Tag Archives: self-gift

“Undeservedly Justified”: The Gift of God’s Justice

Jessica Mannen Kimmet
Master of Divinity Candidate,
University of Notre Dame

 

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Editorial Note: This reflection was originally delivered as a sermon for Vespers on Tuesday, January 20. We are grateful for the author’s permission to post it here.

The justice of God has been manifested apart from the law, even though both law and prophets bear witness to it—
that justice of God which works through faith in Jesus Christ
for all who believe. All men have sinned and are deprived
of the glory of God. All men are now undeservedly justified
by the gift of God, through the redemption wrought
in Christ Jesus.
Through his blood, God made him the means
of expiation for all who believe. He did so to manifest
his own justice, for the sake of remitting sins committed
in the past—
to manifest his justice in the present,
by way of forbearance,
so that he might be just
and might justify those who believe in Jesus. (Rom 3:21–26)

To prepare for this reflection, I’ve done all of things you’re supposed to do to give a reflection on Scripture. I’ve read and re-read this text for over a week. I’ve waded through the syntax and even mentally diagrammed the sentences to try to make sense of the translation. I’ve compared multiple translations, consulted commentaries and old class notes, and given each word my attention in turn.

Fortunately, I also remembered to pray with this text, and when I did, most of it seemed to fall away. Only two words stood out to my consciousness, two words which summarize not only this reading but nearly the whole of Christian life: undeservedly justified.

Now I, for one, am not very comfortable with the idea of receiving something I don’t deserve. When I was in high school, I would sometimes hear my mom talk to her friends about how much she had done to get me to where I was. My internal reaction, although usually politely disguised, was always something like, “What the heck, Mom?” I felt that I had done the work to get whatever honors came my way, and I felt that at that point in my life there really wasn’t that much Mom was doing for me any more.

I suspect that many of us are the same way. In this academic setting, we are well trained not to take credit that is not ours. We scrupulously cite our sources, and we strive for originality. Outside the academy, too, justice is thought of as something ultra-rational. The word “justice” makes us think of legal responsibilities, of the limits on our behavior that make peaceful living possible. Even in the ancient world, Lady Justice balanced scales. She personified this view of justice as related to some sort of equation. When something is taken from here, something has to be given over there. It’s very simple math.

In spiritual life, this is dangerous, because the logic of it can become an idol. It would be comforting to believe that we can earn the love of God. It would be nice to receive a set of minimum guidelines that would guarantee our salvation. But this is not the sort of justice by which God operates. We could never deserve to be created, to be beloved, to be redeemed. We could never earn the incredible superabundance of life and love that God offers us. God’s justice is a language of utter and absolute gift. God’s justice would absolutely shatter any scales on which we tried to weigh it.

Our role in our salvation is only ever response to God’s initiative. God has already saved us, and this can be a heavy gift. The realization of our powerlessness can be paralyzing. But we are called to respond. We are called to respond with gratitude; we are called to respond with generosity. We are called to grow in our awareness of how undeservedly beloved we are. And we are called to pass on that same love to others who in our eyes don’t seem to deserve it.

This task of realizing and responding to our undeserved belovedness takes more than a lifetime to achieve. It can seem overwhelming, but I take some comfort in noticing that the late-twenties me can see much more clearly than sassy teenaged me that I do owe an incredible amount to my parents. How much more do we owe to God. How blessed we are to be given the capacity to respond with our own self-gift.

On “the death of adulthood”

Renée Roden

AmeriCorps Volunteer

This past autumn, the New York Times film critic A.O. Scott wrote a provocative, discursive essay entitled “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture” in the New York Times Magazine regarding the end of mainstream images of patriarchal authority in the American story-telling pop culture, and by extension a death of an image of adulthood. Using primarily American television and movies, but also American fiction, which has historically tended to glorify the adolescent protagonist (e.g., Tom Sawyer, Jo March, Laura Ingalls), Mr. Scott concludes that:

“Adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable. . . . It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.”

His words struck home to me, as a new adult, still very child-like (or childish) in many ways, but eager to embrace a new era of responsibility. When I began to teach at Cristo Rey this past fall, I was uncomfortable in this new role, and being an adult, at first, certainly, felt like playing a role. I was tasked with being an authority figure for a class of teenagers, but I have not yet established myself as someone with authority. I do not have charge over a career or a home and yet, my job when I enter the classroom is to be in charge—to help the students succeed by knowing where I want them to end up, and leading them there, step by step. In many ways, this art of teaching meant taking on an authority I felt that I had not earned yet, and did not completely know how to assert. But, nevertheless, this was the responsibility that I had been asked to assume: to help others achieve their own potential—to aid them in their journey to grow more fully into their true identity—by setting aside for a moment my own concerns for my own journey to “figure it all out.”

As Mr. Scott writes in his essay:

“To be an American adult has always been to be a symbolic figure in someone else’s coming-of-age story. And that’s no way to live. It is a kind of moral death in a culture that claims youthful self-invention as the greatest value.”

Mr. Scott explains, perhaps, why so many people are adamant on “living it up” in their twenties, before the responsibilities of married life and family descend upon them. In our current cultural narrative, adulthood is a death.  Adulthood is an end. Our current cultural narrative of self is that we bring ourself into being. The broadly culturally-accepted goal of our lives is self-actualization, to be “truly ourselves,” and “you do you.” And, for Mr. Scott, this self-actualization process is impeded by adulthood:

“The elevation of every individual’s inarguable likes and dislikes over formal critical discourse, the unassailable ascendancy of the fan, has made children of us all. We have our favorite toys, books, movies, video games, songs, and we are as apt to turn to them for comfort as for challenge or enlightenment.”

Currently, I find many of my peers drifting. They have no impetus to drive their journey from adolescence to adulthood. As Mr. Scott touches upon in his piece, we are left with no guidelines of how to actually accomplish this celebrated goal of self-actualization, beside the vague commandment which encapsulates the whole law of postmodernism: “Thou shalt do what feels right, thou shalt ‘follow thy heart’ and if something does not feel right, thou shalt avoid it with all thy heart, mind, and strength.” Anchored in these weightless commands, young people in our culture drift aimlesslyThere is nothing in these vague mantras that can actually ground us. We are left at the mercy of our feelings, senses, our whims and varying, changeable tastes.

