices them following him, he turned and asked them frankly, “what do you seek?”  They responded by asking him where he is staying and he invites them to “come and see” (Jn 1:35-51).  The entire exchange is deceivingly profound because there is much more going on than just a meet and greet.

The Baptist’s disciples were curious about Jesus and wanted to learn more about him. However, biblical scholars tell us that the disciples had no intention of immediately following Jesus to where he stayed; rather, they asked where he was staying so they may come and find him at another time if they so wished.  Jesus’ immediate invitation to them indicates his openness to receiving them, even if it was unplanned on their part.  The two men were surprised but went on to stay with Jesus and left that evening changed and convinced of Jesus’ Messiahship.  Because of this change they went on to proclaim this conviction to others, who are consequently also changed because of their encounter with Jesus, like Simon who is renamed to Cephas.

The question that Jesus asked those two disciples so long ago is the very same question He stirs our hearts with: what do you seek? This question, like water in a foundation, seeps through every part of our being, and it finds its formulation when we are in our early teens.   We may be distraught by the question but what we must realize when we begin to hear the question is God’s openness to receiving us, like His openness to those two disciples.  He is quite ready and His answer will always be, “come and you will see”.

Our response to this invitation will require faith, courage, and love.  We will need to have faith that God wants what is best for us and will never call us to a vocation that we will not find joy and peace in.  We will need courage in order to combat certain facets of our culture that tell us that joy is to be found in fame and fortune.  Finally, we will need love in order to respond generously to God’s invitation to “come and see”.  This love allows us to look beyond our own immediate determinations of who we ought to be and to genuinely discern who we are called to be by allowing God to enter our hearts and direct us towards where He stays.  When we are successful at allowing the Lord to take hold of our hearts, we will, like the disciples of John, be completely transformed by Him.

After two thousand years, Jesus’ question and invitation remains the same for all of us.  Our responses will depend on how faithful, courageous, and loving we are.

I return from my hiatus.

Happy Wednesday, friends.

The Greatest Commandment

There is much written and spoken about these days about love of neighbor.  This is a great approach to living the good life, and properly so because God has commanded it of us.  There can never be enough talk about love of neighbor, given that it is not just all talk but that it is lived out as proper to Christ’s commandment.  However, we must not forget that the greatest commandment is not to love our neighbor, but that it is to love God with all our hearts and all of our minds (Mt 22:37-38).  This greatest commandment cannot be replaced by simply living out that second great commandment of loving our neighbor.  In other words, a great philanthropic life does not fulfill this greatest commandment.

The commandment to love God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, and all of our minds is quite strange for two reasons.  First, the commandment demands that we love God with a freedom that recognizes Him as lovable in Himself and not because we are commanded to.  This is strange because it is the commandment that directs us to love, and yet our love ought to overlook its commanding nature.  Secondly, the commandment does not demand a performance that is measurable, and thus can be said as having been fulfilled once we have done what is asked.  The commandment asks for us to love, and love stems from our hearts, our innermost being, ourselves.  We can measure whether or not we have not killed or stolen, but we cannot measure whether or not we have loved with all our hearts and all our beings.  For this reason, we would rather give anything and everything we own because anything and everything can be measured; that is, anything and everything except the heart.  And this is the thing we are asked to give to God without hesitation and forever.

But can we love God as this commandment demands of us?  Our hearts are weary and worn from everyday life that they seem unable to carry out what is demanded of us.  Added to this, God seems so far away and distant from our everyday lives that we only call upon Him when we really truly need him, like when a family member suffers or dies.  And so we gather from this that we cannot love God like this commandment asks us to.  But it is precisely here that we ought to realize that we ourselves cannot give God the love that this greatest commandment asks of us; rather, it must God who has to provide us with this love to love Him.  The first and greatest commandment asks that we love God with all our hearts, then the very first prayer that we utter needs to be asking God for this love in order to love Him properly.  He must give strength and life to this love to us in order that He can love Himself in us and through us by the power of His Holy Spirit.  This is the only way our love can be worthy of Him.

For our own part, we should believe God that when He demands it of us that He would give us the proper tools to fulfill the demand.  Here, we should trust God more than our own heart and pray for love.  If the heart prays for love, it will love.  This is true even if the heart feels saddened at fulfilling so little of that very first and greatest commandment.

Happy Thursday, friends!