The Cross of Love

The perennial question: ‘how are we to live our lives?’ which is usually followed by the perennial answer: ‘as Christ showed us’.  Today’s Gospel is one of those teaching moments from Christ.  I don’t mean we are to take two fish and five loaves and feed over 5,000 people – that is a miracle and I leave them to Jesus.  And though we can take from this Gospel the obligation to care for the needy (and that is a great lesson); that isn’t what caught my eye this week.  After all, even the secular world tries to take care of the needy, sometimes very well.  Our government, as an example, has an extensive social program.  But that is a discussion for another time.

It is at the very beginning of the Gospel that I was struck by what it means to live our life as Christ.

“When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.  The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.  When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with compassion for them, and he cured their sick.” (Matthew 14: 13 – 14)

 Here is a powerful moment of Christian living.  Jesus had just heard that His cousin had been executed: and as any person would do; He removed Himself from the crowd to be alone, to grieve, to come to terms with the struggle of life in all its unfairness – to cope with loss.  God though He is, He is also fully man and feels as man.  But, as we see, He couldn’t do that.  The people had followed Him into a desolate region, they needed Him, and in spite of His personal pain He tended them.  He put those around Him before His own needs, in spite of the tremendous hurt He was feeling – because of the tremendous love He felt for everyone.

Ask any priest about having to sacrifice self for others; they will tell you of those 2am calls that, regardless of their own personal situation, they respond to.  Talk with any mother or father who is up all night with their baby knowing they have to work all day.  Remember those times that you were in similar situations – the sacrifice and the joy.  The willing sacrifice of self for others – love in its greatest form – is what Jesus is showing us; what He expects from His followers; what His followers gladly offer Him through those they minister to. The Cross of Love that we strive each day to take up and follow Jesus – is, or at least should be, how we live our life.

Advertisements

Knocking

This past Wednesday, some of us witnessed a very old tradition.  At the start of the Vesper Service at the Cathedral Bishop Siegel and Archbishop Sartain, led by a deacon carrying the lit Easter Candle, went to the front door.  They waited for a knock, which came, from Bishop Daniel Conlon, who was asking to be let into the Cathedral.  It was a powerful symbol of his entrance into the Church of Joliet.  Of course the next day he was installed.  But the powerful symbol of his knocking brought home to me that we are community.

The Eucharist, among other things, is all about community; the community of Jesus Christ.  We are his flock, and He is our shepherd – he has our welfare ever front in his heart and mind.  He gives us a bishop, a shepherd, to lead us on our journey, on his journey, to witness to mankind the Gospel message.  And that is an important point about being a Eucharistic community; it doesn’t mean that we narrow ourselves to our Catholic communities, St Dominic, Diocese of Joliet, or the Universal Church for that matter.  It means the whole of creation is our community; we are called to be church to everyone, to point everyone to the Gospel message of salvation.

Bishop Conlon’s knock on the door of the Cathedral symbolized not only the entrance of our new shepherd but, in a way it symbolized the knock of Christ at the doors of our hearts.  So as we did symbolically in the Cathedral and welcomed Bishop Conlon in – let us resolve to truly welcome Jesus into our hearts every moment of our lives. In this way we will be able to help Jesus knock on the doors of those we meet in our community.

A Sower went out to sow…

In the parable from today’s Gospel we hear Jesus tell those who had come to hear Him a parable that spoke of the reception of God’s saving word to those in the world – including themselves.

As I said yesterday in my homily there is a lot to unpack in this interaction between Jesus and everyone else.  But with the help of St John Chrysostom a couple of things that stand out are contained in one phrase: ‘A Sower went out to sow’.

This is amazingly good news, comforting news; a relief for the sinner that I am.  The ‘Sower went out’; God came to us!  Since we couldn’t come to Him, due to our fallen nature, He came to us; and why?

He ‘went out to sow’.  He could have to come punish!  He could have come to destroy the fallen, rebellious children who had stopped listening to Him, and who went about their own way – but He didn’t.  Though He is a God of justice – He is also Love; so instead of punishment He came (and I quote St John Chrysostom) “to till and to take care of the earth: to sow the word of compassion.

Now what happens to the seed is what the parable goes on to explain, and more unpacking is necessary; but I take very great comfort that our God is a farmer who harvests love and not a destroyer who exacts punishment.  Our God is one who loves us, ‘thirsts for us’ as St Athanasius says. He has no other plan to than to have us come back to Him, be with Him, and to that end He came among us to restore the dialogue of love that was broken at the fall of Adam and Eve. Or, again, in the words of St Athanasius: ‘God became man so that man might become God

Need for Prayer

I seem to have these times when frustration builds and I can’t get rid of it, no matter what I do it hangs on.  And after a while I notice that my prayer life isn’t what it should be, it seems mechanical, thin, devoid of a true sense of the spiritual.  I am not praying as I ought.  Eventually, I just surrender to the frustration and I beg our Lord for help.  Then… amazingly… frustration ends because my prayer life is alive again.  Of course during this period of frustration I am always asking the Lord for help – but it isn’t until I get to the point where I just open myself up, truly admit my weakness; my lowliness; my utter dependence on God and throw myself at His feet and ask for His strength that I move forward.  And this whole situation tends to be cyclical – it happens again and again.  It is as if I didn’t learn from the experience to see it coming again.

But I am a product of my society, the post-modern culture where man ‘can do everything’; where reliance on someone else, asking for help, is looked on as failure or at the very least as incomplete success. Even though I know this is far from the truth, even though I  can see how illogical this is and see the damage this does to people and families; this societal attitude is all around me and within me and is something that I have to deal with – the paradigms of society are hard to remove.  It is very tiring to try and keep something foremost in your mind and heart, especially when you can’t seem to find any support structure to help you and it goes against the societal norms that we are called to live in.

With this in mind – today’s Gospel is, at least to me, very relevant.  We heard this morning Jesus saying to us:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.

As I reflected on this passage it dawned on me that my frustration builds, my prayer life stagnates, my journey grinds to halt when I don’t let Jesus strengthen me.  He offers it to me always – I need to accept it always.  We, who feel burdened during our daily activities, need to hand these burdens to the Lord.  We need to lay ourselves at His feet and allow him to shoulder those burdens with us, allow Him to make our yoke His yoke.  But this is where I come back to seemingly having no structure to help me.  What in my daily routine is pointing me to this message; to His help? What is helping me share my burdens with Jesus?

I believe that this is best done when we are constantly offering our day up in prayer, as prayer.  But it has to be true prayer, a prayer where we throw our hearts and minds wide open and plead for Jesus to take everything; the kind of prayer that allows us to be humble, and meek, and truthful about our abilities without Him – and truthful, confident and secure in our abilities with Him.  With this type of prayer; I becomes We; me becomes Us and frustration is replaced by peace – two sets of shoulders carry the yoke and the burdens become lighter.  But my prayer life needs to grow into this total otherness, this openness to His gift, this willingness to not withhold myself from Him. I need to realize that I don’t fail if I am helped, and I have total success when We work together!  This is the structure He has given me.  I just need to use it!  When I feel rushed and speed through my prayers I need stop, slow down and let my prayer come from my very being.  My paradigm shouldn’t be stopping what I am doing to pray; it should be leaving my prayer to go out and witness. I should love to pray, savor the time spent in prayer, because it there that I am helped by He who is love!  And with love, all things are brighter, all things are lighter.