While the Christian life is about directing our growth into the fullness of self, the Christian ideal of self-realization is fundamentally grounded in one central command: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25). In the Christian ideal, self-actualization is accomplished through self-donation. As we let ourselves, like the grain of seed, fall to the ground and die, we find that we are born into a newer and deeper life, of which our gift of self was the catalyst.  “Until you give up yourself to Him,” says C.S. Lewis, “you will not have a real self” (Beyond Personality, 67).

Adulthood, then, could be defined as the stage in your life when you decide to live for another; when you make a concrete commitment to put another person’s journey to maturity ahead of your own; when your own search for your identity occurs primarily through facilitating others’ searches for their identity. This is not an easy task. Mr. Scott ends his essay on a nostalgic—almost remorseful— note, but also glibly embracing the new world order of perpetual childhood:

“It is now possible to conceive of adulthood as the state of being forever young. Childhood, once a condition of limited autonomy and deferred pleasure (“wait until you’re older”), is now a zone of perpetual freedom and delight. Grown people feel no compulsion to put away childish things: we can live with our parents, go to summer camp, play dodge ball, collect dolls and action figures and watch cartoons to our hearts’ content. These symptoms of arrested development will also be signs that we are freer, more honest and happier than the uptight fools who let go of such pastimes.
I do feel the loss of something here, but bemoaning the general immaturity of contemporary culture would be as obtuse as declaring it the coolest thing ever. A crisis of authority is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary and weird and ambiguous. But it can be a lot of fun, too. . . . The world is our playground, without a dad or a mom in sight.”
But a world of unrestricted license to do what we please is not freedom. We were made for greater things than smoking cannabis and attending boozy brunches. Our longings and desires cannot ultimately be satisfied by childish pastimes. And if we do not constantly remind ourselves that we were made for more than just the pleasures of the moment, then we risk stunting the growth of our humanity, of collapsing into the cavernous vacuums of our hungry hearts and forgetting all else but pursuing immediately perceivable pleasures. But perhaps the “uptight fools” put away childish things because they had found something more urgent to live for than watching cartoons on the weekend.
 In his memoir of his twenty-some years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, He Leadeth Me, Jesuit priest Walter Ciszek writes of the beauty of human freedom. Young people, he writes, too often imagine that true freedom is absolute license to do as we please, with no obligations or duties attached. Rather, Fr. Ciszek asserts:
“The adult world that a child so ardently desires to attain, that he looks forward to so eagerly and impatiently, is also a world in which freedom is greatly modified by circumstances, by concrete obligations and limitations, and it is only in this real world of daily life that human freedom, such as it is, exists, and not in some ideal order.” (157)
Our absolute and final freedom is found in surrendering our will to another, to offer ourselves and receive in return for our sacrifice, a liberation. In giving ourselves away, in learning to be the adult in the young person’s coming-of-age story, we will fulfill who we are called to be, and discover that we have entered a new stage in growing into the fullness of our identity. Learning to be the adult for another person—for your child, your student,  may not always be easy, it may mean waking up earlier in the morning than we would like, and it probably involves varying amounts of discomfort, but it is in the fulfillment of our daily duty of offering our freedom to others that we find liberation, purpose, and joy.

The discomfort of an authority into which we have not yet fully grown, and a duty that we may not fully embrace is a small price to pay for the joys of adulthood: to find ourselves growing into the humans that we were made to be, to quit dabbling in the distractions of adolescence, and to embrace the demanding and beautiful reality that awaits us.

Holy Week in Art: Monday—Daniel F. Gerhartz’s “Forgiven”

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.
Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Used with the kind permission of the artist.
Copyright Daniel F. Gerhartz. www.danielgerhartz.com

The passage from Saint John’s Gospel proclaimed today presents us with the scene of Jesus’ anointing at Bethany (Jn 12:1-11), and this stunning painting by Daniel F. Gerhartz provides an inroad to prayerful contemplation of this moving passage. This work was cited elsewhere as “The Anointing at Bethany;” however, according to the artist’s website, its actual title is “Forgiven.” Based upon its title, Gerhartz’s painting depicts not the anointing at Bethany proclaimed in today’s Gospel, but the anointing by the sinful woman recorded in Luke’s Gospel (cf Lk 7:36-50). The anointing of Jesus is one of the few events recorded in all four Gospels. However, because the details of the Gospel accounts vary, these anointing narratives have often been conflated throughout history: the Mary anointing Jesus’ feet in John’s Gospel is often mistakenly identified as Mary Magdalene, who is in turn often mistaken for the sinful woman of Luke’s Gospel. In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, the woman is not identified as a sinner, or even as being named Mary, yet all four narratives contain references to the extravagance of the woman’s gesture. Thus, even though this painting depicts a different version of the anointing narrative than the one from John’s Gospel proclaimed throughout the world today, it nevertheless provides a profoundly beautiful point of entry into the mystery of the anointing of Jesus as an anticipation of His Passion and Death.

John’s Gospel places the anointing at Bethany “six days before Passover” (Jn 12:1a); directly following this anointing narrative is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which, according to John, takes place “on the next day” (Jn 12:12a). From a chronological perspective, this event takes on an even greater significance: this is the last time Jesus will ever be in the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, three of His closest friends. The intimate ease of this meal will soon give way to the crush of the crowds on the road to Jerusalem, the whisperings of enemies, and the betrayal of friends that will lead to torture and execution. Thus, the meal at Bethany becomes akin to the calm before the storm, but already the tensions are building. Judas Iscariot criticizes Mary for anointing Jesus’ feet, saying, “‘Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?’” (Jn 12:5). John’s Gospel clarifies that this comment arises, not out of concern for the poor, but because of avarice; Judas has already begun to distance himself from Jesus’ mission of self-giving love. Additionally, the chief priests are becoming more intent in their plot to have Jesus arrested, as the verse just prior to today’s passage indicates: “For the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where [Jesus] was, he should inform them, so that they might arrest him” (Jn 11:57). Not only are Jesus’ enemies plotting to harm Him, but they are even plotting to kill Lazarus, “because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him” (Jn 12:10-11).

Surrounded by this mounting tension, Mary anoints the feet of her beloved Jesus in a gesture of love and service. Perhaps it was Mary’s anointing of His own feet that Jesus had in the back of His  mind just days later as He washed the feet of His disciples at the Last Supper. Certainly Mary anointed Jesus’ feet in the same spirit of loving service with which He washed the feet of His disciples, and one sees this love radiating in every inch of Gerhartz’s painting. The Anointing at Bethany-Mary detailThe woman kneeling over Jesus’ feet is oblivious to everything but the task of love before her. Indeed, no other face can be seen in the painting, not even that of Jesus Himself, which only serves to intensify our perception of this woman’s single-mindedness as she dries His feet with her hair. In Luke’s Gospel, Mary is introduced as one who “sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak” (Lk 10:39). During this last meal at Bethany, she puts into practice the lessons she learned at the feet of Jesus by pouring out her love for Him in the form of precious oil. As the woman in the painting gazes at the feet of “him whom [her] heart loves” (cf. Sgs 3), she testifies to all who look upon her that “there is need of only one thing” (Lk 10:42a). By anointing Jesus’ feet, Mary demonstrates that she continues to choose “the better part, and it will not be taken from her” (Lk 10:42b). For Mary, there is only Jesus, and the love she desires to show Him. The plottings of others, the criticism of Judas, even the opinions of her sister Martha—everything else fades into the background. There is only Jesus.

In response to this extravagant gesture of love, Jesus foreshadows the events to come: “‘Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me’” (Jn 12:7). Gerhartz is perhaps alluding to this in the unusual positioning of Jesus’ feet in the painting. The Anointing at Bethany-hand and foot detailAt first glance, one might interpret Jesus’ body language as merely casual, indicating the comfort He felt while reclining at table with friends. Yet countless other images of Jesus feature His feet in a similar position: in placing Jesus’ feet thus, Gerhartz seems to be foreshadowing the Crucifixion, when Jesus’ feet will be nailed to the Cross.[1] Interpreted this way, even this serenely beautiful image carries within it shadows of Calvary. And so the journey through Holy Week continues. As Mary pours out her love for Jesus by anointing his feet with precious oil, so too will Jesus pour out His love for us in a few days’ time. Yet it is no precious oil that Jesus pours forth. No; He offers nothing less than His very self—pouring out His Most Precious Blood upon the Cross in the sacrifice of love by which all others have meaning. As we journey one day closer to the great Paschal Mystery, may we stand with jars of perfumed oil in hand, ready to pour ourselves forth for love of the One who poured Himself forth for us.


[1] Recalling Gerhartz’s indication that this painting depicts Mary Magdalene lends more weight to this idea of foreshadowing: in many paintings and sculptures of the Crucifixion and deposition of Jesus, Mary Magdalene is often shown holding or kissing the feet of Jesus.

Pope Benedict XVI and the Speed of Light

Leonard DeLorenzoLeonard DeLorenzo

Director, Notre Dame Vision

Doctoral Student, Systematic Theology, University of Notre Dame

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Blurry pattern of colorful decoration lightsLight moves very slowly at Harvard.  That’s because Prof. Lene Vestergaard Hau did what Einstein thought impossible: she harnessed light (see video below).  The key to doing so was figuring out how to super-cool atoms so that they acted as if they were just one, dense, nebulous atom.  With the help of some nifty lasers used to cross-manipulate sodium atoms (like the ones found in table salt), Hau was able to cool these atoms to just a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero, creating a cloud of the coldest matter in the universe.  This cloud is capable of taming and even containing light.  So when Hau sent a pulse of light moving at 186,000 miles/second into this cloud, she was able to slow the light down to first 38 miles/hour, then 15 miles/hour, and now even 1 mile/hour.  This means that a person could crawl faster than the speed of light.  Hau has refined her technique so well that she can even trap light indefinitely in her atom cloud.  The virtually unfathomable speed of light is, in her laboratory, reduced to commonplace human terms.

Pope Benedict XVI may not know about Prof. Hau and he certainly has never been to her laboratory.  Nevertheless, he long ago grasped what she has now managed to achieve.  In a way, his entire career as a theologian and even his last eight years as pope are characterized by the persistent critique of the modern urge to draw in and enclose, calling the world instead to open up and head outwards.

Deus Caritas EstBenedict’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, is about what is most fundamental to life: love, and in particular, the love of God in which we come to have life.  In Benedict’s biblically informed imagination, this love is not characterized solely as a taking in, but springs forth as outward motion.  In what is perhaps the clearest and most vivid description of love that the encyclical offers, Benedict writes that, for us, “Love… [is] a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self toward its liberation through self-giving, and thus toward authentic self-discovery and indeed discovery of God” (DCE, §6).  Love does not take in and hold on, but rather accepts and gives.  Love moves.

The “closed inward-looking self” is the distinguishing mark of a fallen creation that slows and even traps the light of life.  One of the distinctive phenomena of modernity is that this mark is impressed upon individuals and institutions, persons and peoples, cultures and religions alike.  In attending to the multiple manifestations of this dangerous inwardness, Benedict has really been the first pope of modernity, the one whose vision and ministry from beginning to end was about pointing out this incurving and proclaiming the liberating call of the Gospel in modern life.

The consistency of his thought on this point is evident even from a brief survey of the topics covered in his corpus.  In his economic thought, he espouses a basic vision of the economy that requires gratuitousness in order to function healthily and in accord with the flourishing of individuals and of society as a whole.  GreedAn economy that closes in on the maximization of capital and the accrual of wealth becomes an instrument of dehumanization.  Economies that do not allow for the multiplicity of public interests in the marketplace quickly detach from their fundamental connection to the public good and the value of allowing persons and peoples to beneficially relate to one another through commercial interactions.  All justice, and especially economic justice, requires charity (see Caritas in Veritate).

Benedict considers cultures in similar terms.  For him, cultures arise in accord with the basic definition of the human person—who is a true person to the extent that she is open to others, and ultimately open to God.  Likewise, a culture is a true culture—a healthy culture, a human culture—in large part to the extent that it is open to what is different than itself.  Cultures as a whole are oriented toward interaction and communication, not to isolation and self-preservation.  As Benedict writes, “Whatever elements in any culture exclude such opening up and such cultural exchange represent what is inadequate in a culture, because the exclusion of what is different is contrary to human nature” (Truth and Tolerance, 60).  Thus, cultures do not curve inward and lock otherness out, but rather seek to express themselves outwards and authentically encounter that which is different.

The same dichotomy between enclosing and opening shapes the way in which Benedict views reason itself.  Systems of thought—philosophies—that set up their own limits and standards for verification become closed to the very truth they purport to seek.  The history of philosophy is the story of one self-asserting certainty after another attempting to provide the definitive meaning of everything else.  The only thing that breaks this prideful habit of the human mind is the openness to that which comes from outside of itself: namely, revelation.  Only that which can be taken on faith—as first given before thought up or understood—can release humanity from its addiction to explaining life in its own terms.  Faith is the openness, in trust, to that which—or the One who—comes from outside and unlocks the closed meaninglessness of humanity left to its own devices.  Reason, for Benedict, must open to faith, and faith must serve reason by guiding and correcting it (Introduction to Christianity and Faith and the Future, among others).

A hallmark of modernity is the unwillingness to allow light to pass through on its own terms.  Modernity is averse to transparency.  Modernity is partly characterized by the urge to claim something for oneself, whether for profit, self-promotion, or prestige.  The light is not the thing that matters in modernity; rather, the one who counts is the one can see the light, judge it, seize it and wield it.  This is the foundation of “the dictatorship of relativism,” where individual truths trump any claim to universal truth.  The modern person, institution, and philosophy do not try to speed up or stretch towards the racing light.  They slow the light down to its manner of reckoning.

Holiness, for Benedict, is allowing oneself to be taken up into the quickened life of God.  Saints show the light as it is, not as they wish it to be.  In their intense particularity, saints allow God’s light to shine through them, becoming a “spectacle” for the world to see.  As Benedict testifies, “the Spirit of God has given life with admirable imagination to a multitude of men and women saints, of every age and social condition, of every language, people and culture” (Holiness is Always in Season).  These holy ones do not claim the light for themselves, nor do they seek to slow it down.  Instead, they forget themselves in allowing it to pour forth through their very lives.

This description of holiness is reminiscent of a story we have told at Notre Dame Vision for years.  It is a story that I believe was—at some point—true, though the frequency of its retelling makes the origin less certain.  As the story goes, a young girl is sitting in a church with her father during Sunday morning Mass.  The ones the light shines throughThe light of the mid-morning sun is streaming through the stained-glass windows on the east side of the church, painting the pews in an array of colors.  The girl looks up at the stained-glass, taps her father on the arm, and asks, “Daddy, who are those people in the windows?”  Her father answers, “Well, honey, those are the saints.”  He waits several moments for her to ask her inevitable follow-up question, but the question never comes.  But later that day after Mass, a question does arise when the little girl is sitting in CCD.  Her teacher asks her class if anyone knows who the saints are.  The girl’s hand shoots up into the air, so the teacher calls on her.  With an air of simple certainty she says, “The saints are the ones the light shines through.”

This is what Benedict has been trying to teach us for the last eight years, and for decades before that.  We are not who we are created to be unless we open ourselves up, risk becoming a portal of grace and imagination, and head out of ourselves to others.  This is why he cautioned us against liturgies that create circles of self-reflection and self-admiration, challenging us instead to look together towards the Oriens and the coming of God (Spirit of the Liturgy).  It is why he has repeatedly called us into communion with one another on the basis of the Lord’s Prayer itself, which breaks down our barriers of isolation and consumption for the sake of quickened self-giving.  As he wrote in one of his later books, “the word our [in the Our Father] is really rather demanding: it requires that we step out of the closed circle of our ‘I’. It requires that we surrender ourselves to communion with the children of God” (Jesus of Nazareth, 141).  These words speak to a trust in an identity we are given, not one which we can claim for ourselves, as our own private possession.  Progress and innovation are not the measures of this identity; love alone is.

As Tim O’Malley already observed, this might also be the best way to understand Benedict’s surprising decision to resign his office.  The Pontiff is handing over what was never his to claim: he is letting the light pass through him even if it means that he will disappear from the public eye.  The pope’s words at the Sunday Angelus of February 17 indicate as much: “In the decisive moments of life, or, on closer inspection, at every moment in life, we are at a crossroads: do we want to follow the ‘I’ or God?  The individual interest or the real good, that which is really good?”  In his career as teacher of the faith, he has tried to persuade others of the answer.  In his last act as pope, he is yet again enacting that answer.

The light's the thingC.S. Lewis once wrote that, “[t]he Glory flows into everyone, and back from everyone: like light and mirrors.  But the light’s the thing” (The Great Divorce).  The flowing of the light has been the single preoccupation of Pope Benedict’s ministry.  He continues to challenge the world to avoid becoming clouded in its own complacency, cooled in its own callousness and self-confidence.  Economies are meant for the sharing of goods, cultures for the exchange gifts, and reason for the reception and appreciation of what faith gives.  The liturgy refers us to the God who comes to us, while prayer draws us out of ourselves.

What happens in laboratories is meant to serve man who serves God, not serve man as if he were God.  If a professor at Harvard can slow or even trap light with the use of lasers and table salt, then this too can be used for “that which is really good.”  But the true light of life can never be slowed or trapped, and to seek to do so is to become a contradiction to oneself.  To put oneself, or even the whole world, above the power of this light will only ever prevent the light from being seen.  This light must shine through us, for this light is what Benedict believes saves our world.

“Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.  Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God.  To experience love and in this way cause the light of God to enter into the world—this is the invitation I would like to extend” (Deus Caritas Est, §39).

Love, **actually** is… (part 5)

Carolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Also in this series:
Love, **actually** is… (part 4)
Love, **actually** is… (part 3)
Love, **actually** is… (part 2)
Love, **actually** is… (part 1)

Thus far, our treatment of the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has examined love in light of the implications for our interactions with others. We have looked to Jesus Himself for examples of how to be patient and kind; how to rise above things like jealousy, the desire for attention or approval, and the self-righteous tendency to judge rather than forgive. On this Valentine’s Day, we come to the culmination of St. Paul’s famous teaching on love and discover what truly self-giving, agape love asks of us.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.

These last two statements seem to expand our horizon farther than those that preceded them, demanding of us an even greater capacity to give of ourselves in love. But what does this look like? When it comes to agape, or self-giving love, what does it mean to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things?

Quite simply, it means the Way of the Cross. If we seek to imitate Christ in our love of others, we must realize that we will also be called upon to imitate Him in His sufferings. In His Passion and Death, Christ modeled for us the outpouring of love to the end: the ultimate self-gift. If we begin to think about what it means to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things in love, then all overly-romantic, picture-perfect, superficial notions of what it means to love another simply disappear.

In bearing all things under the weight of His Cross, Christ becomes a model for the parent who must bear the pain of difficulties with a child, or the son or daughter who must bear the loving burden of caring for an elderly parent. In believing all things by continuing to trust in God even in the depths of His agony, Christ becomes a model for the college student who struggles to maintain faith in the midst of adversity, or the weary social worker who yearns to believe that goodness still exists in the midst a fallen world. In sharing His hope for all things by assuring the gift of paradise to the good thief, Christ becomes a model of hope for the hospice nurse holding vigil at the bedside of the terminal cancer patient, as both hold fast to the promise of eternal life. And in enduring all things to the end by commending His spirit to the Father—offering His very last breath in love—Christ becomes a model for all who endure similar sufferings in mind, body, and spirit, giving them an example of courage so that they might unite their sufferings with His in an outpouring of love.

In seeking to imitate Christ’s life of self-giving love, we also open ourselves up to suffering, for there will always be the risk that our love for others will be met with rejection, hatred, pain, even death. Nevertheless, St. Paul reminds us that “love never fails.” Love has the last word. And in this, we are reminded that Christ’s love did not end in destruction and death, but in Resurrection and glory. And it is only this gift of self in love that can bring forgiveness, healing, fullness of life.

Love, **actually** is… (part 3)

Carolyn Pirtle, M.M., M.S.M.

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Also in this series: Love, **actually** is… (part 1)
Love, **actually** is… (part 2)


Love is not pompous, it is not inflated.
Pomposity by its very nature is inflated; it focuses completely on the individual, the self. Pompous people puff themselves up—inflate themselves—even to the point of ridiculousness. There is no consideration of the other at all, except perhaps in terms of how the other can be exploited to serve me, validate me, make me feel better about myself. Not only that, but pomposity and inflation are also relegated entirely to the visible surface. It’s all flash and virtually no substance, and it’s all about me.

We suspend dislike of grandiose flashiness on occasion; in the context of celebrating individual and personal achievements, it’s proper to be pompous (or “ceremonial” if you want a more positive spin). An example: college graduations. Faculty members and students sporting elaborate regalia process to Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” (how apt is that?), and each person’s credentials are practically inscribed in the very garments worn. He’s an alumnus of Harvard. She’s graduating summa cum laude. They’re receiving Master’s hoods. But everything is operates at the surface level (how many people in the history of academia have received their diplomas sporting a birthday suit beneath their gowns?). The ceremonial pomposity and inflatedness of a college graduation don’t even begin to tell the full story of what it took to earn that cap and gown: the interminable stacks of books, the all-nighters, the research papers, the comprehensive exams, the final projects, the stress, the breakdowns. In other words, pomp is not about to convey suffering. Inflation is not about to betray weakness.

In terms of love, pomp and inflation have no place whatsoever according to St. Paul, and they can be manifested in two ways: either a person puts on airs in order to garner the admiration of another (like a male peacock displaying a brilliant fan of feathers), or a person puffs up defensively in order to maintain an aura of perfection (like those overly obsessed with physical appearance). Either way, pomp and inflation are about creating an alternate reality (or at least a prettier, more festive one); thus, they are about concealing the true reality. They are about presenting the most attractive sides of the self and avoiding the truth. The truth is that human existence is often ugly, both on the surface and beneath it. Our bodies become sick, old, and frail, and they finally give out on us in the end. Our hearts are vulnerable to our own character flaws as well as those of others. Love seeks to heal the other, but pomp and inflation pretend that there is no need of healing.

In His self-giving love, Jesus breaks the surface of the gilded worlds we create for ourselves and dives into the ugly brokenness of our humanity. He spits into the dirt and makes a muddy paste so that He might spread it onto our eyes and heal our blindness (cf Jn 9:1-41). He touches our ears and tongue so that we might hear and speak and sing anew (cf Mk 7:31-37). But in the end, even these miracles are not enough to heal us completely. Jesus must strip Himself of every shred of dignity and pour Himself out completely, until His lungs are utterly deflated and His heart is pierced by a lance.

Pomposity walks across a stage to receive praise and accolades; Love staggers up a hill and is nailed to a Cross so that others may be glorified. Inflation conceals all in an effort to appear perfect to others; Love holds nothing back so that others may become perfected.

Love is not rude, it does not seek its own interests.
These descriptors are somewhat similar to the two just discussed, but St. Paul nuances his message here. A rude person doesn’t care how his or her actions affect other people. They may not be self-absorbed to the point of being pompous, but neither do they take any consideration of how their words or actions are being received or perceived by others. On the one hand, this might be interpreted as freedom, or even a lack of jealousy as discussed in yesterday’s post; a person who doesn’t care what others think is to be applauded for being above the opinions of peers. We in American society particularly value this—it’s a manifestation of our high-spirited individualism. And to an extent, we should avoid placing too high a value on what others think of us. But rudeness takes this indifference to an unhealthy level. Rudeness puts the self first every single time. Rudeness makes no efforts to ensure another’s comfort or well-being. Rudeness ignores the thoughts and feelings of others, causing hurt, and even scandal. Rudeness exclusively seeks its own interests.

We’ve all experienced rudeness in society at some point. For me, it’s almost always when I’m driving somewhere. I’m astonished by the rudeness I witness on the road: people speeding, changing lanes without signaling, talking on cell phones—nine times out of ten, driving seems to be every person for him- or herself. And when I see this, it’s as though that person has said to me, “My life is more important than yours. You are of no consequence. You are an obstacle to be overcome.” I really have to struggle against retaliation in such instances, which would do no good anyway since offenders can’t hear me yell at them from my car. Regardless of the futility in fighting back, it’s a real interior battle for me to love in the face of rudeness.

Rudeness can take more sinister forms as well. I think of times I’ve been out in public with my young nephews or nieces and I overhear strangers’ nearby conversations riddled with foul language (or, according to my nephew, what Spongebob Squarepants would call “Sentence Enhancers”). I bristle when I hear people talk like that in public, and as I immediately move the kiddos away I think, “Ugh—how rude!” It’s as though those people are saying, “The innocence of that child is of no consequence to me. I don’t care if I’m scandalizing them. I do what I want.”

Jesus has many responses to such people, the first and foremost of which is what we refer to as The Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Mt 7:12). He says it another way later on in Matthew’s Gospel: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39). But even these maxims for moral living have the self as a reference point, and we “selves” are flawed. We don’t always want to love our neighbors as ourselves; sometimes we want our neighbors to love us as we love ourselves. So Jesus must take this even one step farther, saying to us on the night of the Last Supper: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). No longer are we to use ourselves as the point of reference in how we treat other people. Now we are to follow the example set forth by Jesus Himself. We are to follow Him by responding in love to the rude and the self-interested: “The Lord GOD opened my ear; I did not refuse, did not turn away. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who tore out my beard. My face I did not hide from insults and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; Therefore I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame” (Is 50:5-7). We are to follow Jesus by turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, pouring ourselves out as a libation – even for those who care nothing for us in return.

Self-Giving Love is Reality

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

Contact Author

I exist.  My life is real.   At least once-a-month, I come anew to what may seem like a rather unsophisticated insight.  After all, the “realness” of a life seems obvious to the observer.  I breathe.  I eat.   I encounter other human beings.  I get up in the morning, go to the gym and then to the office.  I come home at the end of the day and eat dinner with my wife.   I read a book, and then I go to bed.

But, there is more to living than physicality; more than simply fulfilling the tasks that come my way each day.  The insight regarding the reality of my life is one in which I awaken to the fact that I exist here and now.  I am in this place, in this time, in relationships with other people who are also very real.   And everything that I do each day has a tangible effect upon a world, a world that is not imaginary.  The life I live is not merely a phantasy, a postmodern universe of simulacra.  I am really here, right now!

This summer, I had the privilege of watching over sixty undergraduate students come to an analogous insight.  These undergraduates, mentors-in-faith with the Notre Dame Vision program, ministered to 1200 high school students around the country.   Through their witness, they guided those younger than them to perceive that there is a God who calls, one who revealed the depths of divine love in Jesus Christ, and who has called each of us to live according to this logic of self-giving love through the Spirit.  That is our vocation.   And over the course of the summer, the mentors-in-faith lived in a community in which they practiced dwelling together according to this logic of love.   They saw that the Christian life is not an idea or a series of moralistic maxims.  It is love unto to the end.   And as they practiced such love over the course of six weeks, they began to see that this love is the reality of the cosmos.  Self-giving love is reality.

Of course, now their summer together has come to an end.   They have departed campus and returned to the “world”.  And the recurring question as they left:   how can I live this way, how can I love like this once I get back to the “real” world?

Most of what we mean by the real world is in fact a series of falsehoods:

  • In the real world, the covers of magazines tell me what constitutes true beauty, true happiness; to be beautiful, to be worth anything, I must look like that.
  • In the real world, complete happiness is only possible when I achieve the career of my dreams, becoming famous and rich in the process.
  • In the real world, only those who are important to the function of society of matter; everyone else is relatively expendable, to be “used” as long as they provide some benefit to me.
  • In the real world, politics operate according to a hidden violence, whereby candidates do whatever it takes to not only remain in office, but to remain entrenched there.

Christians, including these mentors-in-faith, know that this “supposed” real world is false.  A lie.   The true simulacra.  Creation is no accident but the “logic” of a God, who loves unto the end, who creates humanity in the image and likeness of God.  Our “imaging” of God is not a matter of power, of prestige, of transcendence, but of humility, of self-emptying, of love.  Of learning to dwell according to the order of gift, rather than the economy of exchange.  And true happiness is only possible once we have given ourselves away in love in imitation of the Triune God.

This self-gift is the real world.   It is the meaning of creation.  Of the covenant in the Old Testament.  Of the prophets’ call for Israel to return to the Lord, our God.  Of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross on Calvary.  The biblical narrative purifies our imaginations so that we can look at reality clearly, developing the proper vision for judging the created order.

The problem with the supposed “real” world is that it rejects such self-giving love as naïve, intellectually unsophisticated, as revealing weakness that will be taken advantage of by the strong.  Quoting John 3:16-21:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.   For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.   And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.   For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.   But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God (Jn. 3:15-21).

In the Gospel of John, to believe in the only-begotten Son is to believe that he is the Word made flesh, the Incarnate logos, the fashioner of all creation now become human.  And his presence is the manifestation of God’s own love for the world, a light that shines into the darkness of the world, exposing our half-truths.  In Christ, the very reasoning behind reality takes flesh and shows us that love is the meaning of existence.  And his resurrection is a sign that love (despite all signs to the contrary) does conquer death, light does shine into the darkness of the world.  But the source of the light’s strength is precisely, to use Paul’s own language, the weakness and foolishness of God.  It is Jesus Christ himself:

The living body that achieves this is the world’s supreme work of art and love; in it, the ugliest side of our history, in all of its realism, is transformed from within into what is most beautiful:  bearing, forgiving, and transforming Love, and it is therefore proper that this memorial is made over to us forever in the sacrament of the Eucharist.   It would not be what it is if our own dying were not also taken up in it and transformed into an achievement of theanthropic love.   We drink the blood that was shed by us, yet, on a deeper level, for us.  And if we are afraid of dying because we do not know how to do this:  to consent to being swept away as a whole, then we should not forget that someone was able to do it for us beforehand, someone who did not die as some individual next to us, but who, dying and suffering, already bore our death in himself (Hans urs von Balthasar, Life Out of Death:  Meditations on the Paschal Mystery, 37-38).

To practice living then “a real life” involves giving ourselves up to death, to carry out the Eucharistic vocation of each Christian to love unto the end.   The supposed “real” world will reject such love, precisely because of the effects of sin that are still quite real.  The Misfit from Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” encounters the graceful love of the Grandmother, and he’ll react to such love the only way that sin knows how to:  through violence.  The darkness is afraid of the light; the light threatens it.   But even as the Christian encounters such rejection, he or she responds with the same self-giving love of Christ himself.  For Christian love is bearing, forgiving, transforming.   It is the love of God incarnate in the world.

And slowly, one will notice a transformation of the supposed “real” world.  Those who live in the truth of self-giving love, who choose gratitude above greed, are the source of creation’s transfiguration.  As our vision is reformed, enlightened, purified, we begin to gaze upon creation and ourselves in the proper light and see reality as it is.  We become saints, soberly gazing upon all of creation in love; and where there is darkness, we do not respond with violence, with anger, but the gift of ourselves.

So to those mentors (and all those who return from summer retreats), who are concerned about being a faithful Christian in the “real” world.   Let the reality of self-giving love that you have experienced come to shape your vision, your dwelling within the world.   Only then can you dare to call the world real.

Happy, Happy Friday: God is On Our Side

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

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PRELUDIO: As a YouTube comment on this song put it, “Even his butt can play better than me.” Without over-thinking that sentence, just enjoy the song (and the fact that his hands look like footage of a hummingbird in flight, or the wing beats of the large and terrifying insect that dive-bombed you yesterday. Your choice):

Anyhoo, folks, HAPPY FRIDAY!!!

HOLA, PEOPLES!!!,

So here’s one part of childhood that was a sad farewell in my life: really decorated classrooms in school. In college, all of the rooms were so indistinguishable from one another, like the movies in “The Land Before Time” series (after the first one, that is). (Fun fact: there are 13 movies in that series. By the time they got to the end it should have been “The Land Before Time: The New Bipeds In Town”).

But back in the glory years of elementary school, posters of butterflies and puppies and flowers were EVERYWHERE, like Technicolor overload. If you didn’t feel like learning about the state capitals, you could always read the poster that said “Reading Takes You to the Stars!” And once you finished reading that, you could stare at the class’ pet hamster (who was usually asleep, but at least you could pretend he was awake and doing cartwheels or something). And then you could play with the contraband blob of Sticky Tack that you thieved in September and stored in your desk in case you became desperate. And then you could pull out your Lisa Frank poster and your eyes would start watering (not out of emotion, but because those colors were so intense that it made your color-saturated classroom look beige by comparison). So really, there was a lot you could accomplish in third grade without having to learn about photosynthesis, and it all began with your teacher having an explosively colorful and decorated room.

I guess in college they figure you can feel secure without the posters that say, “Be a Gold-Star Student!”, but really by then you’ve just evolved more sophisticated ways to distract yourself (like wondering where the professor bought his tie, striving valiantly to stay awake by eating 6 Tic Tacs at once, and pretending that you’re industriously typing notes on your laptop when really you’re reading about the Denver Broncos on ESPN). But I digress: I just miss the overstimulating, extremely colorful decorations of my youth in academia. But we can keep moving along now 😉

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, God Is On Our Side

YouTube clip of the week:

A wise Dominican sister once told my high-school religion class a beautiful story, and here’s how it goes:

A woman’s Bible study group was examining the line from Scripture that says, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” The line piqued the interest of one lady, and subsequently she sought out a silversmith and asked him if she could watch him refine silver. He agreed, and as he held the silver in the fire, he explained to her that he had to watch the silver constantly. If the silver was held in the fire for a moment too long, it would be destroyed. The woman asked, “But how do you know when it’s ready?” The silversmith answered, “Oh, that’s easy: when I can see my image in it.”

Friends, there’s something that we can ‘lose in translation’ as we journey through our daily lives. We spend so much time caught up in the trees that we forget about the big picture; either that or we spend so much time reading the fine print that we forget the words that are written across the entire page.

What do we forget, friends? That GOD CARRIES US TENDERLY. GOD LONGS FOR US. HE WANTS US TO BE WITH HIM BECAUSE HE LOVES US.

I’m guessing that if any of you are like me, right now you’re thinking, “Well, YEAH.” But there’s a difference between knowing something as fact in our minds and believing it in our hearts so completely that we stake our lives upon its truth. We might know how a rope works, but it’s only when we have to hang our lives on it that we really start to care if it can hold our weight. We might say someone is trustworthy, but what happens when we must stake our lives on their reliability? It is in that moment of truth that what we know as fact deepens into part of our daily reality, one that is tested by fire and eventually found worthy.

We know that God loves us, and we’ve known it for a long time. But how many of us live as though He really did love us infinitely? How many of us have placed that truth as the cornerstone holding up our life? Do we forget that God is on our side, that He WANTS us to be with Him in Heaven, and that He loves us? By that I don’t mean that we forget that like we forget the capital of Albania: it’s more forgetting that something is true because other things get in the way, like fear and mistrust making us ‘forget’ that a dear friend is really as good as we remember them to be.

We can’t make ourselves feel the love of God that surrounds and carries us: it’s a conviction that we receive from Him, one that we have to ask Him to give to us through grace. The belief that allows us to hang all of our hopes on His love, to put all of our life’s eggs in the one basket of His care for us…it comes with time, and we have to ask for it as a gift. And folks, we have to trust that He will give us that conviction: NOT when we feel like we need it, but when He knows we really need it. It’s on His time and His understanding, not ours, so we’re called to trust in His timing.

Don’t you know that God loves you? Like, REALLY loves you? Maybe it would be easiest to break this down:

GOD IS NOT: looking for ways to trip us up, checking off marks on some celestial tally-board every time we do something wrong, loving us in a detached, impersonal way (like a guardian that’s mildly interested in our fate but has other things to attend to), or telling us to be perfect without intending to see us through.

GOD IS: taking every opportunity to lead us Home, shouting our name in our pain and confusion, carrying us tenderly even when we don’t feel His arms holding us, wiping away every tear with infinite gentleness, willing us to exist in every moment because He loves us (because we would cease to exist if He stopped willing for us to be), offering us mercy that we can’t earn, understanding every detail of our life with infinite interest and care, giving Himself away on the Cross for our sake, taking advantage of every crack in the armor we build against Him and finding every way in to our hearts. He longs for us to draw near, and the love that motivates His longing is not cold or distant. It is love that purifies and refines that which it cherishes, purifies its beloved until the image of God shines out from the beloved’s face. The prodigal takes one step home and the father covers the remaining distance at a sprint.  If we do not yet live and breathe in the reality of His love for us, then we must pray that someday what we know now as bare fact, we will also trust as a lifeline and a solid ground. We can hang every hope on God: He is a strong enough line to bear all of our burdens and more.

Friends, I know this was a longer Heart than normal, I hope that today is such a GRAND and GLORIOUS day for each of you, and I send along, as ever, my

Love, prayers, JOOOYYY!!! And a HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY!!! HOOODAALALLYYY!!!

Laura

Happy, Happy Friday: You Shall Not Put the Lord Your God to the Test (March 16)

Laura McCarty

Notre Dame Alumna, Class of 2011

Contact Author

 

PRELUDIO: So folks, in honor of the fact that (to borrow from the old horrible SAT analogies) ‘Friday’ is to ‘GLORIOUS’ as ‘hitting a traffic light as it turns green so you don’t have to slow down’ is to ‘feeling kind of like James Bond’, here’s a piece of truly uplifting music.  Simple but awesome:

And since that piece of African music was pretty short, here’s another brightly shining gem:

HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY, PEOPLE!!!

HOLA, PEOPLES!!!,

So I know that everyone grieved at the lack of prattling last week, so now YOU can feel the same way that people did when they brought back those plastic Kool-Aid bottles with the faces on them: you know, the ones that were big in the 90’s and were liquid sugar (Read: you can feel AWESOME):

Between those things, Sweet Tarts, Pop Tarts, and Pixy Stix, there was a lot of straight-up sugar floating around in the 90’s. Not to mention all of the utterly terrifying Little Debbie products that will outlast a nuclear winter and were all manufactured before I was born. They’ve just been selling the same ones in all of the gas stations for two decades. Now that we’re pondering food that could be buried in a safe at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and still be fine, what about:

-Peeps? These things have always scared me, even when I was a child and could down a McFlurry like it was nothing. Even before I knew that nutrition facts EXISTED, Peeps still had kind of a creepy fascination for me, and you HAD to look at them. They captivated your attention in a slightly repulsive way, like a nature documentary where a Nile crocodile is taking down a wildebeest.

-Jello? Just out of curiosity I read the ingredients list a few days ago in the grocery store: anytime a food has more than seven ingredients that each have more than four syllables (something like ‘Polyunsaturatednuclease’), then it’s time to reconsider and buy some good honest lettuce.

-Pez? What ARE they? Straight-up sugar? Condensed Pixy Stix, cleverly disguised in a Peter Pan dispenser to make you think you’re eating something that’s remotely good for you, like Tums? The world will never know. But they don’t taste half-bad.

-Certain grocery-store brand chocolate chip cookies (and I only say this because last summer, a child I know had these, and I forgot about them for 2 weeks and rediscovered them and they looked EXACTLY THE SAME. It was downright eerie, like I had discovered that they’d been moving around by some mysterious force while I wasn’t looking at them).

And we haven’t even talked about beverages (like Sunny D and Surge) but we need to keep moving along 😉

THE HEART OF THE EMAIL: Or, You Shall Not Put the Lord Your God to the Test

Youtube clip of the week:

All right, friends: so we all know and believe that God can bring goodness and blessings out of even our deepest suffering and our worst mistakes. We can no more negate the progression of His Will for humanity than we can stop the sun in the sky. But we can choose HOW we will serve in His plan, like choosing whether to play the role of Saint John or of Judas. As C.S. Lewis said:

“A man is sometimes entitled to hurt (or even, in my opinion, to kill) his fellow, but only where the necessity is urgent and the good to be obtained is obvious[…]. To turn this into a general charter for afflicting humanity ‘because affliction is good for them’ […] is not indeed to break the Divine scheme but to volunteer for the post of Satan within that scheme. If you do his work, you must be prepared for his wages.”

In the first part of that quote, Lewis is talking about a surgeon or even a parent: someone who is occasionally called upon to cause discomfort or inconvenience (as in parental discipline) or even physical pain (as in surgical procedures) so that the person in their care can ultimately grow and heal to their fullest potential. What Lewis warns against is becoming the sort of person who causes deliberate pain to others, daring God to see if He can work through THAT (like Satan with Job). And of course, God does, but He doesn’t work backwards and erase the evil of the sin or the depth of the pain. He only works the greater miracle and brings blessings and wisdom forth from our pain, even when we don’t understand the ‘why’s’.

Most of us aren’t the types who enjoy causing suffering, so maybe we can feel safe after reading the last paragraph. But there is a more subtle trap that I know from personal experience, and I would hazard a guess that this revelation is not unique to my life. (After all, we’re usually much more alike that we think we are. We’re all human, aren’t we?)

Once we realize that God will work through our decisions regardless of their goodness or conformity to His will, the temptation is to jump for joy like badly behaved children who, knowing that their Father’s will cannot be stopped, feel that they have been given free rein to live however they like. Or even if their conscience keeps them from direct badness, at least it need not twinge at lesser deviations from their Father’s will: He’ll work through it all, right?

Yes, He will, but at what cost to our own souls? At what cost to our relationship to Him, the God who made us for no other purpose than to love Him totally? He will keep on loving us, but what about our own capacity to love Him? What role will we accept in the drama of His humanity: the saint or the tyrant, or perhaps even the noncommittal? He will work through them all, whether or not they will it, but if we are trying to become His, He can do more with us if we give Him more of ourselves to work with, until we are entirely His and His will shines through us perfectly like sunlight through a church window. As Saint Paul said, it will no longer be us, but Christ in us, and in reflecting Him we truly become ourselves.

And what is the alternative? We can gradually develop a grudge towards God for demanding so much of us, and we can feel judged by Scripture until we want to hide from it. If we are not careful, we can give Him less and less of ourselves to work with…until we will give Him nothing, and then He can do nothing within us (except call to us even in our darkest moments). His plan for saving humanity will progress, but will we decline His invitation again and again until the doors are finally shut? Or will we repent our past wrongs and let Him give us the courage to seek a different role within His great and glorious plan: to become humble, to be content with only His love and His recognition, to understand at last that His gaze is the only one that really matters. If we are His, we have everything. Even when we feel like we’ve failed, we can’t stop trying to follow Him: after all, God does not give up on us. His love persists in pursuing us, and we have to decide every day how we will respond. Today is a new day: who will we be today? As Mother Teresa said, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

Friends, I know these things aren’t exactly light food for thought, but as C.S. Lewis said, Christianity is either of supreme importance or of no importance at all. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important. We are called to a destiny whose glory and joy we can barely imagine: how will we respond?

I hope your Friday is GLORIOUS, friends, and I send along my

Love, prayers, JOOOYYY!!! And a HAPPY HAPPY FRIDAY!!! HOOODALALLYYY!!!

Laura